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Butlers was founded in 1999 and has a total of around 800 employees. In 90 stores in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, online and at around 24 franchise locations in other European countries, Butlers offers home accessories, decorative articles and gifts. In addition, Butlers sells its products at over 1,000 external points of sale. The company is based in Cologne. The medium-sized company has already received several awards for its innovative concept.
In the initial phase, it became clear what really is different from many providers: the cooperation based on partnership. At gridscale, no responsibilities are delegated to colleagues; instead, action is taken quickly.André Martens, Head of IT, BUTLERS GmbH & Co. KG
Sometimes too many market developments at the same time cause a company to get into trouble. This also applied to the Cologne-based decoration specialist Butlers: higher purchase prices due to the newly strengthened dollar, declining customer frequency in city centres and an overly ambitious product range policy led to the plan insolvency at the beginning of 2017. The restructuring strategy that had already been developed and started could not be implemented with the former financing partners.
The two company founders Wilhelm Josten and Co-Managing Director Jörg Funke therefore had to save costs. They achieved this by closing 25 stores on the one hand and by reducing the product range on the other. Above all, the cost of logistics needed to be reduced. Butlers had recently included furniture in his product range, but had misjudged the cost of supplying their stores. So the decorative retailer went back to its roots, reducing their product offerings across their online and offline business.
In other respects, too, there was a need to reduce complexity, and the IT infrastructure was put to test. Not only the costs were considered, but also the possibilities of an innovative expansion of the IT. The Cologne-based trading company, which is no longer insolvent, is not only focusing on expanding its own online shop with a 20 percent share of sales. Just as important are new cooperations, both online and offline. For example, the product portfolio has recently been represented on the online platforms of Rewe, Wayfair and Yomonda, but also on the Internet marketplaces of Amazon and eBay. In addition, the products are available at more than 1,000 external points of sale.
In short: data streams from the Butlers-Webshop, the platforms, the own shops and the ordering systems of trading partners come together in the IT infrastructure. These are already considerable requirements that typically fluctuate greatly in the retail sector. For example, in the Christmas business, the cash registers of all stores are in continuous operation. Online channels are also booming at these times and are increasing data traffic even further.
“Our requirements are not particularly low,” says André Martens, IT Manager at Butlers. “On average, our systems handle about 5,000 database transactions per second. At peak times, however, it can sometimes be more than 12,000.” It is practically impossible to stock IT capacities for the large rush at peak times because the regular costs would be far too high. The only option is for the IT service provider to expand the infrastructure on demand. But the response times of conventional providers are often too long.
“We quickly reached the limits of our previous service provider,” says Martens. “In order to be able to install servers quickly and flexibly as required, we have decided to switch over completely to the cloud. Butlers wanted an infrastructure with agile on-the-fly scaling. Even more, it should be just as easy to downscale to save costs.
A good solution is “Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)”. But the market overview is not easy because there are now a large number of IaaS providers. In addition to the market leaders from the US, smaller providers are now also addressing specific target groups. The Butlers IT team quickly realized that the large providers were unsuitable for a medium-sized company, their services were too complex and in some cases required a great deal of IT know-how. Moreover, not all providers offer the Windows server hosting necessary for Butlers.
“We want to focus as little as possible on IT, but instead make our customers happy and sell emotions,” emphasizes André Martens. For companies with these wishes, a modern infrastructure offering in the cloud is ideal, because the provision and subsequent scaling of servers is uncomplicated and ideally takes just a few minutes. So Butlers was able to move 17 servers to the Cologne-based cloud infrastructure provider gridscale very quickly, and the configuration cost the three-person project team just one and a half days of work.
“In the initial phase, it became clear what is really different from many providers: the partnership-based cooperation,” praises Martens. “At gridscale, no responsibilities are delegated to colleagues; instead, action is taken quickly. By focusing on small and medium-sized companies and the agile way of working, the Cologne-based provider can more easily adapt to the needs and requirements of companies.
A further advantage is the ease of use and the high degree of automation. The user interface is strongly oriented to the needs of customers who do not come from the IT industry. In addition, there are numerous automation functions to simplify administration. This also has an effect on costs. For example, the virtual servers do not necessarily have to run 24×7. The servers for the warehouse are shut down at 4:00 pm. The company pays for the service used and thus saves about one third of the costs per day for the only partially used servers.
Such possibilities have convinced Butlers. The company will operate further servers at gridscale, such as the high-availability systems for gift and customer cards or the media database with product images. IT should remain as efficient as possible in the future, but Butlers is no longer focusing on strict cost reduction. The insolvency has ended six months ago and the company has been restructured. Furthermore, Butlers is growing again, online and offline.