Customer Success Stories
In 2009, PDSA celebrates 92 years of providing free veterinary treatment for the sick and injured pets of people in need. It is proud of the heritage, achievements and values that have made it the UK's leading veterinary charity. It is non-campaigning, and non-political and cares for more than 350,000 pet patients a year.
Its retail operations play a critical role in generating income, and it was in order to take them to the next level that the charity wanted leading-edge technology for each of its 180 shops.
"Thanks to having Cybertill installed in these stores, we have better insight into the sales and profit that we make on seasonal items. The insight that Cybertill has given us is driving better buying decisions.”
Andrew Holl, Director of Business Services at PDSA
The issues before cybertill was acquired
PDSA had been developing its ranges of new goods to give customers more choice than the traditional charity store offer of donated goods. These new items were either seasonal products such as Christmas gifts or everyday lines such as pet toys, and both gave challenges. The product range, pricing and ordering for seasonal lines is done many months in advance of when items will be sold in the stores and, with no historical information on what had sold well or not in the previous season, buying decisions were based on best estimates.
Inevitably, whilst PDSA sometimes got the product, price and order quantity just right, at other times it did not. This resulted in either early sell-out of seasonal lines or higher than expected levels of stock remaining at the end of that seasonal event. For everyday lines such as the veterinary-approved pet products, PDSA had the challenge of managing its stock so it always had items to sell but did not carry excess stock of these lines in each of its 180 stores. As the store ordering was done manually, the results were very mixed.
Moreover, the stock accounting for these new goods was done in a financial accounting system that was not designed to cope with the demands of managing and reporting on hundreds of products across hundreds of stores. This made stock accounting time-consuming and difficult for the PDSA Finance team.
As Andrew Holl, Director of Business Services at PDSA, explains: “Prior to selecting Cybertill, we relied upon manual stock management processes. That left us with little visibility of stock holding and sales across our stores.”
However, whilst providing an important source of revenue for the charity, new goods are a small part of most charities’ income from its retail outlets and PDSA is no exception. Most of its income comes from selling second-hand, donated items. As a result, each store has little control over what it is able to sell as it can only sell those items from its local donors. This reduces the value of knowing what is sold among the donated items, as there is no guarantee the same item will be donated again. This also makes it difficult to justify significant investment in the EPoS technology that a mainstream commercial retailer with 180 stores would regard as essential.
At the same time, PDSA’s existing technology was becoming a barrier to everyday operations. Basic performance information was captured using an Amstrad Emailer system in each store. Whilst this low-cost solution had served its original purpose, its small screen and keyboard were difficult to use for any length of time and spare parts had become very difficult to obtain.
PDSA recognised that it needed to give its Retail team the ability to generate the best income for the charity’s work, to provide a more sustainable IT infrastructure for its retail stores and to have stock management processes that were simple.
However, it did not want to distract its people from their core purpose so it needed a system that was simple to set up and run. The system had to be easy to learn and use too, especially in stores where it is often used by a volunteer or a Store Manager without experience of using IT systems in a retail business.
PDSA enlisted some independent help and issued an Invitation to Tender. After reviewing the responses, a shortlist of providers and systems was selected to review in more detail. This shortlist was narrowed down to a final two and, in competitive tender, Cybertill was awarded the contract in September 2008.
The cybertill solution
Comments Andrew Holl: “Some aspects of operating stores for a charity are different to a normal commercial retailer, for example, the need to administer the system which allows charities to claim tax relief on Gift- Aided donations. Selecting a partner and a system that was committed to providing these things was important to us.”
Cybertill has devoted time and energy to understanding the charity sector and the retail challenges around Gift Aid, and employs staff that have worked in the front-line of the charity retail sector.
Early benefits from the cybertill solution
Implementation work began immediately and the first 40 stores went live prior to Christmas 2008.
This early installation provided the first benefits as the item-level sales performance recorded in these stores has been used to complete the buying plan for Christmas 2009.
During the spring of 2009, the remaining 140 stores were implemented and the system is now part of everyday life in the PDSA stores.
The PDSA central warehouse has been recently added to the system so there is a much more seamless process between the Retail Support team, the warehouse team and the stores to buy, distribute, sell and replenish new goods. The Retail team in the Head Office can now easily see whether they need to order more stock or reduce prices of slow-selling lines, as they have the right tools to do the job. This has maximised new goods for sale and resulted in more efficient stock management.
The PDSA and Cybertill team are now working on sending summarised stock performance data into the accounting system to make stock accounting much easier. In the longer term, PDSA is hoping to operate an online store and knows that it already has a system in place to enable this.
“Whilst we don’t have shareholders, we have Trustees and donors, and they expect us to look after our finances, in particular keeping tight control of the money we have tied up in stock. Thanks to having Cybertill installed in these stores, we have better insight into the sales and profit that we make on seasonal items. The insight that Cybertill has given us is driving better buying decisions,” Andrew Holl concludes.