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What Has PLM Done for You Lately?
By Jordan Speer
Recently, Apparel asked a number of apparel retailers to share a few details
in response to the question, “What has PLM done for you lately?” From the replies we received, the answer can be summed up in two words: a lot.
Read on to learn how PLM is speeding time to market, improving collaboration and flexibility, balancing workflow, imparting intelligence, controlling costs and improving the customer experience. In short, PLM is helping businesses focus on products and customers, not data and software.
PLM Project Manager
The benefits we have achieved with PLM are very impressive. The Fashion business within the Artsana Group — the Chicco brand specifically — relies on PLM to support product development end-to-end. The Chicco brand, which is present in 120 countries, is a world leader in baby care products. Made up of kids’ apparel and shoes collections, it is seeing considerable growth. Bearing this in mind and adding to it SKU and style proliferation as well as processes that involve many stakeholders across geographies, PLM has without doubt become essential for us to maintain momentum and further accelerate time to market.
In 2009, we decided to look for a tool which could adapt to the extremely tight timelines that the fashion business requires and be scalable as our business grew. The selection led to TXT e-solutions and the joint effort of our teams enabled the first go live in just four months. Today, the solution — live both in the apparel and shoes divisions of Chicco — supports us in creating, sharing and maintaining all information generated as part of collection development.
Through PLM we manage aspects such as master data management, technical data management, costing/buying and margins calculation while we have also improved collaboration and simplified the users’ daily operations. With workflow management within the tool we can model and monitor all the activities to be carried out for each season securing full transparency and increased agility at each step. Additionally, errors in the design phase and product development times have both been reduced by 20 percent, producing enthusiasm for the project from the top management to the end users. Our PLM solution steadily grows with the business; for me this is great added value.
Christine Bell Currence
ApparelMagic’s PLM system has given us a significant boost in efficiency, in many different departments. We use the system throughout the company, to share data with designers, customer service agents, production and inventory control departments, even our warehouse fulfillment partners.
Recently we were able to accomplish an integration between our central office and our fulfillment center that would have been impossible without a modern, integrated software package. By linking ApparelMagic with our warehouse operation, we’re enjoying more transparency in product availability and sales history. Customer service has benefited from having the latest order status on screen in real time. So when a client calls, they get answers quicker, and that’s improving customer satisfaction and repeat sales.
The system also manages many stages of our style creation process, including costing, materials, specs, linesheets and catalogs. We track revisions and re-designs right in the database, instead of relying on separate Excel worksheets. Having the data organized, and shared by all departments really makes a big difference.
It’s also easier now to pull the design and costing elements of our styles together. When you see a product represented visually, and at the same time you see all of the elements that go into it — fabrics, trims, labor and accessories — it helps everyone on the team understand the total picture. Now, when updates are made, everyone sees the change immediately. The team works better together — It’s a well-oiled machine!
Vice President of Sourcing,
Design and Operations
Belk Department Stores
As one of the nation’s leading privately owned department stores, Belk prides itself on meeting our customers’ needs for fashion, quality, value and selection. We turned to TradeStone’s Merchandise Lifecycle Management software, which includes their PLM for Retail solution, to help us reduce the private brands’ design, production and delivery cycle time — making it easier to deliver fashion-forward merchandise to our stores and customers in a timely and efficient manner.
Shortening the time to market is essential to our business model, which relies on having a steady stream of private-label women’s apparel SKUs arriving in stores every other month, or for men’s and children’s apparel, every third month. Our private label program is something we are very proud of and have been able to grow from 12 percent to 28 percent of our business. Prior to implementing TradeStone, we were using a variety of in-house systems, in addition to emails and spreadsheets to communicate. This was severely limiting the visibility we had into the product development process as well as highly increasing the chance for human error.
TradeStone’s PLM capabilities give us one solution for managing color, component/material and artwork libraries, defining color palettes, specifying product construction details, tracking samples and building technical specifications. Now, information is now literally at our fingertips, and we have greatly increased our visibility to all the relevant information on all aspects of the development and production cycle. PLM is helping us inspire our brands, develop quality merchandise, reduce cycle times and in the end, improve margins.
Buying and Merchandise Director
JD Williams is one of the largest and fastest-growing home shopping retailers in the U.K. We also understand we run a very complex business. At any one time, we offer more than 14,000 lines: over 140,000 options. We first started working with TradeStone Software’s Merchandise Lifecycle Management suite of solutions about four years ago. Since then they’ve helped us grow from about a 500-million-pound business to a 700-million-pound business. We’ve done so in large part to the one view, one unified system their MLM suite provides.
Our target customer is the plus-size woman, (the average size of our customer base is 20-plus), making fit a very important issue. If the quality and fit of the garments are consistent, we’ll have fewer returns, which increases profits and, more importantly, provides us with a happier customer base. TradeStone’s PLM for Retail solution embeds quality management into the product design and development process allowing us to enhance the accuracy and accountability of sample measurements, reduce turnaround times for samples and maintain a more accurate sample history online. Our suppliers then have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and can self-audit the samples at the source before shipping them across the world. Our PLM solution allows us to get the fit right the first time around, making our customers happy and keeping them coming back for more.
Director Design & Pre-Production Systems
The Jones Group
A focus of ours in recent time has been on the “L” in PLM. Efficient workflow modeling of day-to-day business process in the apparel space in particular is challenging. The driving forces behind this core challenge are both the amount of and timing of changes.
A workflow will only be successful if it carefully balances complexity against change.
They need to be the inverse of one another. The more volatile a process, the simpler the workflow must be and vice versa. With the proper workflows in place the next piece of the puzzle is the effective management of them.
To this end we have worked with senior leadership to provide a number of reports that offer insight into the workflow behind the development of product. What is on time, what is late, what is about to be late, etc. The intention is to provide managers with tools so that they have the visibility they need to properly allocate resources to meet the key business objectives, developing on time and within budget. This is where the power of a PLM system — in our case, a solution from Siemens — is really brought to light.
Graphically the number of changes viewed against time would resemble a series of peaks and valleys. This is something that won’t go away, however there is room for improvement such that the peaks need not be so tall. Trying to pull these peaks in has been a recent focus of ours. PLM and the data it contains specifically around workflow is helping us do just that.
Project Leader for
Sourcing and SCM
Premium women’s wear brand MARC AUREL from Germany has been using Setlog’s internet-based SCM and Vendor Collaboration software OSCA for the past four years. We successfully entered the U.S. market with our collection in 2006 (and Setlog opened its U.S. office in New York this summer and just announced their cooperation with Walter Wilhelm Associates).
For us, PLM means the management of the entire lifecycle of a product, from concept to cash, or from sheep to shop. To achieve that, you have to use a variety of expert systems as an integrated concept, and that does not exist so far and not for the foreseeable future. We have found that various vendors of PDM or ERP systems currently broaden their portfolios, but not to a degree that the entire workflow is embedded, nor, most importantly, to a degree that all external parties have efficient online access to allow for seamless collaboration. The different tools are still too heterogeneous. A vendor would have to consolidate functionalities such as CAD, ERP, PDM, WMS, SCM, PDM, PPS, accounting, mobile order entry, data warehouse, e-commerce and others in just one system.
This is why we at MARC AUREL decided to go for a “best-of-breed” approach, linking the various expert systems through interfaces.
We have found that a collaborative PLM approach is best served by a central SCM and vendor collaboration software that optimally links all important partners on a single system. In other words, it bridges the gap between the internal IT landscape and all external parties in the supply chain, filling the black hole of order management.
We decided to go with the online-application OSCA supplied by the European market leader Setlog, because of its many references and comprehensive functionalities. The system contains extensive data management modules as well as intelligent early warning, dialog, document management and analysis tools. The entire lifecycle process, starting from product development up to delivery to the DC, becomes transparent. We achieved a very positive cost-benefit-ratio, as we managed to shorten our lead times at reduced costs! This was a contradiction that we felt unsolvable until we implemented OSCA.
Merchandise Planning Director
Mr Price Group
Fast-fashion retailing from the top of a working train station in a small town on the East coast of the southern tip of Africa brings with it its own unique challenges. Add to this the pressures of having to follow Northern Hemisphere fashion trends in the opposite hemisphere of the globe and long delivery lead times, and it soon becomes clear that the mere 24 hours in a day becomes a real constraint. Then try and run a value business model which does not allow for an abundance of resources and skills and leaves very little in the margin for costs other than the garment itself, and the real necessity of PLM becomes imperative.
Having to manage a sourcing and buying process across an unsophisticated supply base in different time zones and wanting to delay fashion decisions to the very last minute is nearly impossible without a flexible and slick PLM.
We knew we needed help and TradeStone’s Merchandise Lifecycle Management suite provided us with the answer. With TradeStone’s PLM for Retail solution we are now able to manage all of our information in an online collaborative platform. The company’s robust system helps us unify merchandise planning with execution, enhance operational efficiency and drive on-time in-full performance improvements.
PLM has become essential in continuing the success of the Mr Price Group and TradeStone is a key part of that new mentality and success.
At Mulberribush, our operation relies heavily on ApparelMagic’s PLM software. Children’s wear is especially demanding because you’re talking about endless decisions on body styles, fabrications, color assortments, costing and delivery dates. Our entire team benefits from the system because we have immediate access to the latest status of our line.
When cotton prices recently hit an all-time high, our ApparelMagic system allowed us to quickly compare scenarios for domestic versus overseas production. All of our key information was in one place, which made the difficult choices much easier to make. As a company that does both U.S. and foreign production, we could see whether it was better to move raw materials to offshore factories in South America, or shift production to Asia.
Because we use the system to control production from A to Z, we know accurately what the production and fulfillment cycle will look like. We can fine-tune our material purchasing and inventory levels. We can gauge the timeliness of our fulfillment. We can see if we’re meeting sales goals. And, most importantly, we can attend to customer satisfaction and create new sales opportunities.
One of the biggest benefits from this control has been our ability to trim costs, by better understanding the entire product and sales environment — labor, materials, production cycles, customer buying patterns. As a result, ApparelMagic has helped us reduce inventories by up to 40 percent while increasing on-time delivery and customer satisfaction.
Vice President of Operations and General Counsel
PLM plays a key role in enabling the operational speed that Notations needs to succeed in the highly competitive moderate sportswear market. PLM has allowed us to reduce our cycle times while increasing the entire company’s visibility into the status of product development. This has brought significant benefits to our bottom line.
As one would expect, PLM helped us improve efficiency in our design and development departments. But the tight integration of BlueCherry PLM and our BlueCherry business system (from CGS) has allowed us to realize even greater benefits across a broader scope of our business.
As a company that produces both private label and branded goods for large department stores and chains, our business model presents unique challenges. Our niche is a combination of fashion merchandise and just-in-time delivery, which is very difficult to support from a development point of view. There is not enough time or margin to fully develop every new style before we start taking orders for them. So we have two parallel processes, where we quickly complete development at the same time we launch production.
The integration of PLM and ERP is huge for us as it gives us the ability to reduce order cycle times to the absolute minimum. By configuring PLM to automatically create style masters, our salespeople can enter orders even before the style is in our ERP system. Not only does this save time and reduce data entry, it effectively gives sales a direct link into the thinking of our designers.
Vice President of Product Development
Parigi Group is synonymous with high quality, trend-right children’s apparel for leading brands such as Puma Kids, DKNY Kids, Timberland, Akademiks for Boys, Apple Bottoms for Girls, LRG for Boys, Phat Farm Boys and Baby Phat Girlz brands.
With such a high-profile stable of brands, the fast-growing company relies on PLM software from NGC to keep its retail partners and customers happy. NGC’s software provides us with comprehensive end-to-end visibility that helps us track the product lifecycle from design concept to customer delivery. The increased visibility has improved our overall efficiency.
As for other key benefits from PLM, there are many. For our design teams, we now have a standard approach to creating tech packs as well as a company-wide centralized database that can be accessed in real time, 24 hours a day. Also, even though Parigi’s children’s wear business model is very complex, NGC was able to configure their software to accommodate the specific needs of our technical design teams. Furthermore, Parigi has experienced overall cost savings in both operations and production — benefits that have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Overall, our PLM solution has given us a cost-effective, flexible and multifaceted approach to lifecycle management. We now have a unified solution for product development, P.O. management, production tracking and shipment tracking — and that helps give us an advantage in a very competitive market.
Senior Development Manager
In answer to this question, many different points come to mind. The implementation and development of our system and procedures has taken varied steps in the 22 months since go live; it is a constantly evolving process.
Most recently, however, plmOn (from Gerber Technology) has shown the potential to take the concept of “one truth” to the next level, beyond just the core functions of the design and development teams and expand to sourcing, vendors, operations, sales and distribution.
With data now centralized, reliable and well managed, there is increased demand to have more and more data housed in plmOn. Having users who are responsible for different data and functions trained to enter and communicate their information directly to plmOn continues the culture of “one truth” but expands it from vendors through ERP solutions and from data management to an expanded communication tool.
We are now working with Gerber to develop and configure plmOn to take us to this next level in the evolution of our system. Many of these features are available now with the latest versions and we eagerly anticipate getting the configurations done and looking at the process revisions needed to continue maximizing the small window of time allotted as calendars get tighter and tighter and the process of manufacturing more complex.
PLM has done a lot for us, but when simplified down, the greatest thing that plmOn does is to allow us to have and trust data on time, thereby allowing us to make our business that of great products and not of data and systems.
Vice President of Operations and CIO
Richard Leeds International
PLM has brought order to what was an unstructured creative process. Before PLM, our teams used a variety of document formats such as spreadsheets emails, and even photocopies of manual cut-and-paste documents. We often had the same document in multiple formats, which required a duplication of efforts. PLM replaced that with a single version of the truth for the design and development process.
Another important benefit of implementing PLM was the opportunity it provided us to better understand and define our standard operating procedures. We looked in depth at the roles and responsibilities of each team member, the interaction between departments, and our design and development workflow. This helped us to gain control and accountability in a process that once spawned chargebacks, delays with factories and other time and cost issues. It’s the old adage: we shape our tools; therefore our tools shape us.
Today our teams work in an organized, collaborative environment where they no longer have to dig through emails and binders to find what they need. Our design, merchandising, product development, patternmaking, and production teams are all more productive since they do not have to waste hours or days searching for information. By putting everything at their fingertips, PLM frees up their time to focus on higher value activities. These benefits are compounded due to the fact that our PLM and ERP are all in one BlueCherry system. For example, our Hong Kong office can push one button to produce the production order and tech pack.
President and CFO
ApparelMagic’s PLM software has been essential in managing the products and designs that we bring to market. The system helps our teams collaborate and control key aspects of our business, beginning with the costing and production phase, and continuing through order processing, fulfillment, maintaining customer satisfaction, and analyzing our sales patterns.
Seven Licensing runs four brand divisions using ApparelMagic (Dylan George, ReRock, Seven 7 denim, and Seven 7 knits), which means we have access to an incredible amount of data for decision support. We’re able to leverage the right information at the right time. If we need to make changes in sourcing, we do it for the right reason. If we need to introduce variations of a popular style, or discontinue another, we have the sales analysis data to justify that decision.
Before integrated PLM systems, this information might have been available, sooner or later. But a competitive market demands that you anticipate and respond immediately. Whether it’s a re-design to enhance the product’s appeal, or a change in available fabric and sourcing, we use ApparelMagic’s PLM to determine our options and respond effectively.
In today’s market, you need great designs, but you need much more. Managing the product data from initial specs on through the very end of production and inventory control, gives us a competitive advantage in the industry.
Vice President of Apparel Services
Silver Jeans Co.
At Silver Jeans Co., PLM is directly responsible for helping us to accelerate our product line expansion, which we consider critical in the current global economy. We completed the first stage of implementing the Centric 8 PLM system in record time (14 weeks), which meant that PLM immediately went to work in making sure everyone involved in product development — including sales, design, merchandising and supplier representatives in North America and Asia — was working off the same product information.
Now, instead of spending time sorting through different versions of product data, we’re providing reliable, current information to everyone in the product development process at any time. PLM also has helped us eliminate the double and triple entry that often took place with suppliers, which effectively slowed product cycles.
The bottom line is shortened product cycle times. This has been especially crucial as we significantly expanded Silver Jeans Co. men’s and ladies’ divisions this past fall. PLM honestly “came to the rescue” as we worked with different and more complex product development needs than we had previously.
Vice President of IT
The Apparel Group
Headquartered in Lewisville, Texas, The Apparel Group (TAG) Ltd. specializes in the design, sourcing, merchandising and distribution of both branded and private label apparel including shirts, blouses, pants, shorts and sweaters. TAG is also the leader in apparel third party logistics (3PL) providing distribution, warehousing and business process outsourcing services.
Our customers include major regional and national department store chains as well as over 1,500 specialty stores across North America. We have a strategic alliance with Hong Kong-based manufacturer TAL. Together, TAG and TAL account for one out of seven dress shirts sold in the USA.
In the always evolving fashion industry, we face the daily opportunities and challenges of getting in-style products to the consumer while controlling costs and providing the best value in our products and services. Lawson’s Fashion PLM provides TAG the platform to collaborate, manage master data and monitor progress of the development lifecycle. Gone are the days of chasing e-mails for spreadsheets and comments — Lawson Fashion PLM gives us a web-based, single source of truth to track fabric and product development across the globe.
In order to increase speed-to-market, reduce costs and provide higher level of quality to our customers, TAG along with TAL and its strategic partners are committed to continuous process improvements with PLM at the core of this effort. With a complex and global network, TAG is re-engineering its internal processes resulting in more streamlined communication and improved visibility from the beginning to the end. This sets up a platform for a win-win across every link in the supply chain including the retailer and end consumer.
Une Nana Cool, a subsidiary of Wacoal
Une Nana Cool aims to encourage young women to enjoy simple, fashionable, high-quality lingerie, the way they enjoy choosing outer garments. It is therefore very important for us to continually propose attractive concepts and designs. Up until now, our designers have spent half of their time on operational tasks and on coordination with other team members. With Lectra Fashion PLM, our designers will be able to spend more time on creative tasks such as concept development and design — this will really strengthen our competitive advantage.
PLM has made us better and faster. To support our rapid growth in users and products (apparel, footwear and accessories), we are demanding more and more efficiency out of our Dassault Systèmes ENOVIA application. We could not rest on the laurels of our initial implementation from four years ago. We must continue to get better and faster. We first upgraded our PDM application, involving nearly all of our apparel designers and developers. After shoring our foundation, we are now relentlessly focused on ease of use. We have dramatically decreased the number of “clicks” for maintaining our BOM’s and line plan information, allowing our PLMs and developers to much more rapidly make changes en masse. We did this by implementing the Technia Value Components, in a rapid 12 week, iterative process. We also forced every single user to attend training so they could reap the benefits of these enhancements.
PDM has also helped us better manage the game clock. We’ve created a “buy ready” dashboard, allowing everybody to see, quickly, the status of the product line under development. Key product calendar dates are depicted with a simple green or red indicator, ensuring we cross the goal line with a production ready product.
We also redesigned our Tech Packs, which, over the years, had become large and unwieldy. Focusing on communicating the essential information and highlighting the changes to the BOMs has made our partner factories very happy.
So what has PLM done for me lately — personally? It’s made it a lot easier for me to walk down the hall!
Interview with Bill Brewster
President of Software Solutions, Gerber Technology
PLM’s high visibility gives business leaders the tools they need to make critical decisions based on real-time information — at their desks or on the go.
Q: PLM has been gaining ground in the apparel industry for several years now, but in the past year or two it seems truly to have come into its own as a must-have technology for the fashion business. What would you identify as the tipping point that got it there?
Bill Brewster: The economic downturn faced by many regions of the world during the past few years forced the demise of many apparel companies and required those remaining to operate under extremely competitive conditions. This fact, coupled with the industry’s ever accelerating speed to market and ever widening supply chain has made PLM a necessity. There are so many details to communicate and so little margin for error. Companies can no longer afford to miss the mark in terms of their product line and the time it takes to get those products to market.
Q: Apparel recently asked quite a number of apparel executives, “What has PLM done for you lately?” If you were going to answer this for the apparel industry in general, what would you say?
Brewster: Recent advances in PLM technology have provided visibility to the entire product design and development process. Today, PLM systems are not islands among themselves – they integrate seamlessly with an organization’s ERP and other third-party systems. This very high level visibility gives business leaders the information they need to make critical decisions based on the most comprehensive, up-to-the-minute information available.
Q: Regarding those companies on the upper end of the PLM adoption curve, how would you describe the level of integration of the technology into their companies, and what types of benefits are they reaping now that they weren’t a couple of years ago?
Brewster: Many companies begin their PLM implementations with PDM or Tech Pack management. While this presents huge advantages compared to maintaining data in spreadsheets, it isn’t sufficient to completely break through silos that might exist within a company. Many of the companies on the upper end of the PLM adoption curve have had time to complete and refine their integrations to their other business critical systems such as ERP, POS, logistics systems, etc. This, in turn, facilitates true business intelligence advantages.
Q: For companies just getting started in exploring PLM, what would you describe as some of the benefits that are earliest and easiest to reap?
Brewster: Companies new to PLM are often awed by their new-found ability to closely track and effectively manage their products through to delivery. They realize they now have the capability to manage information so their partners and stakeholders across the entire value chain are always using one version of the truth even with the number of changes, both major and minor, that occur along the way.
Q: What’s next for PLM?
Brewster: One word. Mobility. With the proliferation of mobile devices not only in the apparel industry but everywhere you look, users expect to be able to check the status of their products at any given moment, input data, make changes on the fly and manage their workflow on the go. Capture ideas. Communicate ideas. Collaborate to achieve perfection. PLM and mobile devices make it all possible.
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