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Posted Date: 2/1/2003

How Etienne Aigner Harnesses Sales Data

By  Elizabeth Baltrukovicz, Edifice Information Management Systems

The fashion industry is fickle, but that does not bother Etienne Aigner. Among the industry's largest manufacturers of fashion footwear, handbags and other accessories, Etienne Aigner holds a highly respected position for quick identification and response to the latest customer trends.

Instrumental in enabling Aigner to respond quickly is accurate, timely sales data and analysis provided through Edifice Information Management Systems. The Riverdale, NJ, provider of supply chain information management services collects sales data from all the manufacturer's major accounts - including May Co., Federated Department Stores, Saks Inc., Belk, Dillard's and Marshall Field's - analyzes it, and presents it weekly to Etienne Aigner.

"It is invaluable for providing us with a competitive edge in analyzing the performance of our product at the retail level," says Aigner's Lance DeShazo, vice president of sales and of the footwear division.

"If you bought a pair of our shoes Saturday afternoon, we would know about it on Monday afternoon. That is extremely important in the fast-paced retail environment," says John French, director of sales technology. "They [Edifice] cleanse and organize the data and then present it back to us in pre-designed reports. It's a huge amount of data, yet it's manageable, accurate and timely."

Before Aigner selected the Edifice sell-through information services, it used another sell-through system for about a year. It "was nowhere near as timely or efficient in its operation. We used to have to do a lot of prep work just to get reports out by Wednesday. That is old information then. Now we get reports by noon on Monday," says French.

Pre-Install Goals & System Specifics

"Our objective was to be able to analyze sell-through data in a timely manner," says French, also stressing the importance of accuracy and reliability in the data.

Aigner needed improved data to make decisions in time to work with retailers to increase sales. "[Now] if we see a product moving very quickly in certain accounts, and another account will have that product on order, but not scheduled for delivery for another month, we might go to them and suggest they get it in sooner and maybe expand the order size," says French.

With Edifice's sell-through information service, individual stores from each retail chain submit sales data electronically via the Internet and EDI to their corporate headquarters. The information goes down to the SKU level. Each chain's headquarters then electronically transmits the information to Edifice. There the data is warehoused, cleansed and organized before it is sent to Aigner's secure FTP site. Aigner picks up Edifice i.glass reports from the FTP site in customized Microsoft Excel format. The i.glass reports contain analyzed POS information, including sales trends, inventory on-hand, merchandising, planning and shipping information.

The information is given in user-friendly formats, providing Aigner with "so many different ways to analyze the data," says French. "Virtually everyone in the company, from the CEO to marketing, design, production, sales and planning, all anxiously await the arrival of the reports each week."

"Because the reports are in Excel tables, they are easily integrated in Aigner's internal systems and easily modified. We can look at things differently. It saves time. The design people want to see what is selling by type of footwear or handbag. 'Are totes selling in the South?' for example," explains French. "Salespeople may be looking at it by account. Marketing looks at it differently, too."

"You can design your master fields anyway you would like to, for example in footwear, by shoes, boots, sandals, then casual or dress, open or closed toe. There are a lot of different categories, and we're able to easily maintain those categories in Edifice," says French. "We even have special selectable categories we can modify from time to time. There's an awful lot of flexibility on how we look at data and how we use it."

Using the Data: Accuracy

Is Essential

Edifice i.glass reports also show sales by class of product, such as casual shoes vs. open-toed sandals. Aigner uses these reports to help maintain adequate stock levels as well as for mix management, new product design and inventory tracking. "We use the data in all our planning and purchasing decisions," notes French.

Etienne Aigner always had high fill rates, but now they are more precise, he adds. By using size analysis, planning is better and fill rates higher. "We know how many size 11s are selling at Macy's vs. Lord and Taylor, for instance," says French.

Identifying fast- or slow-moving items helps with production scheduling too. "If we see something is not performing, we may decide to delay or modify the orders. True, our three-month production lead times force us to do a lot of educated guessing, but this information helps us to spot trends quickly," French says.

And spotting trends quickly also improves cash flow when a fast-moving item at one trading partner is used to persuade another trading partner to move up a delivery date. Or, if something is selling at Lord and Taylor but not Macy's, for example, the statistics are used to help determine why. Is the product mix wrong, for instance? Then Aigner can go back to the slow-selling store and realign the mix for the benefit of the retailer and Etienne Aigner.

"Our relationships with our trading partners are excellent," says French, "and one key reason is because we are able to share information in a manner that benefits [us] both."

"Before using the Edifice i.glass reports, we relied on data from each retailer. It was not at the level of detail that we wanted, and it was not accumulated for us. If we got a fax from, say Macy's, we wouldn't key enter it because we would lose the timeliness and accuracy," explains French.

The Edifice sell-through information service also helps Aigner calculate perpetual inventory with all its trading partners. Most send Aigner their current on-hand inventory data, but two major accounts do not. So Edifice created a program that reconciles data from advance ship notices (ASN) with sales figures. As a result, says French: "We have a very reliable, accurate and easily maintainable perpetual inventory that Edifice maintains for us."

The program also ensures data is reasonable and accurate. If information arrives for a non-existent store number, for example, Edifice examines and corrects the situation, saving time for the Etienne Aigner staff.

People Crucial to Systems Success

"The success of any of these systems is based on relationships - period," says French. "Edifice's response to our information and modification requests is great. Largely due to our relationship with Edifice, we can turn around and have an excellent relationship with our trading partners."

Etienne Aigner is ready to move on to the next step in data collection and management, adds French. It is working with Edifice to finalize integration of warehouse information with the Edifice sales data. "It will be helpful for our salespeople to know if we have a product on hand, without having to look in another software application or elsewhere."

Fashion may be fickle, but thanks in part to its implementation of an innovative data collection and decision-making solution, Etienne Aigner can keep pace. Etienne Aigner has manageable and timely data to respond quickly and assuredly to the fashion public's next big whim.

Elizabeth Baltrukovicz is vice president, corporate communications, Edifice Information Management Systems. Edifice may be reached at e-mail: customerservice@edificeinfo.com, tel.: 973-616-2929 or online: www.edificeinfo.com 

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