Daniel Carlascio – United Wheels Inc.
Looking inside a time capsule years from now, historians may discover that gym rats on a quest to work out during the COVID-19 pandemic responded to the crisis by buying bicycles.
Miamisburg, Ohio-based United Wheels Inc. reports a worldwide spike in its online and storefront sales—with brands sold including Huffy, Batch Bicycles, Vaast, Niner, Royce Union and electric Buzz E-Bikes, the latter representing the fastest-growing market segment.
To keep pace with these breakaway sales, UWI’s Director of IT, Daniel Carlascio, was planning to spend more than a year building a single ERP platform with upgraded cloud infrastructure and enhanced CRM functions. While portions of this project were in progress prior to the pandemic, it was an opportune time, he says, to improve systems and the online shopping experience by engaging directly with the consumer.
The work is also helping UWI better understand what consumers are buying, the best ways to support and engage with them, and instill brand loyalty in the process.
“When COVID-19 hit we saw a tremendous spike in bicycle sales and an increased shift from bricks-and-mortar retail to direct-to-consumer sales,” Carlascio says. “Walmart, Target and Amazon were selling out of almost everything they had. It validated the investments we have made over the past several years to upgrade our e-commerce ecosystem and pivot to a more consumer-centric business.”
Bicycling had a major resurgence this spring as many families were under stay-at-home orders and without gyms or group activities available.
All of this was good news to United Wheels—formerly known as Huffy Corporation. Now UWI stands as the international design and distribution arm of the company.
When Carlascio joined UWI seven years ago, he says the time was ripe to develop a new IT strategy, rebuild its infrastructure and upgrade core business applications.
“IT was an area that was not keeping pace or aligned with our business strategy. As the company started to grow from new initiatives, acquisitions and organically, it was time to invest in people and systems to support our strategy,” he explains.
Carlascio oversaw a complete overhaul of the data center, a PC refresh, replacing core switches, improving networks, fixing global infrastructure and upgrading applications.
“Things needed to be done—and there was plenty to address,” he says.
Next, Carlascio installed IBM’s forecasting tool, Cognos Analytics, to track, store and analyze point-of-sale data and help UWI plan purchases. It was particularly important for UWI to understand its supply chain, as its bicycles can take 90 days to arrive from Asia, he notes.
“Improving our forecasting and putting in a warehouse management system throughout the enterprise meant greater accuracy and reduced warehousing costs in a highly manual process,” Carlascio says.
Project punch list
He began that process in 2014 and it led to an ERP project to support and unite UWI’s core businesses, offices and distribution centers.
Specifically, UWI will move infrastructure to a cloud-based platform by February 2021. The goal is to integrate the supply chain and track products from the source to the customer distribution hubs using Oracle EnterpriseOne and supporting applications from Salesforce, Magento, ReportsNow and Synapse, among others.
“We also did an exhaustive review of business intelligence to try and close the gaps we saw under the old system,” he says.
The beauty of UWI’s operation now is that it can track a sale from the time a customer starts researching the type of bike they want online. While Huffy primarily supplies big-box retailers, other customers such as Amazon and eBay are served online and through Huffy’s website.
“Everything we do needs to be centered on engaging directly with the consumer,” Carlascio says. “ERP systems are an important piece, but we now have to be able to drive traffic online ourselves. Being able to bring all that data into one ecosystem to understand and engage the consumer is crucial.”
In a coordinated update, Carlascio’s developed an e-commerce strategy to support all UWI brands via the open-source platform, Magento. This, he explains, has “allowed us to pivot our IT strategy to become more consumer-centric while driving traffic to the website and customer stores,” he says.
Reporting for duty
With all the data flowing in, Carlascio says Colorado-based ReportsNow, a global reporting solution provider, lent a hand.
As ReportsNow CTO Basim Kadhim explains, data consolidation, reporting, visualizations, automation and sharing is faster and more on-demand than before. Recognizing UWI needed to analyze its data in a way to make high-value decisions, Kadhim says UWI was able to enhance its reporting and business intelligence capabilities.
By transforming the data and eliminating the uncontrolled use of Excel and pivot tables, Kadhim says now clients can easily access a single solution that consolidates data in the way they need—and can even extend the reach of report results by making them available on the web, mobile devices and through automated email distribution.
“This instant access to data by anyone in an organization has proven to create both a tactical and strategic advantage,” says Kadhim.
For Carlascio it was a beneficial way to unify fractured information.
“Being able to share data professionally with a customer is important to us,” says Carlascio. “Today’s sales are often driven off of ratings and reviews. Timely, accurate reports and alerts enable UWI to quickly respond, closing the loop on quality issues before it affects a product’s rating.”
Detailed information, like that for bikers, was taken to the next level on another UWI project with help from Robosoft, a digital experiences agency ranked among the top 20 app development companies in the world.
“We engaged a premier app development company to help us socialize the bike riding experience and more directly engage with the consumer,” says Carlascio. “Robosoft’s professional team did an outstanding job managing and delivering the project.”
Through its app, cyclists can access details of trails and can create social groups to connect with others who love cycling. Robosoft worked on the project in two phases. In the first phase with UI/UX, it tackled back-end app development, adding features like trail finder, weather forecasting and trail maps.
In the second phase, it integrated group activities in the app and also developed an administrative panel that gathered relevant insights about the user—everything from distances traveled to the number of rides completed, to give riders personalized offers on Huffy products and services.
“It was a privilege to work on the Huffy project,” says Srinidhi Rao, senior vice president and U.S. country head. “It was an opportunity to create an engaging user experience and simplify lives of bike enthusiasts for a much-loved brand.”
Still, it’s the lifecycle of these processes—not technology alone—and that has fascinated Carlascio, going back to his days at the State University of New York College at Geneseo where he graduated with a degree in business administration, management and operations.
Launching into a career in the pulp and paper industry, he rose to vice president of information technology at Domtar in Cincinnati, Ohio. He credits his 20 years at the largest integrated producer of uncoated free sheet paper in North America and the second largest producer globally, as an experience that helped him at UWI.
“Domtar had outstanding people, very good processes and gave me an education on how to do things the right way. It also exposed me to look at problems from a number of different perspectives,” Carlascio says. “I benefited from getting the training of a larger organization.”
The problem-solving ability he gained gave him confidence when he joined UWI in 2014.
“When I first got here, we had servers crashing every day,” he recalls. “I understood what needed to be done and when and used the right processes and people to make it happen. From there we could focus on our mission, which was to do an outstanding job of serving the customer and business.”
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