Partner Portals Pay Off
When Mike Henderson took over as CEO and chairman of Golf USA Inc. in September 2000, he discovered that the retail company's communications infrastructure was subpar. And for a company that operates 103 franchises in, Canada, Europe, and the United States, communication is crucial to long-term success.
So Henderson and his management team of veteran retailers promptly conducted a survey. The findings showed "lack of constant communications" to be the top complaint among franchise owners, the company's first-line customers. Resolving that problem as the team plotted a strategic course was a primary and delicate challenge. "One of the reasons people get into franchising is to get away from being hammered by corporate directives on a daily basis," Henderson says. "So, the game changes from issuing directives to selling ideas." Adding to that challenge was the fact that few of the franchise owners used email as a business tool.
In searching for a technological fix to the communications problem, Golf USA needed a solution that provided an online information repository, a tool to facilitate the sharing of best practices, and functionality to improve the efficiency with which merchandise moves out the door. The Accudaq Perkulator application service Golf USA selected to fulfill those needs provides an extranet and portal structure with secure, standardized (with the golfusa.com domain) email; an online document library; a best-practices portal; and a portal on which owners can review and purchase merchandise.
The company launched Perkulator this past March and had optimized it by June. Accudaq quickly ironed out some early wrinkles, such as email routing difficulties, Henderson reports. His discussion of the product's capabilities also drives home the point that Golf USA had a firm grip on the business processes its technology investment was designed to support. These processes include moving to a paperless document library, sharing knowledge among different stores, and enabling owners to purchase and sell discounted merchandise more efficiently. Henderson and his team also committed to an iterative approach, given the fact most franchisees displayed limited IT sophistication.
The implementation has paid off for both Golf USA and its franchisees. By immediately learning about the tactics one franchise employed to conduct a four-day tent sale that netted and impressive $54,000, for example, other owners developed greater confidence in the value of the new extranet. That inspired them to seek more policy, procedure, and branding information from the online library. It also increased their comfort level with the online catalog.
"When vendors offer us special prices, we list that on our 'buying association' section," Henderson says. "Owners can see the cost, the recommended retail price, and place the purchase order right there." For example, a vendor recently offered an attractive price on 500 golf bags. "We moved those 500 pieces in a week," Henderson says. "Before, with the paper process and back-and-forth faxing, it would have taken us a month to get through those goods."
Quicker access to attractive prices leads to better profit margins on a more frequent basis. But those bottom-line gains began with the process of improving communications with and among franchise owners. Golf USA's Web site received 600 hits a month when Henderson arrived. Now, it receives about 32,000 hits per month. Wins like that embolden Golf USA and its franchises to take larger, but still measured, swings at e-business gains. --Eric Krell