Twice a year, Bernhardt Furniture Company participates in the High Point Market, the furniture industry’s equivalent of fashion week where 2,800 wholesale buyers representing a slew of retailers browse the latest in furniture design and decide what they’ll put in their stores.
The stakes are high for the 127-year-old family-owned company: the decisions that buyers make during each two-week event directly affect Bernhardt’s business for the following six to 12 months.
But selling at High Point wasn’t always easy, as the company’s director of IT, Lacey Griffith, admits. “We had a very paper-based process that created a lot of challenges. Our sales reps were busy flipping through pages of product information instead of engaging with customers.”
Where to place product in the 100,000 square-foot showroom was another issue. Griffith adds, “We might have the right product at the right price, but if people don’t see it, we’re not going to sell it like we expect to.”
To personalize the selling process, Bernhardt needed more than just a simple process change — it needed a digital transformation.
To this end, with help from the IBM jStart team, the company developed a virtual showroom app for Apple iOS iPad tablets, enabling reps to instantly access real-time product information and interact with their customers, instead of carrying binders around.
Portrait of a transformative company
In building the solution, the company made fundamental changes in how it approaches IT projects — employing an API infrastructure to quickly integrate new capabilities into the app without having to develop new code or software, and a microservices architecture to replace and upgrade the app’s individual components and capabilities without disrupting the overall application. The company also adopted a DevOps development model, whereby development cycles are smaller and more iterative and feedback is faster, helping IT build a solution that more accurately matches what the business is looking for.
The overall system is hosted on a hybrid cloud environment: several microservices and a content management system running on the IBM Cloud Platform and an analytics engine hosted on local IBM servers.
To make the most of its mobile showroom app, Bernhardt also deployed iBeacons throughout its showroom. In a single week, the company captured 2.9 million data points on product trends and traffic patterns from those using the cloud-based solution. “With the information we gathered,” says Griffith, “we optimized our showroom configuration and increased our sales by 20 percent.”
The entire engagement, from concept to deployment, took 10 weeks.
“Like a lot of companies, we don’t have the internal resources or skill sets to build out a mobile development infrastructure,” says Griffith. The IBM Cloud Platform “already had everything we needed built in and for very little upfront cost.”
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