How UniGroup, Enterprise Holdings and Caleres have embraced in-house software development

Technology is taking on greater importance at several of St. Louis’ largest companies. These long-standing St. Louis companies, such as Enterprise Holdings and Caleres, have made significant investments in technology that have altered the products they provide and how they interact with customers. The investments are the kinds of things consumers may not recognize. At UniGroup, Senior Vice President of Product Development Jaime Winkler said the company’s growing technology focus probably isn’t realized by most. “I definitely think it’s under the radar,” she said.

Here’s a snapshot at how three prominent St. Louis companies are incorporating more technology and software into their operations.

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What it does: The Fenton-based transportation and relocation company is the parent company of United Van Lines, Mayflower Transit and other logistics and moving management companies.

Annual revenue: $1.5 billion

When people think about moving, UniGroup’s Jaime Winkler says the logistics of getting things from point A to point B usually is top of mind.

“They don’t think about how technology can make that process so much more efficient and easier,” said Winkler, UniGroup’s senior vice president of product development.

In recent years, the company has developed both internal and consumer-facing technology, such as mobile apps, to improve operations and better personalize the moving experience. The work has focused largely on three main areas: improving efficiency, easing the process of doing business and ensuring safety.

“We’re attempting to tackle all of them in some capacity in the coming year,” she said.

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As part of its growing focus on technology, UniGroup has even rebranded its internal technology and innovation department to be called QDivision.

“QDivision is all about almost creating that startup culture and really trying to attract young, hungry talent with a high level of ownership and who really want to make a difference and work on cool things,” Winkler said.

Additionally, the company has launched a software development apprenticeship program and is the largest investor in St. Louis-based startup Handled. Launched in 2019, Handled created an app-based platform it describes as a “personal concierge” for moving, relocation and home services.


What it does: Clayton-based Enterprise Holdings operates the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands, and Enterprise Fleet Management.

Annual revenue: $25.9 billion

During a strategic planning process about three years ago, executives at Enterprise Holdings realized they needed to improve the way the company interacted with its customers. Key to that process: technology.

“We recognized a lot of that improvement needed to leverage modern technology as a means to improve that interaction,” said Randal Narike, Enterprise’s executive vice president of global mobility and customer experience.

That recognition has led to several new customer experience-focused technologies, such as its advanced check-in system, which uses mobile and digital technology designed to allow individuals to speed up check-in for their vehicle and skip the rental car counter.

“In today’s environment, where customers are looking to reduce contact and they’re looking to avoid crowds and they don’t want to be around people, we found this is a huge opportunity and big-time advantage for us,” said Narike.

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Enterprise has taken a wide-ranging approach to infusing technology into its business. It has invested in several cutting-edge startups and in 2020 acquired Silicon Valley-based technology firm Deem, which provides online booking and travel technology products for business travelers, travel managers, travel-management companies and suppliers. Enterprise also rolled out LaunchPad, a tablet that uses software to provide a central dashboard for the company’s operations and offers frontline car rental employees the ability to untether themselves from the service counter.


What it does: The global footwear company and retailer operates several well-known brands, including Famous Footwear, Naturalizer, Allen Edmonds, and Dr. Scholl’s Shoes.

Annual revenue: $2.9 billion

As online shopping has taken on more prominence in recent years, Clayton-based Caleres has targeted investments aimed at ensuring it can cater to its customers’ shopping preferences.

“We’ve always tried to be in line with consumer expectations and either meet them where they are when it comes to our brands and technology, whether it’s the websites or our mobile app,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Willis Hill.

The company’s focus on expanding its e-commerce capabilities is taking on greater priority due to Covid-19. The virus has led more consumers to shop online. For the fiscal quarter ended Oct. 31, Caleres reported a 24.6% increase year over year in e-commerce sales, which now account for 25.4% of total revenue.

Even before the pandemic, Caleres focused on bolstering its digital efforts. In an investor event earlier this month, CEO Diane Sullivan said “so much of our growth has really come through e-commerce” over the past three to five years.

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In December, Caleres announced it created a new digital acceleration team, to be led by Hill, that will help the company “optimize resources, leverage its capabilities and take full advantage of the significant growth in its ecommerce business.”


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