West Marine’s Shipshape New System

Cataloger/retailer West Marine sells more than 50,000 SKUs of boating and aquatic supplies. But finding and updating the information about the products in its database used to be “like a scavenger hunt,” says marketing systems specialist Brian Bos.

Not anymore. Since investing in a streamlined catalog management system last fall, the $530.6 million marketer has reduced the number of errors in its catalogs while improving efficiency.

In addition to producing an annual catalog of nearly 1,000 pages, Watsonville, CA-based West Marine puts out more than 30 versions of twice-monthly catalogs and retail drivers that run from 16 to 48 pages. The company used to rely on freelancers in addition to its nearly 25-person creative and production staff to assist in creating the sundry mail pieces. And if there were an error in a product description or price, staffers had to check every version of every mailing to correct the error, because there was no central repository for the data files.

After three years of researching its options, West Marine purchased the Catalog Management System (CMS) 3.3 from Chicago-based Pindar Systems. Although West Marine won’t divulge how much it spent, Pindar says that installation costs range from $150,000 for minimum functionality and 10 users to more than $2 million for additional modules and more than 100 users.

CMS enables West Marine to include detailed specs from vendors directly into the database. West Marine can also repurpose the formats of its content, for use in catalogs, the Website, charts, and even store signage without having to rekey the information. Likewise, prices can be updated and product descriptions corrected with just one edit in the system.

Not only does West Marine no longer need to hire production temps, but Michelle Faraborough, former senior vice president, marketing and strategic planning, said that the company would be downsizing about 25% of its copywriting team and 25%-30% of its art staff as a result of the production efficiencies.

West Marine gave itself only three months to implement and begin using CMS. The production schedule of the annual catalog and its January acquisition of cataloger/ retailer BoatU.S. necessitated the speedy implementation.

“We were able to take all the data that [BoatU.S.] had, all the assets that they had, and put them into [the CMS system] so that they’re now available for us as we decide from a marketing standpoint what we want to do,” says senior director of marketing Vince Allen. Given that BoatU.S. offers 100,000 SKUs, that was no small task.

Even so, “I really wish we had had a lot more time to really nail down what we wanted — to actually test the system a little bit more,” Allen says. Also, switching to a new system creates “a fair amount of stress based on a bunch of old dogs learning this new trick.” But Allen hastens to add, “Virtually everyone has been able to say, Well, this is better than the way we used to do it.”

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