Hisham Aharon – Ocean State Job Lot
- Written by: Kate Gardner
- Produced by: Andrew Wright & Mike Szajner
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
After 32 years at Ocean State Job Lot, Hisham Aharon is still finding ways to innovate.
When the retail company expanded beyond New England, Aharon, the CIO, and his team, noticed its transportation system was inefficient. Trucks were headed to Pennsylvania full of merchandise and returning empty, which was a waste of time and fuel.
Aharon helped introduce a system to track the location of trucks, making them available to other companies on the return trip. The system is one of many he’s introduced to streamline operations, reduce waste and keep employees connected to the company and each other.
“Good technology can make any business more efficient, so utilizing new technology here at Ocean State Job Lot is my way of helping the company,” Aharon says. “I enjoy using innovative technology to grow and expand what we’re capable of.”
Building out and up
Ocean State Job Lot, headquartered in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, is the largest privately held closeout retail chain in the northeast, with 142 stores in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Closeout retail chains sell discounted items. Other examples include Marshalls and Big Lots.
When the first Pennsylvania store opened in 2019, Aharon started using a transportation management system to coordinate shipping. Now, companies who need to ship product from Pennsylvania to New England can hire Ocean State Job Lot.
According to Aharon, this has reduced overhead costs associated with the trucks and with paying the drivers. The system lives in the cloud, so drivers can access it from anywhere. Aharon is now improving the system so other companies can bid on the service when a truck is available.
Most of the systems Aharon has in the cloud have been designed to be expanded. For example, he moved the company’s financial system to the cloud a year and a half ago, and within the accounting function, he recently added analytic, reporting and budgeting functions.
He’s also created sub-systems within the cloud for construction and property management and is now working on adding human resources data and systems.
“It helps the company to have these tools available from anywhere at any time,” Aharon says. “With teams all over the area we’re in, it allows them to stay online and connected.”
Aharon has also been using technology that helps Ocean State Job Lot better understand, and cater to, its customers.
He’s moved all data analytics programs to the cloud and has been comparing internal sales data against third-party data, such as regional demographics, to better understand customers. He also compares sales data against financial data from credit card companies.
Ocean State Job Lot also collects customer data from people enrolled in a loyalty program that was introduced a few years ago. The program allows the company to track what customers buy, which is fed into a customer data program Aharon created. The loyalty program sends customers targeted emails with offers based on their purchase history.
“It’s tailored to each individual customer, so we can offer them things we think they’ll like,” Aharon says.
He’s also been improving the company’s e-commerce capabilities. Previously, if a customer wanted something that wasn’t in stock at their local store, they’d have to go to the store to order it and have it shipped there for them to pick up. Aharon says this is typical with large items, such as massage chairs, that are too big to keep in store.
In July, he said he was about to launch a new program where customers can purchase items online and have them shipped to the store where they can pick them up.
Aharon also plans to introduce robotic pallet movers to shuttle products and track where everything is placed within warehouses. Also, an automated labeler will print and apply labels onto products.
“After 2020, we saw a lot of opportunity to automate, especially in the distribution center,” Aharon says. “We’re not looking to replace people with machines. We’re planning to use machines to assist our workers and increase efficiency as we expand.”
Aharon says he’s especially proud of the company’s charitable foundation, which makes donations to the communities its stores are in. In 2020, the foundation gave over $25 million in financial and product donations to areas of need including homelessness, hunger, veteran support and healthcare.
A lot of aid last year went to COVID-19 relief efforts, too, with the foundation creating a fund to buy medical supplies for healthcare and frontline workers. The foundation also partnered with local restaurants to provide meals to essential workers.
The technology Aharon finds for the company is also used within the foundation, which he says is rewarding.
“The overarching thing I enjoy most about my job is that when I work on a project, I get to see the result and impact it has on the company,” he says. “I get to see the outcome of what I work on and know that it’s helping people and helping the business grow.”
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