Enterprises across the country are rethinking how much office space they need post-pandemic, as knowledge workers and admin staff show no signs of wanting to let go of the conferencing and collaboration tools that enable them to log in from home.
Gary Desai, CIO at Discount Tire, has another real-estate question on his mind, though: How can IT help reduce the footprint of the company’s typical tire shop so that it can open new locations in more densely populated markets?
Discount Tire has around 1,100 stores employing 22,000 people across the US, and adds another 50 outlets each year. A typical shop will have a glass storefront that houses a display of tires and wheel rims, as well as a seating area and desks where sales staff can check in customers on computers and help them pick out the services they need. Out back, there’ll be three or four bays where the cars are serviced.
“Today we are mostly in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, where you’ve got big parking lots,” says Desai, who joined the 60-year-old family-owned business in January 2020.
The situation in New York or Boston, however, is very different. “Land there is at a premium. If you want to enter those markets, you want to enter it with half the footprint of your competition,” he says.
Future stores, though, will dispense with the glass storefront and part of the workshop space currently given over to tire storage. “With the glass gone,” says Desai, “if you can work on the inventory and not get in too much stock, you look at the orders for the next day and get the tires delivered the day before, you can cut this footprint easily by half.”
A pilot store built on that model is set to open in December. Customers should be able to just drive up and get out of their car, with a mobile app alerting the shop of the customer’s approach. “We’ll direct you right to the bay, in and out in 20 minutes,” he says.
The pandemic has already prepared the company for such low-contact ways of working. Declared an essential service, Discount Tires had to quickly figure out how to keep shops open while following safety guidelines.
Usually, says Desai, “if I’m selling you a tire, I’m going to be only one foot away from you because you and I are going to look at a common screen.” The company shipped 4,000 extra monitors to stores so staff and customers could stand six feet apart and still see the same information.
It became clear, however, that customers were reluctant to enter stores, so the company moved to curbside check-in, with customers picking out tires online before turning up.
“We put in digital signage outside the shops for QR codes and check-ins, and then further refinements to the payment system where it’s touchless payment. You don’t have to give your credit card; you just validate without a signature — but you have to modify all the software to do that.”
That mix of online and onsite commerce is being made easier by another project Desai has been working on: consolidating the customer databases used by the web store, in-store sales, and contact center applications so that customers’ purchase history is accessible from all three.
“We have purchasing through the web. We have purchasing through our customer contact centers. And obviously the third, the biggest channel is the in-store channel. And each of these application systems is different,” says Desai. “Our point-of-sale system is 15, 20 years old. Our web is newer, but each one has its own customer database and there is no centralization.”
Desai knew there were duplicates among the 70 million customer records the company held, so he turned to Informatica’s Customer 360 master data management product for help with deduplication and data cleansing. The result was a reduction in the number of customer records to 35 million.
Discount Tire handed the contract for end-to-end integration of the MDM system to Informatica partner Infoverity.
“Infoverity did a lot of data architecture, and there’s a lot of MuleSoft integration that happened,” says Desai. “We had a team of at least four or five full-time people of ours in there doing data cleansing and architecture and making sure that they’re following our standards.”
The value of relationships
When a key person on Discount Tire’s side fell ill midproject, Infoverity took up the slack. “We’ve got good partners. That’s how you protect yourself: You make top-notch relationships … ideally at the CEO level,” he says.
Now that his colleague is back at work, says Desai, he’s going to slow things down a little — but slowing down is difficult: “Data management is the stepping stone to digital transformation, right? Data, data integrity, data management. And if you go slow there, your digital transformation is going to slow down.”
Now, the web, in-store, and contact center systems automatically validate customers against the same database in Informatica’s cloud, he says. “All that stuff is now instantly available in all three places in the same fashion.”
With the customer data validation completed for all but a few of the company’s hundreds of systems, Desai is cleaning up the product databases, also using Informatica software. That might seem overkill for a company that only sells tires and wheels but Discount Tire also recently began selling wiper blades and plans to add other accessories too, so the number of SKUs will grow. Next year, he plans to tackle the supplier databases.
Informatica has helped tie together the databases for the different sales channels, but the applications remain separate: “It’s going to take us four or five years to unify them,” Desai says.
He’s just asked the board for the funding for the next step in that process, a two-and-a-half year project to move the point-of-sale application to the cloud and keep enough edge computing capacity in each store to maintain operations.
The edge servers alone will cost millions but, “If things go bad, I’ve got to be able to run it locally, in the shop,” he says.
There’s safety in depth — just like with tire tread.