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Posted Date: 11/6/2012

Gerber Focuses on Product Development, Innovation to Offer End-to-End Apparel Solutions

By Jordan Speer, Editor in Chief
"We have markets under pressure and at the same time insane pressure to do new things," said John Deane, senior vice president & CIO, Abercrombie & Fitch, and one of the keynote presenters at Gerber Technology's ideation 2012 Software Conference held Oct. 22-23 in Scottsdale, Ariz., where more than 200 industry executives convened to gather best practices from industry peers while also learning more about developments from their technology provider.

Of the latter, there are many underway, as Gerber Technology strives to provide solutions that will allow Abercrombie and others like it to handle the pressure they are under while also pushing forward into new territory.

The company's goal is to help businesses "manage from the design room to the customer and back to the design room," said Mike Elia, the newly-appointed president and CEO of Gerber Technology.

"Our guiding principles are product innovation and customer centricity," said Donny Askin, senior vice president and general manager of Gerber Technology's Yunique Solutions Group, which posted year-over-year revenue growth of more than 40 percent.

Parent company Gerber Scientific was purchased last year by private equity firm Vector Capital, whose investment has allowed Gerber Technology to fire on all cylinders. Since last year the company has realigned its business structure with departments organized as vertically-focused units, increased staff in its high-growth business units, expanded internationally, rebranded its software business and invested heavily in product development across its portfolio.

More specifically, the company is making significant investments in CAD and PLM.

Additionally, the company has rebranded the software side of the business as Yunique Solutions - the PLM software platform it acquired in 2009 - because, says Askin, it is "synonymous with innovation." The PLM division just turned in its fourth quarter of double-digit growth and is expanding globally, in the past year alone doubling business in Europe and deploying in Asia with its first customers in India (Jay Jay Mills) and China (ICICLE), respectively. As part of continued investment in R&D, the company has expanded staff in the PLM division, which includes a newly developed team in Asia.

The newest release of YuniquePLM offers a designer-centric solution updated with enhanced Adobe integration, mark-up and drag-and-drop features and measurement specifications, and integrates with Yunique360, a "virtual studio" where 360-degree views of samples are created via a series of images that can then be shared globally via the PLM system.

In other YuniquePLM news, the company is pushing further into sourcing, expanding the graphical user interface of its PLM system into other areas of the supply chain. Darioush Nikpour, director of business development for the division and one of the original founders of Yunique, announced a newly developed sourcing portal that is available both to designers via YuniquePLM and suppliers via its SRMon vendor portal, and which will allow both links in the chain to "roll up" and share more information that will speed and improve processes and communication between partners.

Gerber also announced that it will soon be releasing v.6.5 of its product data management webPDM platform which will offer incremental upgrades including improved consistency and security, but that it plans to sunset the product in four and a half years, migrating its customers to YuniquePLM, which it is now able to do after spending the past few years "bridging the gap" between the two products.

Other big announcements at ideation included the formation of a new cloud foundation for Yunique products as well as a Yunique App store that will allow customers to add on specific functionality without requiring a full upgrade. "Our uniqueness became difficult to manage as we scaled up, and we have evolved our architecture [so as to have a] solid framework under a secondary layer of apps that can support everyone and make upgrades dramatically easier," said Askin.

Companies that are improving efficiency and speed with YuniquePLM include Fruit of the Loom, which recently completed the phase one implementation of its Fruit of the Loom (FOTL) division onto the platform and plans next to migrate its other three brands (Russell, Spalding and Vanity Fair). Each of the latter brought its own system with it at the time of acquisition by FOTL, said Bruce Smith, vice president of product development, so that up until now there has not been a common development platform across its brands.

Smith expects that the migration of all four brands onto the platform will not only speed development and improve efficiency within each property, but will also allow the four brands to benefit from synergies such as sharing image libraries and possibly some raw materials.

Apparel and footwear brand Merrell distributes in more than 120 countries and is a fast-growing business with high double-digit growth expectations that Bryan Snyder, global apparel operations director, said the company could not have kept pace with if it were still operating with nothing but the tech packs it was using "B.Y." (Before Yunique), when he first came on board at Merrell.

As a relatively small and more flexible division of Wolverine Worldwide, Merrell which had expanded beyond footwear into apparel and accessories and also handles all of its own design and sourcing offered a great opportunity for taking the plunge into PLM, he said.

YuniquePLM has eliminated duplicate data entry, data discrepancies, "virtual reams of email," and poor historical analysis. "The worst thing is we weren't learning anything from our history," says Snyder. Last year the company went live with YuniquePLM, including its vendor portal, SRMon, with the result that the company now has one version of the truth across marketing, line planning, design, planning, development, images, sourcing, fabric, trims and more. Among other benefits, in its very first season using the system, Merrell reduced its timeline by five weeks. It also integrated key players earlier in the development process, and established a "rock-solid foundation" on which to build, said Snyder.

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at jspeer@apparelmag.com.

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