Magazine Article | December 19, 2016

Petland's Innovative Approach To POS

By Matt Pillar, chief editor

January 2017 Innovative Retail Technologies

An intriguing decision to let its VP of finance lead a POS overhaul ensured the project’s success.

Don’t let Lisa Johnson’s title fool you. Yes, as VP of finance at Petland, Johnson keeps a close eye on the financials of the franchise merchant’s 150+ global stores. Yes, she’s a CPA, an accountant by training and trade. But in a front office that’s lean on staff by design, she’s not your typical head-in-the-weeds numbers cruncher. Her small but very seasoned executive team doesn’t even include a CIO. That’s but one of the reasons Johnson’s title is so deceiving. Much of the company’s high-level IT work makes its way to her desk, and that includes a recent POS overhaul that Johnson hasn’t just overseen, but championed and owned from day one.

Inefficiencies Of An Outgrown POS
For as long as Johnson has been with Petland — about 15 years — the company has operated a single-store POS software package that’s been prodded and patched to meet the company’s needs as it grew to 13 corporate and 140 international franchised stores. “The solution worked very well for us when we were a smaller business in a big field,” says Johnson. “But about three years ago, we realized that we needed to move to a multistore solution.” Inefficiencies were an issue, especially for the retailer’s merchandising team, which had to dial in to each store individually to run sales reports and extract merchandise data.

Not just any centralized, multistore platform would do, however. Petland has a unique requirement in its need to track serialized inventory, whereby items — in this case, pets — are assigned their own unique serial numbers to track warranties, support traceability, and confirm ownership. “When we started searching for a multistore solution, we needed someone who could meet our unique POS and inventory management needs,” says Johnson. “Not many providers have the ability or the stomach to develop the framework we needed.”

Johnson and Petland contracted with project management and strategic planning consultancy Compass Integration, tasking the firm with identifying a suitable platform. Following a thorough review process, Petland chose Multidev. Johnson says Multidev changed her perception that POS packages are either really good at transactions and inventory control or really good at accounting, but never both. “Multidev started out developing accounting software, and that became evident in our analysis of their ChainDrive solution,” says Johnson. “This was the first time I ever saw a POS software package that was strong on both ends.”

"When we started searching for a multistore solution, we needed someone who could meet our unique POS and inventory management needs.”

Lisa Johnson, VP of finance, Petland

An Unlikely Champion
You might assume the financials-minded Johnson simply drew the short straw when she wound up with responsibility for the POS overhaul at Petland, but that wasn’t at all the case. “I knew how much we stood to lose if we maintained the status quo or made a questionable investment in a new platform,” she says. She also knew what Petland would gain if it addressed its inefficiencies and positioned itself for growth.

On a plane ride home from a visit with Multidev at its Montreal headquarters, Johnson conferred with Petland’s director of merchandising and VP of development. “We agreed that whoever took charge of the implementation would have to be more than accepting of the responsibility; they’d have to be passionate about it,” says Johnson. The project leader would also have to come from the executive suite and be comfortable championing the effort. “That was me,” says Johnson. “I knew what the investment looked like, and I knew what failure would look like.” When the team returned to the corporate office in Chillicothe, OH, she walked into Petland President Joe Watson’s office and told him she knew it wasn’t ‘normal’ for a VP of finance to assume the responsibility of a POS implementation, but she wanted to own it. Watson agreed.

A Key Ally In Store Operations
The answer to one of Johnson’s first questions to Multidev would help her ensure the POS implementation success Petland sought. She simply asked executives at the vendor company, when the wheels fall off , what’s typically the cause? “They were up front about that, and they said failed implementations are usually a result of someone on the client side dropping the ball.” With that in mind, Johnson says she went to great lengths assembling a project management team. This was, after all, a significant investment for the company, entailing not just a software implementation but also the replacement of its networks, firewalls, and POS hardware. Compass provided strategic and tactical IT support, linking Petland with Connection, from which it sources all of its IT equipment.” We put together a solid team of executives and leveraged our partners at Compass, but in the early going, we had trouble establishing commitment to the platform at the store level,” admits Johnson. “We soon realized that we needed someone on the retail store operations side to take ownership of the training and execution element of the implementation,” she says. Petland’s flagship store in Chillicothe offered up just the person. “One of our managers in that store had the prerequisites to be our POS trainer and implementation specialist,” says Johnson. “He had plenty of retail experience, he was very logical regarding IT, and most importantly, he had the people skills to be very effective at training and knowledge transfer.” Within a few months of that decision, all of Petland’s corporate stores were live on ChainDrive.

"We needed someone on the retail store operations side to take ownership of the training and execution element of the implementation.”

Lisa Johnson, VP of finance, Petland

Corporate Stores Provide Proving Ground
In its previous platform, Petland merchandisers dialed into stores using LogMeIn remote access software to run reports that determined the orders they would place with the retailer’s several different distributors. That time-consuming exercise is a thing of the past. “Now, our merchandisers can access a server and see our inventory standing in a central place,” says Johnson. Timesavings aside, that access offers a host of benefits. “Central visibility of inventory allows us to work smarter with the inventory we have. Instead of excessive orders, for instance, we can often transfer existing inventory to meet demand.” The new system also allows Petland merchandisers to consolidate purchase orders and generate a single PO for all of its corporate stores, which creates better leverage with suppliers. Instead of ordering two fish nets for one store, for example, it can order 20 fish nets for 13 stores and enjoy better pricing. “Our merchandising team is now able to look at strategic processes, rather than tactical processes,” says Johnson. Petland is also able to create uniformity of the product mix across its stores, which Johnson says was very difficult to do before. “When we saw that 20 percent of the products in store A, for instance, were not available in store B, we were able to fix that discrepancy quickly.”

Fueling The Future For Franchisees
With ChainDrive from Multidev working for corporate stores at Petland, the merchant is now turning its attention to its franchisees. Johnson says there’s plenty of demand for the solution among those independent operators. “When Multidev presented at our annual conference last August, many franchisees wanted to sign up right away,” she says. “We’re taking a methodical approach, however. We’ll continue to fine-tune the solution at corporate and roll out to franchisees as they age out of their existing platforms.” The company’s aforementioned corporate POS implementation and training director will assume new responsibility for execution of the rollout at the franchise level. But Johnson is quick to clarify that the Multidev solution won’t be forced upon franchisees. “We’ll work on evaluating what we’ve been able to do with Multidev at corporate and share that success with franchisees to influence their decisions,” she says. “We don’t want to force corporate inventory control and management on our franchises, but our preference is to have visibility into their inventory and demonstrate the shared value of that visibility.” In sum, the more stores Petland brings onto the ChainDrive platform, the more data the company will have to make more intelligent buying and allocation decisions.

Johnson admits that in many retail environments, finance can be a lonely and isolated department. “This company is totally different,” she says. “Our finance department is fully engaged with our operations team, so much so that we could go in and run a store.” The VP of finance might not be the most intuitive choice to lead a POS platform overhaul, but the decision is central to the project’s success at Petland.