Crabtrees Homegrown App Training

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-02-15 Print this article Print

Nightmare"> The decision to go with homegrown applications for the 250-store Crabtree chain (which is also a manufacturer and whose products are sold at more than 8,000 retail locations) was made back in the late 1970s. "Were an AS/400 shop with in-house written software," said Catie Briscoe, Crabtrees director of e-commerce. Analysts point to the IBM AS/400 base as another reason for a relative shortage of viable off-the-shelf alternatives. "We started very small. The IT director here at the time was equipped to write his own POS code. The back-office system wasnt written until the 90s," Briscoe said.
"We have opted to continue our current systems and enhance them. To change to an off-the-shelf back-office system right now would be too lengthy and costly an endeavor."
Was it the right call? "From a startup environment, it probably saved us a lot of money," Briscoe said, adding that "maybe it would have been better to have gone to an off-the-shelf system." Kempain said the argument to corporate top brass for a switch was weakened by the fact that "the systems that we have on it are running perfectly fine." Why then does Kempain want to move off? "What we lack in our systems is what a lot of in-house-written packages lack: a large training base," he said. "Training in-house becomes an issue especially as attrition happens." A healthy chunk of the chains future revenue will likely be Web-based, whether its from e-commerce direct sales or from buy-online-and-pick-up-in-store situations. For that reason, Crabtree is expanding its e-commerce system and has opted for a Web pay-as-you-go approach from Venda. Venda CEO Jeffrey Max said a Web application can work well for a chain Crabtrees size because the typical licensing approach of an Oracle or SAP tends to be too high. "When they get to $800 million or a billion, paying those kinds of license fees wont hurt so much," Max said. Briscoes main concern is just better understanding her customers, so if some Web CRM magic will do that, shes happy. "If someone comes into our store, we dont know who she is. We have no idea about our customers," she said. "Weve certainly got enough data now that we understand the age of our customers, but this is the first time—Im afraid to say – that we know who our offline customer and our online customer is." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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