Posted on: June 24, 2020 | 7 min read

Remaining Customer Centric Through Crisis: vineyard vines Interview

Summary and transcript of interview with Chris Fitzpatrick, VP of Business Analytics and Strategy at vineyard vines and Dan Rodriguez Chief Produce & Strategy Officer of CCG.

Being customer-centric is more important than it’s ever been. Even prior to the medical and economic crisis, two-thirds of a company’s competitive edge came from it’s customer experience. Now, especially, consumers are looking for companies they know they can trust and who have a clear understanding of not only what they want, but what they need. This requires that organizations spanning all verticals and industries have reliable data-driven customer insights that allow for quick and accurate decision making.

Chris Fitzpatrick, VP Business Analytics and Strategy at vineyard vines, recently participated in a webinar forum with  Dan Rodriguez, Chief Product & Strategy Officer at CCG, to discuss ways to align inventory data with customer intelligence to improve demand forecasting, planning, and allocation for market recovery.

The complete recording of that interview can be found  here, which we’ve transcribed segments of below:

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Dan Rodriguez: [01:28:23] Chris Fitzpatrick is the Vice President of Business Analytics and Strategy at vineyard vines. Chris, why don’t you tell us a little bit about vineyard vines and what the VP of Business Analytics and Strategy means.

Chris Fitzpatrick: [01:28:36] vineyard vines, is a roughly twenty-year-old retailer of apparel and accessories, based out of Connecticut. We have roughly one hundred retail doors across the US as well as a pretty robust e-commerce and wholesale business. My role has a couple of different pillars to it. One is data analytics, and the data science components of it roll up to me. We also have a business strategy component to my team, where we’re helping the executive teams identify future trends and future opportunities. Then, that parlays into business development, which is kind of a new aspect, to marry the three things.

Dan Rodriguez: [01:29:35] Many folks that we talked to and potentially people in this audience assume as VP of Analytics you have a data science background or that you came from a deep technical background, but that wasn't the path for you. Could you discuss your background and how you ended up in analytics?

Chris Fitzpatrick: [01:29:55] My background is probably a little bit strange for the roles that I’m in. I started out my career in finance and banking, and I moved through that kind of world. Then I decided that I want I wanted to do something a little bit more tangible I wanted to touch and feel the product, so I transitioned and worked for Timberland for about eight years in various role. Then about seven years ago moved over to vineyard vines, working in a financial role on the accounting side.

That background gave me a lot of visibility to where all the different kind of tranches and buckets of data sat in the business and how siloed some of the information was. It also gave me a sense of the different challenges across the business. Whether it be commercially within our different pillars of our business, or the back of the house and being able to tie those things together understand where there are opportunities to integrate analytics into our business, and data to democratize across the business so everybody was working off the same information. It was important to look at it (the business) in different ways that were most applicable to the way that they needed to use the information.

Dan Rodriguez: [01:31:46] You and I have talked offline multiple times about the value of understanding how to leverage analytics, and how to apply them in the business. Today we've talked a little bit about the different strategic imperatives and the different ways that companies have been dealing with the crisis, obviously the initial reaction, and then starting to plan out the recovery. We've been working for a couple of years together to start building muscle around getting those insights and getting accessibility to the business, but as you're looking at recovery at vineyard vines, what are ways that you're particularly focusing on leveraging data?

Chris Fitzpatrick [01:32:51] I think for one when we walked into the COVID-19 crisis, you’re quickly looking at cash preservation. Inventory to us is our single biggest use of cash in a given year and using that in a way that's most effective to drive the business, but at the time controlling that cash outlet, because we don’t have as much cash coming in.

We have one hundred plus doors that are closed right now for multiple months that drive a significant amount of revenue and cash flow. Our wholesale partners also all closed their brick-and-mortar doors, so that's a significant cash flow to our business. So that became imperative to really understand inventory and what we own currently.

What's the liability we have? How do we move through that inventory in a way that's most beneficial to the brand, from a margin perspective? But also, from a brand perspective, because you don't want to dilute yourself by just marking things down really heavily. Then, looking out into the future and saying, well, what was the intent of upcoming seasons? What were you buying? What do we absolutely need to drive the business, and what are the things that are most important to our consumers?

Dan Rodriguez: [01:34:50] What are the big areas of data that were important for you to have that visibility, and can you contrast that with things you were able to do today that you weren't able to do a couple of years ago?

Chris Fitzpatrick [01:35:23] One of those is just looking at peak selling periods in our year and understanding back-to-school and holiday, and those points in the summer that are really important to us like Father's Day. Historically, we were able to kind of see the revenue trends in there, we could see what we sold, but we couldn't actually marry that up with our customers.

We weren’t able to understand who was gravitating to those products, and who was buying at those points, and [identify] what the value of that consumer is to our whole brand. We’re using the data today to look at the intersection of both those things.

We're looking at the financial impact for some of the things we're doing, and we're looking at what the consumer gravitated towards historically. So, if I brought a consumer in on Father's Day, do they come back during at back-to-school shopping, or did they just come that one time? If I have to choose between a certain product, I'm going to choose the products that are going to gravitate towards that person that comes back multiple times in the given year and through the data, we can see those things. We can help our planning and merchandising teams make sure that we're protecting the business and driving value but also making sure we're not disappointing customers.

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Dan Rodriguez: [01:37:54] It's so common now for companies to talk about being customer-centric, especially in retail. I think most folks think of marketing and customer service when they think of customer-centric. I don't know how many people are laying customer information into those merchandising and planning conversations or into the way they look at inventory and supply chain. Has that been a shift that was well received or was there a change component on your side to introduce customer conversations into those teams?

Chris Fitzpatrick [01:38:54] It was. it's changed over the last couple of years and its really been driven by our president, Mike Gaumer.  As a smaller brand it's pretty easy to get your hands around, you can you can see what's happening in the business. As we've grown over the last five years our visibility to what's impacting the business changes and it becomes more difficult. Naturally, he was looking for ways to understand what was going on not just in the Fairfield County area, but in places that he couldn't get to day to day. He's been instrumental in driving that discussion across the business and within our organization. Generally, if your presidents on board then everybody else has to kind of fall in line, and he's been driving a lot of engagement.

Dan Rodriguez: [01:41:23] A theme that we heard earlier amongst the panelists were that the crisis has created this maturity or focus. Do you feel like there was an increase in performance from an adoption standpoint?

Chris Fitzpatrick [01:45:58] There certainly has been and there's just been a need across our businesses to have more data available to them so they can make quicker decisions. As we walked into 2020 our teams were already stepping into this world and getting more and more comfortable with it.

 But as they're being forced to make decisions in somewhat of a real-time manner, having the information at your fingertips that you can consume in a way that draws your eye to things that matter allows them to concentrate on the decision-making and not on getting at the information.

Traditionally it’s been the other way, where they'd spend eighty percent of their time trying to get at data, and then quickly reviewing it and kind of making a gut decision to a degree.

Today we're pivoting more towards ways they can ask that first (data-driven) question, but then they can also go down to the second third and fourth questions.

Dan Rodriguez: [01:52:05] Do you have any recommendations for those that could be informative [as they move towards recover]?

Chris Fitzpatrick [01:55:30] I think one of the things that I've learned the most is that it's really important to listen to the business community and listen to the end user and understand the way that they work.

You can build dashboards all day long and you can roll up data all day long but if you don't understand the way that they (end users) operate and consume the information for the business decisions they're trying to make, many times you’ll present them something that they just can't use.

[end of transcript]

Learn more about the 150% ROI vineyard vines generated, as well as ways we help enable a customer centric strategy by visiting, or contacting a CCG consultant here.

If you want to learn more about leveraging analytics to save your business or the importance of analytics during a crisis contact an analytics consultant here  to get started.

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