Sales And Tracking

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2003-03-01 Print this article Print

Every year, American Greetings churns out 20,000 new cards to meet every need of "social expression" it can imagine. But the life and death of each of those cards is hardly determined by the pen of an artist and the gut of a chief executive.

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Many American Greetings cards are sent directly to large-volume retailers. But, in most locations, an army of American Greetings employees, most of them part-time, puts the cards in their racks.

In places like Evergreen, a half-hour's drive west of Denver, the part-time merchandisers carry cardboard boxes packed with wares to the stores they cover. Their goods range from the ubiquitous birthday card—American Greetings' biggest non-holiday seller—to other strong everyday performers: wedding, anniversary and sympathy cards.

Card 18100-83962 was toted to the Evergreen Albertson's by one of these part-time foot soldiers. Time elapsed since it was conceived in Cleveland: 10 months.

While in a store, the merchandiser delivers cards, fills racks, records 80% of sales information by scanner and, when otherwise necessary, by hand.

During holidays, merchandisers fill racks weeks ahead of the event, sometimes taking a third or more of a store's greeting card rack space to do so. The merchandiser visits the card racks twice a week during non-holiday periods—three times a week during the holidays—carrying a hand scanner, clipboard and preprinted inventory forms; everything is organized by card numbers and groups. On a Thursday three weeks before Valentine's Day, Evergreen's merchandiser added 13 vertical rows. That created 156 more slots for romantic messages.

Scanned data can be sent back to Cleveland immediately. Hand-collected data is punched into a computer later. The information can trigger shipments of new cards to be put in the store—or in some cases, lead to the termination of slow-moving product lines.

American Greetings has maintained the data and applications on its far-flung workforce's handheld devices and laptops with software from Alpharetta, Ga.-based Xcellenet. The company started using Xcellenet's RemoteWare on laptops in 1996 to push data back and forth between its field managers and corporate headquarters. The Xcellenet software also allows the company to remotely manage and maintain the computers.

The merchandisers are a silent and almost-invisible infantry. In the Evergreen Albertson's supermarket, store manager Suzan Raymond acknowledges that she has little direct contact with the American Greetings merchandisers who maintain her racks, even though the store carries the inventory on its books and recoups its costs only as sales are made.

Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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