Canucks fire an IT slapshot


When you’ve only got an hour and a half to hawk your wares, every minute counts. For the Vancouver Canucks, drafting a new technology platform was the answer to the weak spot in their retail lineup.

Each season, the hockey club has 41 regular season home games to offer a host of souvenir products, from jerseys to pucks, to the 18,600 Canuck fans who regularly pack General Motors Place. And during each game the retail operation has a very small window to work with: An hour before the game and two intermissions of 17 minutes each.

Kristy Pennock, senior manager for retail with the Canucks’ parent company, Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, said it’s crucial that they maximize each limited minute. Their old retail management and point-of-sale system, however, was holding them back.

“We’ve got two 17-minute intermissions and we need to crank through as many transactions as possible in those peak times,” said Pennock. The inventory portion of the back office was also inaccurate, and running reports would take hours, she added. “People just couldn’t get what they needed; it wasn’t fast enough.”

After conducting market research and talking to other National Hockey League franchises, Orca Bay turned to The RSC Group, a Vancouver-based Microsoft partner with expertise in retail and business systems.

Alex Bullock, a retail systems manager with The RSC Group, said with their retail business model, customer throughput is as important to the Canucks as it is to a major retailer like Wal-Mart. “It’s like Boxing Day for them any time there’s a game on,” said Bullock. “Even shaving a few seconds off a transaction translates into thousands of dollars in revenue.”

Spending four months working with Orca Bay to determine its unique business needs, RSC put together a solution using the Microsoft Retail Management System as the foundation, running behind a Microsoft SQL Server Database, with Windows XP OS and Microsoft Office integration. Software from TD Bank was also employed to integrate the payment processing software.

While some customization was done around reporting functionality, Bullock said the goal was to keep the system as fast and “vanilla” as possible.

“We spent time configuring the system to make it fast, more than customizing it,” said Bullock. “It is an open, highly configurable architecture.”

From an IT perspective, having an open architecture and running industry-standard backend systems was important, said William Cheng, manager, technical support with Orca Bay.

He said their legacy system used a non-standard database engine, which caused endless interface grief. Because it was a closed standard, other applications couldn’t write to its format and any customization had to be done by the vendor.

With the new open standard system, Cheng said other applications can write to it easily, adding that Orca Bay is already working on new initiatives to take advantage of this, such as a Canuck Card loyalty program. But the biggest benefit of the new system, Cheng said, is the improved customer throughput. Under the legacy system it would take two minutes to complete a transaction, from the time customers walked up to the salesperson to the time they walked away with their purchase.

“We’re now down under 30 seconds, which is a big change,” said Cheng. “That means in that same two-minute window we can do four transactions.”

Pennock added the improvement has already translated into a 25 per cent increase in sales. Average transaction size also increased by $3 per transaction since the new system went live for the start of this hockey season.

“The long lines were a huge deterrent,” said Pennock. “People were looking in the store and seeing these huge lines. Now the lines are moving quite a bit faster, and as they get used to the speed of the tills, people are actually buying more.”



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