Byline: Andree Conrad

NEW YORK — Wilsons The Leather Experts is using technology to keep its head count in check, despite a vigorous expansion strategy, while improving productivity at its stores. Management also hopes to reduce turnover and store manager frustration by reducing paperwork for simple procurement tasks.
The Brooklyn Park, Minn.-based retailer is determined to double its revenues to $1 billion by 2004 and is equally determined to avoid doubling its home-office employee base in the process. It added 70 stores in 2000, bringing the total to 613 permanent stores, including 40 airport units.
To maximize productivity from existing staff, Wilsons has upgraded its procurement and human resources management solutions, allowing store employees to manage their time more efficiently, freeing them up from routine chores and letting them concentrate on improving and expanding the core business.
It may also increase productivity and reduce turnover. “We figured that if we gave employees the tools to operate their stores efficiently, there would also be a drive to lower turnover,” said John Kondratuk, managing director of business systems.
The solutions include two new modules, from Lawson Software of Minneapolis, that have been added to Wilsons’ financials and human resources package, which come from the same vendor. Store managers particularly benefit from the self-service module, which lets them order supplies using the company intranet, and automatically converts the order into electronic purchase orders.
“It eliminates paperwork, and reduces the amount of time it takes for the store to be restocked,” Kondratuk said.
In the past, “managers used to have to mail in a requisition form and it took forever.” The requisition forms also had to be processed — which in some cases meant deciphering handwriting — by staff at corporate headquarters.
Bags, boxes, paper, gift wrapping, sales signs, lightbulbs and operating supplies of any type can now be ordered automatically. Store managers click on a procurement icon found on the corporate intranet and a list of supplies available for order appears, with a form to key in the quantity. The order is routed in real time to a fulfillment center to be picked and shipped to the store. Orders for certain types of items are routed directly to appropriate vendors, who in turn deliver to the stores, while other procurement is handled by the home office.
The second module is a self-service function that lets employees input data into their personnel files — addresses, phone numbers, changed marital status, revisions to benefits and deductions and updated information about dependents.
Store managers can use this solution to document promotions, salary increases, job title changes, new hires and terminations. Status changes are implemented automatically in the main human resources file and salary increases are reflected in the next paycheck, a feature that’s very popular with employees.
The integrated system is available companywide over a virtual private network that is online 24 hours a day via a T-1 digital line, where voice and data share bandwidth.

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