An aging telephone keypad-based data entry system and a hard-copy reporting system made it difficult for Maybelline managers to respond quickly and strategically to opportunities in the retail sales environment. Maybelline management decided that it was time for a technology makeover. Now, with the Merchandising Sales Portfolio system from Microsoft Certified Solution Provider Thinque Systems, running on Handheld PCs powered by Microsoft Windows CE, Maybelline managers have access to Web-based reports about the retail environment that contain data only hours old.

Company Profile
Founded in 1915, Maybelline is the number-one color cosmetics line in the United States. Virtually every major U.S. mass-market retailer-including drugstores, discount stores, supermarkets, and cosmetics specialty stores-carries the company's products. The products also are carried in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Maybelline field merchandising personnel used a telephone keypad-based voice response unit (VRU) to enter information about the retail stores selling Maybelline products. The VRU was cumbersome to set up and operate, and prone to input error. It also consolidated and delivered information to Maybelline managers at such a slow pace that the information was often out-of-date. Maybelline wanted a solution that would provide managers with more timely information about the conditions in the retail environments in which its products are sold.

Business Solution
Maybelline chose to outfit its field merchandising representatives with Thinque MSP Merchandising Sales application from Thinque Systems, running on pen-based computers powered by the Microsoft Windows® CE operating system. The data collected on the handheld systems can be quickly uploaded to a Microsoft SQL Server database at Maybelline headquarters.

With the Thinque MSP application on the Windows CE-based handheld computers, Maybelline representatives can capture information quickly and accurately. That data can be uploaded to the SQL Server database at Maybelline headquarters in a matter of seconds, and the information in the database is available to managers through browser-based reports within a matter of hours. So the reports are always current, and managers can act in ways that benefit both Maybelline and its retail partners.

When you think of Maybelline, what comes to mind? Eye shadow? Mascara? Try high technology. Try the Thinque MSP Merchandising Sales application from Microsoft Certified Solution Provider Thinque Systems, running on Handheld PCs powered by the Microsoft® Windows® CE operating system.

Thinque's powerful solution enables field merchandisers to gather and upload information about store conditions and retail displays in a matter of seconds. It also enables district sales managers to download daily schedules to each field merchandiser-so field representatives know not only where they need to go each day, but also what information the corporation needs them to gather and send back.

In short, Thinque's MSP on Windows CE is providing Maybelline with an interactive link to its mobile field force that is quickly bringing the realities of the retail world right to the desks of the corporate planners and decision makers, who can respond more quickly to situations that need attention. The solution is helping Maybelline forge stronger and better ties with the retailers selling the Maybelline brand. It is also reducing the amount of after-hours time that Maybelline field merchandisers have to spend transferring field data to headquarters. What used to take 30 to 40 minutes on the telephone each evening now takes only a few seconds, because the handheld systems quickly and automatically pass the day's data to the corporate database running on Microsoft SQL Server™ version 7.0.

Increasing Information Flow
The use of information technology is hardly new at Maybelline. The company has been using electronic data interchange (EDI) with its retail customers for years, but Maybelline officials eventually realized that the EDI system actually removed a level of information about what was happening at the retail stores. With scanned data from the retail stores feeding into a sophisticated order management system that quickly resulted in a shipment from Maybelline to replenish the sold inventory, Maybelline managers had information about what was selling, but no information about why.

"The speed of the supply process is very impressive," says Richard Rogers, vice president of training and development for Maybelline, "but what are the conditions at retail affecting the rate of sale of our product? There was no timely, fact-based information that identified those conditions at retail."

To gain greater access to information about the conditions at the retail level, Maybelline deployed hundreds of field merchandising representatives armed with paper-based surveys that they would complete for each store they visited. Each representative would review the wall display, note the use of promotional materials, note stock levels, and gather other details-including information about other promotional displays and competitors' products. The representatives would then use a telephone to access a special voice response unit (VRU), which would ask questions and prompt the representative to enter an answer by pressing the appropriate keys on the telephone keypad.

While this system successfully increased the knowledge of Maybelline executives, it was no cure-all. Representatives spent too much time keying responses into the VRU, and the telephone keypad created opportunities for input errors that were hard to fix. Moreover, by the time managers received the hard-copy reports summarizing the data, the data could be several weeks old. Managers could look at those reports and spot retail trends or conditional opportunities, but those trends and opportunities might have changed before the manager had even seen the report.

A Technology Makeover
Rogers and a team of sales managers from Maybelline began to look into new solutions to streamline the capture and dissemination of retail information, and their search led to Thinque's MSP system running on the Microsoft Windows CE operating system. Thinque MSP is particularly well suited to the kind of interaction that Maybelline managers wanted. MSP can automate the in-store data collection, manage Maybelline's field force, and perform market analysis that enables managers to optimize merchandising and customer service efforts. It enables Maybelline to use Handheld PCs and the corporate intranet-and, if necessary, a more sophisticated interactive voice response unit-to capture and consolidate retail information in a SQL Server database. Moreover, it provides browser-based reporting tools that enable managers throughout the corporation to see this retail information within hours of its capture.

The flexibility of Thinque MSP was also a powerful incentive. "The flexibility of Thinque's data collection system, particularly when compared to the old VRU system, is amazing," says Rogers. "With the Thinque solution, the representatives only answer the specific questions that apply to the call. On the old VRU system, they had to wade through all the questions, and there may have been 50 or more. Plus, we can change the questions any time we want, quickly and easily. Those features alone provide tremendous time savings and reporting benefits."

The accuracy of information has increased since the deployment of the Windows Powered Handheld PCs. Field representatives use pen-based systems from NEC to capture data, and the MSP system has extensive error checking and validation mechanisms in place to ensure that field merchandisers do not enter an inappropriate value in an MSP data field. Once the information is captive in the handheld system, its integrity is ensured, as no rekeying is involved in getting the information into the SQL Server database.

Finally, the quality of life for Maybelline representatives is greatly improved with the Thinque solution. Data transfer between the Handheld PCs and the SQL Server database is managed entirely by the Thinque solution, which automatically uploads the day's collected data and downloads any new information and store visit schedules. With the old VRU system, field representatives typically spent 30 to 40 minutes or more each evening entering the data via their telephone keypads. "Now, " says Rogers, "they can plug the unit into the telephone line, hit 'connect,' and walk away. That's a very big benefit for the field sales force."

Thinque Systems