Chocolatier Kilwins Sweetens Promotions & Purchasing for 90 Locations with Tableau

With more than 90 franchise locations in 19 states, Kilwins' handmade chocolates, fudge, and ice cream treats have been putting smiles on customers’ faces since 1947. Kilwins wanted to make more data-driven decisions but the sheer difficulty in gathering and analyzing point of sales (POS) data made that difficult. Today with Tableau, answers that used to take weeks can be found in seconds and the company and its franchise owners are relying on data to guide promotional and purchasing decisions.

Kilwins’ handmade chocolates, fudge, and ice cream have been delighting customers since 1947. Today, more than 90 franchisee-owned stores in 19 states bear the Kilwins name. Kilwins wanted to use its sales data more effectively, but gathering and analyzing the point of sales (POS) data was far too time-consuming.

Today with Tableau, Kilwins is able to easily use its data to guide promotional efforts and to inform franchise owners’ purchasing choices.

Flagship Kilwins store in Petoskey, Michigan

“Franchising is interesting and a lot of fun. You get to know the owners pretty well,” explains Jeff Hall, Director of Marketing, Commerce, and IT for Kilwins.

“I came out of corporate America, and that’s a very different environment—you direct people what to do and they go do it. Here, it's a little different. You have to earn the franchise owners’ trust and confidence.”

As part of that trust-building effort, Hall would share data about company-wide sales at bi-annual regional meetings.

“You can imagine what a nightmare it was”

Unfortunately, gathering these sales metrics was extremely time-consuming. The data is stored in the company’s point of sale (POS) system. When Hall would try to run a report for 57 stores—the number of stores currently transitioned onto the POS system—the report writer would crash.

“We have more than 750 manufactured products and in the stores there are more than 1,800 recipes that they can make,” Hall points out.

Each product and recipe has a different item number within the POS system.

“You can imagine what a nightmare it was to copy and paste all of that information for 57 stores,” he says.

“You'd have to run individual store reports, copy and paste that reporting into Excel, and then put all the stores together,” says Hall. “It would take weeks to pull the data together for these regional meetings.”

Hall had the same issue when trying to gather data for the company’s annual planning session.

Hall also worried that such a manual process was ripe for manual error.

“I would have to run by store all of a certain product type—Truffles or Tuttles, which are one of our signature items with pecans or cashews covered in caramel and then enrobed in chocolate,” he says.

Tuttles, a Kilwins signature item

“I'd be cutting and pasting by three or four lines at a time. It was tedious. I had to check my work two or three times.”

Hall would go through this intensive data-gathering effort only a few times per year.

For example, Hall points out that while he technically could have gathered the data to manage a promotion as it was ongoing, the amount of time required to do so made the idea unreasonable. Even the process of choosing products to promote was a left to instinct and experience.

Finding a New Solution

In early 2013, Kilwins’ CFO suggested that Hall look at Tableau Software. Hall downloaded a trial in July and quickly realized that he could remove a significant amount of manual data wrangling with Tableau.

Kilwins purchased a license for Tableau Desktop and as well as a Tableau Consulting engagement.

“By the time September came around—and with the help of Janet, my Tableau Consultant—I had a standard workbook created. I could put together a good feel of where our sales were coming from by product category, right down to the item level,” says Hall.

Since then, Hall has created several other workbooks to answer other questions.

He can update his data by simply running a new data extract; the entire refresh takes approximately 45 minutes. Hall notes that he can work on other priorities while the extract runs.

“It’s really simple”

Today, Kilwins is able to plan its promotions using data, rather than instinct. “Now we have the talent onboard to help us visualize what our ideas are and because we've got a lot more access to the data quickly, we know how to build out the promotion,” says Hall. “The stores are a lot more colorful now.”

For example, during a recent promotional planning meeting, Hall needed to identify the top-selling items within the Tuttle line. He estimates that finding the answer in Tableau took two minutes.

“Now we know what collateral to build for the stores. Before it would have taken up to eight hours to do that, and now it's literally minutes, if not seconds. It’s really simple,” he says.

Executives also have much better insight into ongoing performance with on-the-fly insight into current sales data through Tableau.

“Every two weeks we have a standing meeting that is based on seasonal promotions, I'll be in the meeting and somebody will ask a question—like how many nutcrackers have we sold—and I'll just pull up the data for how that product did,” says Hall.

Promotions now feature known best-sellers

“Now we can really manage the promotions because I've got the data to make decisions based on the actual sales. In the past, it was so hard to get the data that you just couldn't take the time to do it. So we were very picky and choosy about what data we asked for.”

“They know it works”

Hall also says that he is able to share sales performance more easily with franchise owners now.

Promotional items—like savory truffles—offer sales impact that now can be easily seen and shared

“I can very easily go back year over year to look at a promotional period. I can show accurate sales data for what was in that promotion,” says Hall.

“I can pull it together much more quickly—and make the data specific to the actual promotion— much more easily.”

“Those store owners that didn't participate in the promotion, they see the results. And they're saying, ‘Oh, I'm getting a sales lift by adding savory truffles? Okay, I'll buy them next time.’ It's helping us.”

Hall says that he is seeing more franchise owners participating in the promotions as a result.

“What we're seeing is that they're starting to really engage in the promotional products because they know it works.”

Once you have the workbooks set up, running the queries is easy now. It just takes seconds. The time effort now is just so condensed, it's fantastic. And you know the data is real, it’s right, it’s accurate.

Improved Sales Planning

“We are able to find not so much what is successful— because that jumps right out at you—but it helps us figure out what's not successful,” Hall says.

For example, he recalls a specific molded chocolate in the Nutcracker Christmas promotion—Clara the ballerina figurine.

“I ran the report and boom, we could see right away that the sales just weren't where they should have been compared to the nutcrackers and the Santa figures.”

In previous years, this data was very difficult to determine. “This time we found it quickly.”

In fact, Hall says, “it was hugely advantageous” to have Tableau available during this year’s planning session preparation.

“Don, the owner, had given me three pages worth of stuff that he needed,” Hall says. “Things like, ‘Figure out what percent Chocolates is of overall sales, but now break it down by item group within the Chocolate category.’ And in the past I would know, ‘Oh, this is going to take forever to find out.”

This time, with Tableau, Hall was able to gather the data and complete the analysis in a matter of hours—which included initial workbook set up— rather than weeks that it took previously.

“Once you have the workbooks set up, running the queries is easy now. It just takes seconds. The time effort now is just so condensed, it's fantastic. And you know the data is real, it’s right, it’s accurate.”

Hall also says that using Tableau has led to other planning session benefits.

“It was helpful when we were actually in the meeting. If we had specific questions, I could drill down into data by store or by product category or product type—whatever we needed,” says Hall.

“We accomplished a lot more—and more quickly than we would have previously. We were able to focus on other things than worrying about the data.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of choosing Tableau is the time it offers Hall to focus on more strategic efforts.

“I really have three jobs. I have IT, I have Marketing, and I have Business Development. So the time I get back allows me to focus on those other things,” he says.

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