Since its founding in 1915, Bealls Inc., a privately held company, has been headquartered in Bradenton, FL. Today, it operates more than 650 retail locations in 23 states under the names Bealls, Bealls Florida, Home Centric and Rugged Earth Outfitters. Bealls is an off-price retailer focusing on quality brands, styles and fashion at a great value for customers.
With so many locations, ensuring merchandise is in the right stores at the right time can be a challenge – at least, it was back when Jackie Long and her team manually manipulated Excel spreadsheets to determine product allocation.
Jackie is the Director of Merchandise Process at Bealls. She oversees the system’s stability, functionality and business process as it relates to SAS’ and Bealls’ replenishment systems. “I’m also charged with recommending changes to our current systems and processes so that we can implement corporate strategies to achieve our company’s goals,” says Jackie.
Analytics-driven automation brings Bealls back to the future
When Jackie first started at Bealls, they were still on “green screen” – green characters on a dark background were widely used in the days of mainframes, minicomputers and disk operating system (DOS). “Back then, we had to use queries to get the data out of the system,” says Jackie. “So we relied heavily on someone to analyze the numbers and decide how to hand-allocate products to stores. So a lot of institutional knowledge and [individual]business strategy knowledge was important to do a good job.” But there’s a time trade-off for intense manual analysis.
Today, a lot of the analysis is automated. “The automation saves so much time that we can now have more conversations around where we strategically want to take the company, and then embed that into our location plans,” says Jackie.
Jackie and her team rely heavily on location plans to create their automated allocations to send products out to the stores. “We start with a forecast and then have the users add their strategic vision into the location plans, which dramatically changes the way we send products to the stores because we are now combining the science of automation with their sales strategy,” says Jakie.
Removing barriers to adoption
Because of her extensive history with the company, Jackie has also seen the resistance to and then acceptance of AI, analytics and automation at Bealls. Even if their longstanding processes are not efficient, Jackie says people can still be invested in the way they’ve done things. “It’s important for managers to understand that there will be questions about what the automation or the analytics are and how they work so that they can trust it,” says Jackie. “Getting them to believe that the numbers are good and that they should trust them is critically important.”
She has a philosophy for keeping processes as efficient as possible with the newer methods. “My recommendation is to ask the team where they see automation improving what they’re doing today,” Jackie says. “Ask where they are clicking today to get the job done – that doesn’t necessarily add value to the process.”
Jackie also recommends doing a time study so a company can understand where employees spend their time and asking if it aligns with its strategic goals. “You might find that there’s a difference between the perception of time spent versus actual time spent,” says Jackie. “And so, having them record where they’re spending their time during the week may uncover opportunities for automation.”
Sometimes, productivity gains happen from small changes. “We recently reevaluated how our worksheets were structured within the system based on feedback from the users and what they really wanted to see,” says Jackie. “We were able to give them back time that they would’ve wasted waiting for the worksheets to open. And we were able to give them better functionality because they can now more easily see how they can trade money between departments and see how that money rolls up just by changing the view and listening to our people and what they wanted to see.”
Analytics automation empowers businesses to harness the power of data for enhanced decision making, personalization, efficiency and customer experiences. By integrating analytics into automation processes, organizations can unlock new levels of operational excellence and drive sustainable growth in today's data-driven business landscape.