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Case study: Rascal Systems

The problem

In recent years newspapers and magazines have become an important product area for the major supermarket chains. However, the product presents the retailer with special challenges:

  • For the most part it is supplied on a sale-or-return basis according to a timetable produced by the publisher
  • Unsold copies returned prior to the final recall date qualify the retailer for a full refund. Unsold copies returned after this date are worthless
  • There are more than 4000 magazine titles and display space in a supermarket is at a premium
  • Newspapers and magazines are one of the few products that are supplied locally to multiple supermarkets rather than from the retailer’s own regional distribution centre
  • The supply chain is well established with local wholesalers contracted to serve national publisher distributors. However, this can mean that a retail store may be serviced by several wholesalers
  • The range of titles needs to be managed according to the needs of the community and the size and facilities available in store
  • The front cover and promotional activity such as TV advertising can make an enormous impact on the sales potential of an individual issue
  • Stock levels are highly volatile and so replenishment is key

The problem clearly required a centralised system to be made available to any retailer. A system that could plan and monitor the complete shelf life of magazines. No such software was available and a bespoke solution was required.

Rascal Systems Limited recognised that the problem of the major supermarkets could be solved by a team of specialised merchandising staff. However, these staff would need the very best information and communication support systems. They therefore approached Open Projects to provide a bespoke software solution.

The website and central database

Open Projects designed a central database using Microsoft SQL Server. The database runs on a powerful Microsoft Windows 2008 Server hosted in a secure data centre. The data centre provides a direct link to the Internet backbone. The database stores all the product information by title, issue and price variant. It also stores the retail outlets and the supply chain in operation for those outlets and their suppliers. The visible ‘face’ of the database is a website that can be accessed by all members of the supply chain.

The power at hand!

For the merchandisers in the field, Open Projects designed a bespoke application running on a PDA under the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system. The unit again operates a SQL Server database, which is synchronised with the main Rascal web server. The PDA unit incorporates a barcode scanner and a bluetooth facility used to enable local printing. A range of communication protocols are supported so that the merchandiser can exchange data with the central server using wireless, broadband or GPRS communications. The PDA application is supported and updated centrally so that new and exciting functionality can be added with a minimum of disruption to normal service.

The result

The bespoke solution has been a complete success and is now running throughout the retail estate of major supermarket chains including Tesco Ireland, Southern Co-op, Waitrose, Easons, Welcome Break and Sainsburys. Levels of magazine waste in the storeshave been dramatically reduced. The range of titles appropriate to the requirements of each store is being managed in an efficient and professional manner. The solution has revolutionised the industry.

Open Projects continue to work closely with Rascal Systems Limited to maintain, develop and support the project.