Athleta already had a strong direct-to-consumer reputation through its catalog and online multi-channel experience when it became part of the Gap Inc. retail family. Once stores entered the mix, Athleta realized how important it was to add a digital asset management (DAM) system, not only to centralize and manage its rich media collateral, but also “to present a united front to our shoppers,” says Bret Linford, prepress manager for the Petaluma, Calif.-based retailer.
The company began its omni-channel journey 14 years ago, using catalogs to sell its athletic performance clothing. As the web became an integral part of the retailing equation, the company made its move to e-commerce, with shoppers using the catalog to guide their online shopping experience. The company was acquired in 2008 by Gap Inc., which supported the brand’s continued growth. Now the company has 28 stores within its omni-channel operation, and is on track to be operating 50 stores by the end of 2013.
Athleta credits Gap for allowing the company to remain true to its roots, “and not mold the company into something [Gap] envisioned,” Linford says. “By Gap allowing us to grow, it also became clear that we needed to start doing a better job of organizing our media.”
Athleta used to work with a third party prepress company to shoot and manipulate all imagery of garments appearing online and in catalogs. “Representatives used to visit twice a year, bringing with them loose images that we used in our design files,” Linford explains. “If any revisions needed to be made, such as removing a wrinkle on a skirt or making the color of the sky in a landscape bluer, they would go back, make the changes, then visit again with the revisions.”
As the company grew and expanded its assortments, the volume of images also increased. In fact, the company was more than doubling its image count each year, which was impacting workflow. “We were not as nimble as we needed to be, which took a toll on our reaction to our creative needs,” Linford says.
The company decided to bring the process in house to cut operating costs. An internal team of graphic designers would create layouts, make color and image corrections, create PDFs and send the layouts to the company’s printers for reproduction. However, Athleta needed new technology to support the transition, from software and computers to servers.
“Our goal was to bring in a DAM solution that would allow us to be more organized,” Linford says, “which is the key to having control over the brand.”
DAM is a business process for organizing rich media assets like images, video and audio for storage, retrieval and distribution. As multi-channel retailers expand their rich media content online and across digital touchpoints, DAM can be an important tool for centralization, workflow optimization, virtual collaboration, digital media management and distribution.
The ideal solution would be scalable, require an easy set-up and be user-friendly. It had to be locally housed to increase the speed of sharing images company-wide during production. Finally, the DAM system had to be “human readable,” Linford explains, “supported by a file naming system that our associates could read and understand.”
Athleta chose the Xinet DAM system from North Plains. Once Athleta completes a photo shoot in Gap’s San Francisco-area studio, all images are stored on Box.net, an enterprise-wide cloud-based file sharing service. “After we do cropping, color and space corrections, we place [the images] in Box.net, where they are repurposed by our layout and production team for our catalogs and digital channels,” Linford says.
The images are also placed into North Plains’ DAM file system solution where they are assigned a file name, making it easier for graphic designers to find images when needed. The merchandising department also accesses the service and views thumbnails of the images to inspect assets, and then alerts the prepress team to any corrections to colors or merchandise before images are published.
By relying on the DAM system’s metadata keywords, the retailer streamlined retrieval of images, as well as saved time in creating and editing images.
“Since we didn’t have a prepress department before adding Xinet, we really weren’t able to quantify ... exactly how much time has been saved by using Xinet,” Linford says. “Generally, people who don’t use DAM solutions end up not finding what they’re after 35 percent of the time.
“Those that do use DAM solutions do not find what they’re looking for only 5 percent of the time.”
Looking ahead, Athleta plans to further exploit the power of the solution to automate other areas of its business. Linford believes the merchandising and inventory management teams can benefit from the power of the DAM system, as the group currently uses a homegrown file system to manually input and extract product information.
“By automating the photo files, the team can more easily access the data they need,” Linford says. “Using a comprehensive DAM solution, I feel like an evangelist. I would like to find different ways for different people to move beyond manual processes and automate their processes.”