Service Sales Corporation Brings World-Class Footwear Retailing to the Middle East
Service Sales Corporation (SSC) is Pakistan’s largest retailer, operating multiple retail banners including the Servis Store, Servis Megastore, and Servis Factory Outlets, as well as the Shoe Planet chain. The company focuses exclusively on the sale of footwear, with over 500 brick-and-mortar locations generating an annual sales volume of more than 13 Million customer transactions and nearly 20 million units of merchandise.
SSC at a Glance
- Focus: Branded and private label footwear
- Sales Volume: Over 13 million transactions annually
- Channels: Over 500 brick-and-mortar locations
- Systems: Oracle ERP, Oracle Retail Analytics, Microsoft POS
- Differentiators: Pakistan’s largest retailer and one of the country’s top two consumer brands
Seizing an Opportunity for Growth
Although SSC is the largest retailer in Pakistan, the country’s highly fragmented retail footwear market allowed the company to achieve its brand dominance with just a 10% overall market share. SSC saw this as a green-field opportunity for the growth of the chain.
But they needed the systems and processes of a world-class retailer in place to make it happen.
First and foremost, the company sought to establish best-practice retail processes across all its retail banners. For instance, SSC lacked a standardized retail calendar along which they could conduct financial and merchandise planning for each of their retail seasons. In the absence of such a calendar, the company was losing out on the opportunity to pool buys and take advantage of greater buying power.
The company also sought ways to reduce inventory carrying costs while simultaneously improving in-stock position on the merchandise with the greatest demand.
Held Back by Legacy Technology
From a technology standpoint, the absence of standardization was also becoming a challenge. SSC was running a small-scale off-the-shelf software package that had been heavily customized by local programmers to support the company’s needs. But as the organization grew, the one-off nature of the customizations was becoming a roadblock. More and more of the company’s operations were being handled outside of the ERP system in complicated spreadsheets that were understood by only a handful of personnel.
“I had a vision of bringing world-class retailing to Pakistan,” says Ahmed Hussain, Chief Strategy Officer and CIO at SSC. “I knew that with the right approach, we could do it.”
A Carnegie Mellon graduate and former program manager at Microsoft, Hussain has a strong grounding in technology and an understanding of how it has enabled some of the most successful U.S. retail chains to scale and out-compete their rivals.
Hussain headed to the U.S. to attend Oracle Retail Crosstalk and explore the latest and greatest in operational and analytics retail systems.
“I’d always considered systems like Oracle Retail prohibitively expensive and complex to implement for SSC. But when I attended Crosstalk, one of the presenters made it clear how packaged the systems had become,” says Hussain. “I knew then that SSC was ready to take the leap into this grade of ERP system.”
Selecting the Right Solution
After adding offerings from SAP and Microsoft into their solution evaluations, SSC ultimately chose Oracle. “The technology was going to be a far better fit right out of the box. So long as we could find the right implementation partner, Oracle was the clear winner,” says Hussain.
SSC reached out to Oracle for recommended implementation partners, and got connected with Logic’s President, Amber Naqvi.
“We had just rolled out Accelerated Implementation by Logic℠, designed to help retailers rapidly and cost-effectively implement Oracle Retail using the platform’s out-of-the-box retail best practices. We also had strategic plans to expand into the Middle East and were looking for the right client to partner with in the region. It was an ideal match,” says Naqvi.
Bridging Business Process Gaps
While the SSC team was excited about the Accelerated Implementation by Logic, they had concerns that not every aspect of a completely packaged implementation approach was going to be a fit for their business processes or for the regional retailing requirements.
The SSC and Logic teams met in Dubai to talk out the expected challenges of the imple-mentation – reviewing the approach for everything from retail processes to staffing and managing the project.
“It turned out that many of the business processes we thought were unique could actually be supported using standard workflows within Oracle Retail. Logic’s approach is truly a streamlined retail ERP implementation,” says Hussain. “We left our first working session knowing they would be a great partner, and I was happy we had all the pieces in place to achieve our vision.”
Planning the Work
The team needed to break ground quickly, and Logic’s experienced U.S.-based personnel formed the nucleus of expertise required for a successful start. But the project didn’t yet have the local Oracle Retail resources needed for longer-term success. “We quickly got to work recruiting the best talent to be found in the region,” says Carl Hixson, Partner at Logic and U.S.-based leader of the SSC project.
“While there were simply no Oracle Retail experts to be found in Pakistan, there was a pool of talent with experience in Oracle Financials. The skillset translates remarkably well,” adds Hixson. Shabbir Mukhi, one such expert, was brought on board by Logic to become the nucleus of the local implementation team. “I had a lot to learn but knew I could help SSC succeed,” says Mukhi.
To add management gravitas, Saad Khan, a career Middle East liaison to major U.S. software corporations, was brought on board as Managing Director of Logic Middle East. The Logic and SSC teams selected Dubai as their official face-to-face meeting place, and would hold a series of three two-week long all-hands sessions at key milestones of their otherwise distributed implementation work.
“At the project kickoff, we needed to quickly cement relationships and open up the lines of communication. So we took everyone – both Logic and SSC personnel – on safari together. It was a tremendous experience. And while it diverted us from working directly on the project for a day, it paid dividends throughout the coming year,” adds Khan.
Working the Plan
Guided by the Accelerated Implementation by Logic, the imple-mentation team got to work. While Oracle Retail’s out-of-the-box processes where a great match for SSC, some the unique aspects of the implementation required the team to call on their experience, technical acumen, and creative problem-solving skills to deliver a successful solution.
The first was an issue with the third-party batch scheduling tool that essentially acts like an orchestra conductor, synchronizing the movement of data between Oracle Retail’s various modules.
Because of a legal restriction, the software couldn’t be licensed for use in Pakistan. The Logic team worked quickly to select another tool, integrate it with Oracle Retail, and test the solution to mission-critical standards.
The Accelerated Implementation by Logic is also designed so that retailers can run Oracle Retail in a fully hosted environment. Unfortunately, none of the hosting providers in the region could deliver on the required specifications for system performance, uptime, security, and failover. Shifting gears, Logic and SSC worked together to implement a world-class data center within SSC’s facilities that would meet and exceed the company’s needs.
“We had to come up with solutions for unique challenges and business processes such as how the local VAT is calculated, intermittent store data collection issues that affected sales audit, and how to handle SSC’s wholesale outlets that operate like retail locations but roll up through a separate P&L,” says Wanda Cloninger, one of Logic’s program managers responsible for SSC. “But each challenge was taken in stride and solved elegantly by the team.”
Lastly, SSC required deeper communication between Oracle’s assortment planning and allocation capabilities, so that the company’s merchants could execute allocations directly from their store-level plans. The Logic team developed a seamless integration between the two modules that would help SSC save on personnel costs while enabling more accurate merchandise allocations.
With diligent, dedicated teamwork that spanned two hemispheres, SSC rapidly went live with a range of Oracle Retail modules including Merchandise Financial Planning (MFP), Retail Demand Forecasting (RDF), Assortment Planning (AP), Retail Merchandising System (RMS), Retail Price Management (RPM), Retail Sales Audit (ReSA), and Retail Merchandising Analytics (RMA).
At an exciting launch party, SSC’s CEO used the company’s new systems to issue the first purchase order in front of a crowd of revelers, both in-person and remote.
“Going live with Oracle Retail was an exciting and proud moment for SSC and our partners,” says Hussain. “Doing it rapidly and cost-effectively made the achievement all the more satisfying – and impressive.”
Realizing New Benefits
Since transitioning all of the company’s banners to unified, best-practice business processes, SSC has already seen a range of business benefits that will serve as a foundation for ongoing success and growth.
“We now have a single version of the truth,” says Hussain, “both from the perspective of the retail processes with which we run the business and the data that we use to manage and measure our performance. It’s night and day from where we began.”
Benefits experienced by SSC from their new retail systems include:
- Reduced Inventory. Using scientific planning and transparen-cy into the quantity and location of inventory, SSC has been able to streamline its buys to match demand and reduce the need for safety stock.
- Reduced Stockouts. With data and insights about styles that are in-demand, SSC has achieved a better in-stock position – and a reduction in lost sales – through more intelligent buying and allocation.
- Streamlined Assortments. SSC was able to identify non-productive SKUs, cull them from merchandise assort-ments, and re-focus inventory investments resulting in increased merchandise turns.
- Trusted Data and Insights. The company now relies on a single system of record with data that encompasses stores, DCs, and supply chain so it can make decisions at the chain and local levels, and then act on those decisions to delight customers and improve business performance.
- Organizational Knowledge. With more of SSC’s best practices embodied in the company’s systems, they can now leverage a broader local talent pool making it easier to grow the business and create new jobs.
Three years after he sat in the audience as an attendee at Oracle Retail Crosstalk, Ahmed Hussain returned to the event. But this time, Hussain was a presenter. “I was pleased to tell the story of how we went from vision to reality with Oracle Retail, and it was fitting to do so at Crosstalk, where the idea first took hold.”
With world-class systems in place, SSC is poised to achieve its goals of expanding its business, growing the brand, and furthering the company’s success in Pakistan and beyond.