Channelling the White Stuff

Tin toy aeroplanes and mannequins in Super­man costumes greet you as you enter the Kennington headquarters of clothing retailer White Stuff.

The theme continues inside the building — a former Hackney Carriage depot — with flock wallpaper, clocks your grandparents would have had and a 1970s kitchen with all its kitsch accessories.

There is a mock street full of White Stuff outlets, and the building also has electric car-charging points, showers for cyclists and a car club rental vehicle on site. Mike Padfield, Head of IT at White Stuff, also ­ref­lects his organisation’s ethos, greeting CIO wearing one of the company’s distinctive shirts.

It’s 26 years since White Stuff’s founders, who still own the company, began printing T-shirts to sell on the ski slopes of the Alps. Today the company has 80 shops, an e-commerce offering, call centre catalogue services and sells through department stores including John Lewis.

“We are a truly multi-channel business,” Padfield says. He explains that the business sells 10 per cent of its stock through wholesalers, 20 per cent through its e-commerce and catalogue channel and its high street stores still dominate the business model.

All White Stuff clothing is the company’s own design, and with the design teams sitting just around the corner from Padfield’s office, there is no clear distinction in the building between IT, finance and fashion.

White Stuff sources manufacturing in the Far East, Turkey and China like most and aims at the “smarter and fashionable end of casual”, Padfield explains.

“We are still looking to expand with a further 20 shops and there are plans for ­international expansion.

“We now need to be a cross-channel business with a single view of the customer,” Padfield says of the new business processes and IT strategy he has been driving since March 2010. “The journey started 18 months ago when we looked at replacing the point of sale (POS) system and then took a wider view to look at what we could do to be a proper cross-channel retailer.

“Fourteen months ago we reviewed all of the business processes and then went and talked to the IT suppliers about how their solutions would fit our business. We are defining what our customer promise will be as part of this review.

“The business was very open to reviewing the processes. A set of workshops helped us look at the way we do things now and from that we worked out a process,” he says of the cross-company review.

Cross-channel strategy

Padfield’s aim is to create a single view of all White Stuff stock across all channels, and to reduce manual processes, especially when shifting stock from the retail to the e-commerce operations.

As the company defined the new processes which it needed to achieve this, Padfield and his team sought the best IT solution to make it happen.

K3 Retail Business Solutions was selec­ted from a shortlist. The Oxfordshire company is a specialist in Microsoft Dynamics and White Stuff will use a Dynamics-based system for POS, warehousing, financials  and CRM while keeping its existing e-commerce infrastructure.

Padfield has high hopes for the Dynamics CRM system. “We are good at recording customer details online, but not at capturing that information elsewhere in the business,” he says.

The rollout has already begun, with the finance team moving onto Dynamics in April 2011. The POS was already in pilot phase in four stores and Padfield expected rollout to be completed by March 2011 alongside that of the new stock management tools from K3. As these bed in White Stuff is considering a click-and-collect ­option to tie together e-commerce and the retail shops.

“K3 is our main platform on HP hardware. We have also built a new data­centre at our distribution centre in Leicester which will mirror the datacentre in London. We have updated the server farm at the same time.” Although virtualisation is a key strategy for many CIOs, Padfield consciously avoided it at White Stuff.

“The extra cost of physical servers was not as much as going virtualised. At a later date we may well adopt it into our strategy,” he says.

White Stuff has used retail IT specialist­ Retail Assist as part of the integration of the new technology. The firm also provides out-of-hours IT support for White Stuff.

“We use them for specific pieces of work when we don’t have the bandwidth in house,” Padfield explains. He has an IT team of 10: an operation group which supports the infrastructure, some SQL ­developers who deal with the data reports generated by the business and who are now becoming the White Stuff experts on Dynamics, and some integration and data migration experts.

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