by Meridith Levinson

How Martha Stewart Living CIO Beauchesne Keeps Its Website Up to Snuff

Aug 15, 2001 9 mins

It’s not easy being like martha stewart. martha is smart. Martha is beautiful. Martha is organized. Martha is a multimillion-dollar businesswoman. In short, Martha is perfect, and she expects her products to be perfect too.

Enter Sheila Beauchesne (pronounced boh-shayne), CIO and senior vice president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO). She joined the 10-year-old New York City-based merchandising and media company on Oct. 18, 1999, the day it celebrated its IPO at the New York Stock Exchange.

Right now Beauchesne, 36, is tasked with the impossible: She has to make her boss’s eponymous website as perfect as her boss.

“With a perfectionist, you could do a thousand things, and even if 999 of them are right, she’s going to notice the one that’s not,” says Beauchesne. “[Stewart] has every right to because her name is on the brand, and the worst thing we could do is dilute the brand. It sets a high standard and makes you do better work, but it’s tough.”

On the surface, re-flects the domestic diva’s notorious attention to detail. The site contains 10,000 elegant pages filled with practical tips on everything from pruning roses to refinishing furniture.

But behind those pristine pages, the site’s architecture is flawed. When it was developed in 1997 by a third-party vendor, domain for tips on gardening, crafts and cooking?was set up on one website, while company’s shopping site?was put on another. Having two servers makes it impossible for the company to act on its strategy, which is to use content from its magazines, website and TV shows to sell its products online.

“A lot of people access our content, but a small percentage actually buy our products,” Beauchesne says. “We think that by tying [how-to content and merchandise] together more tightly, we’re going to get more customers and drive more e-commerce revenues.” In October 2000, MSO tested that strategy. The company published a special Halloween issue of Martha Stewart Living that directed readers to the website to find more information on applying scary makeup and carving pumpkins as well as how to purchase face-painting and jack-o’-lantern kits. Sales were high, and many readers were converted to buyers, says Beauchesne.

To capitalize on that strategy, the content and e-commerce engine will reside on one website, which will in turn record data on how customers move around Marthastewart- .com. The clickstream analysis will show how customers interact with the brand and will allow MSO to customize information for visitors. The new site will also have the infrastructure needed to stream TV shows and deliver content through wireless devices.

In addition to relaunching the website, Beauchesne is also developing an asset management system. This Web-enabled database will house digital files of the company’s photographs, text and TV programs on a single system so that MSO can reuse them at little cost. Plus, Stewart and others constantly come to Beauchesne with suggestions for website features and questions about IT-based products. For instance, Stewart has suggested that Beauchesne develop The Organizer. This product would combine a document management system for keeping track of medical records and bills, a project management system, a calendar and a budgeting application.

“People would pay money to be organized the way Martha Stewart is organized,” says Beauchesne. “The tough part is explaining [to Stewart] that it’s not something you can develop easily.”

New ideas are an inherent part of the business and culture at MSO; the company’s creative spirit earned it the distinction of being a CIO-100 honoree. But keeping up with new ideas on a daily basis and tempering them with the realities of technology is no easy feat. During a typical workday, like the one described in the following section, Beauchesne has to keep projects on schedule and vendors in line?all with a smile on her face.

A.M.: Increase Revenues

Lauren Stanich, president of publishing for MSO, breezes by Beauchesne’s office. A minute later, Jesse Brink, senior staff writer for Martha Stewart Living, joins Stanich. Beauchesne has called them over to demonstrate a new technology product the company can use to make more money.

Beauchesne picks up an object from her desk that resembles a computer mouse, but it’s shaped like a cat. It has no trackball on its underside, has a laser at the tip of its nose and is connected to her computer. She opens a catalog and passes the CueCat, as it’s called, over a product’s bar code. A few seconds later, her computer loads a webpage with the product she scanned. Beauchesne says readers equipped with the device, which is made by Digital Convergence, could scan a bar code printed with a magazine article about hydrangeas, and their computer would instantly load a webpage featuring a panoply of products they could purchase to cultivate the flower. Similarly, if a pharmaceutical company put a bar code on its ad in the magazine, the reader could scan the code and get to the company’s webpage. MSO could charge more for bar-coded ads, says Beauchesne.

If MSO circulated the CueCat to enough readers in its core demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds, it could aggregate information on their habits and preferences, Beauchesne says. But she can’t devote time to the technology until the new site is running.

Lunch: Track Customers

Over baguette sandwiches, Beauchesne meets with the E-Selling Intelligence (ESI) team. ESI is helping to design the site’s new architecture based on the data MSO plans to gather about its customers. ESI comprises MSO marketing and IT staff plus representatives from Fort Point Partners, a New York City-based consultancy that built Kmart’s shopping site,

“From a technology perspective, we’re duplicating what they did on BlueLight for,” says Beauchesne. “We don’t want to spend time developing something that already exists, like the way you check out [of an e-commerce site]. The [e-commerce] platform is not unique. It’s what we’re going to put on top of that [platform] that’s innovative.” For example, she plans to stream Stewart’s TV shows on the site.

“We need data showing that content drives sales,” Beauchesne says. “We need to know what percent of garden products were sold to a visitor who came from the magazine.”

Ryan Wener, a Fort Point Partners senior consultant, assures her that when the system goes up, MSO will be able to identify different sets of customers, such as those who subscribe to the magazine or have made online purchases, and track what new channels they patronize over time.

The meeting wraps up in an hour. Beauchesne dashes off to her last appointment.

P.M.: Manage Digital Assets

Five coworkers crowd into Beauchesne’s office to plan how they’re going to move 10 years of video, photos and text online. Beauchesne says that the digital asset management system will simplify the way designers locate pictures as well as save money.

Currently the company’s nearly 460,000 items of text, photographs and TV segments are stored on CD-ROMs in Photo Shop Web databases and on the TV editing system. If a designer needs a photo of a blue plaid couch, for example, she may have to ask at least two staffers where to find it, then call the magazine’s prepress house to have it sent to her. De-signers can spend days tracking down photos.

The new system will house 733GB of digital assets on a single server, which Beauchesne says is safer than storing proprietary information on a CD-ROM. Designers will be able to find what they need in minutes, know the size of each image, and learn whether it’s been used in the magazine, on the website, in the Martha By Mail catalog, on a Kmart store sign or internally.

With the asset management system, MSO will be able to recycle its resources for free rather than rescan images or hire photographers to shoot pictures that already exist. For instance, a photographer might take 30 pictures of a basket of eggs for the company’s annual report, but designers will use only one. Six months later, however, they might use another photo of the basket to complement a feature on the website about farm-fresh eggs. Beauchesne declined to say how much she was spending to build the system, but she says the company will get a return on this investment within two-and-a-half years.

She asks the team about the service that the vendor, Sausalito, Calif.-based WebWare, is providing. WebWare will customize the system according to the way Stewart works, which is like a designer. If she needs to search for a photograph by color, for example, searching by subject will be a waste of time, and Stewart famously likes to “make time, not waste time.” One of the team members characterizes WebWare’s responsiveness as “fair to good.” Beauchesne says she’ll talk to the CEO of WebWare.

Evening: Run, Read, Ring

It’s 4:30 p.m. Beauchesne will be at work until 10 p.m. Granted, one of those hours will be spent jogging. “I try to sneak out around 7 p.m. to run along Chelsea Piers,” she admits.

During that early evening quiet time, she calls vendors to haggle with them on pricing or service, prepares work for the following day and reads the news.

On her way out of the office, she passes the glass-enclosed data center. If she notices jumbled wires, she’ll tie them up neatly.

“With Martha Stewart, not only do you have to do everything perfectly, but it has to look nice too,” she says.