Bambolino, Paradisio’s baby products department, is one of the largest specialty stores for baby products in Belgium. Not just because of the huge shopping area with its seemingly endless range of baby products, but also because more than six hundred baby gift registries are processed here every year. Manually, this was a gigantic task, and therefore Paradisio decided to automate the entire process and Web enable it last year. It was a very smooth changeover due to the Caché high-performance database software.
Paradisio is a relatively young company, as it was founded by the De Backer family in Sint-Niklaas in 1997. It stems however, from a long-standing family tradition, with both parents and children earning their spurs at the Droomland chain of stores. When the retail store giant Colruyt aquired Droomland, the De Backer children decided to set up their own business, at first in Sint-Niklaas and then in Aalst. Both branches feature the same varied range of goods: from baby products and office equipment including a vast array of computer items, to seasonal garden products. Paradisio remains a one hundred percent family-owned business, without any foreign capital, with twelve members of the family actively engaged at all levels of the company.
Each branch currently has twenty employees – “but that number would have been much higher if we hadn’t automated the whole process”, says Christoph Van Daele, commercial manager of Paradisio Aalst. “Over the past few years, we have invested some four hundred thousand Euro’s in the IT infrastructure of both branches, and that has resulted in enormous savings. Add to this the increase in productivity and the new opportunities created by the automation, and you will see that it was worth every penny”.
Clicks & Mortar
Paradisio’s pride is without any doubt Bambolino, the baby products department. At first sight it is just a giant store where all sorts of baby items are sold, but tucked away in the back there’s a highly sophisticated computer system that turns this store into a unique “clicks & mortar” shop that takes advantage of the Internet. This sort of computer solution was urgently needed: baby products are inevitably associated with baby gift registries, and due to the growing success of the shop the number of baby gift registries also skyrocketed to more than six hundred per year. In general, such baby gift registries involve a lot of tedious manual work composing the registry, entering the data, updating who’s bought what, whether it will be collected or has to be delivered. “It could easily amount to a hundred steps or more per registry, and that was really getting too much”, Ward De Backer explains, Paradisio’s system integrator responsible for the entire IT project. “So two years ago, in order to get rid once and for all of this administrative nightmare we decided to automate the entire process. Initially we used a solution developed by a software vendor from Ghent (ASCI) that had been a partner for many years. Subsequently, they got us in touch with InterSystems, the maker of the Caché software that became the basis of a totally integrated system, ranging from the order input through the administrative and financial processing up to and including the management of the deliveries”.
Caché is a very open technology and competes head-on with the big guys like Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle.
Ward De Backer, System Integrator
The store’s database quickly grew to over one Gigabyte, but Caché remains an extremely stable product, says Ward De Backer. “We have never come across severe crashes or impossible software problems, and the integrated development environment is exceptionally fast and efficient. Compared to a development based on Visual Basic or C++ you can save a considerable amount of time, with far less technical problems. Caché is a very open technology and competes head-on with the big guys like Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle”. Ward De Backer is also delighted with the follow-up and the support from InterSystems – although he admits there have not been many occasions he had to call upon them because the product is so stable.
What makes the solution at Bambolino so unique is that all baby gift registries are now online, which means customers have access to them both in the store via touch screens as well as via the Internet from anywhere in the world. When a customer enters the store, he can check the baby gift registry, choose his gift, and confirm his purchase. A receipt is then printed out which he can take to the cashier at the exit to pay. Each of those transactions is processed in real-time, keeping the system up to date at all times and avoiding any double reservations. “It is a huge difference compared to the manual input previously”, Christoph Van Daele insists. “Everything had to be entered on a printed list, making it much more difficult for both the parents and the store to have a clear overview of the most recent situation. Now you can have a look at all the details whenever you want – what’s still on the list, who reserved what, whether it has been paid or not, whether it will be collected, and so on”.
As soon as the parents have finalised their baby gift registry, it is put online and made accessible to relatives, friends and acquaintances via the baby’s name and date of birth. The parents can also design an electronic birth announcement and e-mail it to anyone they want. Recipients only have to click on the announcement to be automatically directed to the baby gift registry on Bambolino’s Website (www.bambolino.be). They can then review the list of products the parents have chosen, complete with a description, price and picture for each item. When they have made their choice, all they do is complete an electronic money transfer form, and that’s it. Paradisio intends to add several other online payment methods, including credit cards and PC-banking.
More to Come
For Bambolino the online access is an extra service to the customers, perfectly complementing the traditional sales in the store. “That is why we have had so many favourable reactions to our Website initiative”, Christoph Van Daele adds. “On average we already get more than twenty reservations a day, and that figure is increasing constantly. This type of service appeals in particular to people who live too far to visit the store – like family or friends abroad – because now they can pick exactly the sort of present they had in mind and have it delivered. It is clear that the Website has already created additional revenue, and we are therefore seriously thinking about moulding our other activities, office equipment and seasonal products, into an online shop as well”.
“Paradisio’s major advantage is that apart from the online shop, it also masters the complete logistics chain through its traditional store – and that is exactly the point where most Web shops fail”, he claims. Whilst the design of the Web site was outsourced, with the web server hosted at the Internet Service Provider (ISP), with links to the Caché servers in every store, the database development was done in-house. With plans to open a third store in Desselgem, De Backer will expand his IT team. “We now have an IT framework that we have developed around the Caché database, that will scale to easily handle many tens of thousands of simultaneous users”. With this investment in Caché they have the foundation laid on which to build a stable and profitable business for many generations to come.