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Push to Pull

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What’s a company to do following a merger that doubles store count to 2,000 in a single bound; when multi-channel growth — particularly e-commerce — becomes crucial; the supply chain is shifting from product push to customer pull; and the finance, retail, business intelligence and stock management systems simply aren’t up to the task? This was the challenge facing U.K.-based Jacques Vert. The women’s wear retail group’s previous supply chain solutions did not support planning, ordering, allocation or monitoring of stock — leading to an over-reliance on Excel spreadsheets — and their 10-year-old legacy systems lacked integration capabilities. The retailer required a system that would enable it to be proactive — and to react faster to a rapidly changing apparel marketplace. The company owns four unique brands: Precis, Windsmoor, Planet and Jacques Vert labels are sold in department stores in the U.K., Ireland and Canada; Jacques Vert and Planet labels are also sold in the company’s own stores in the U.K. All of its products can also be purchased online through separate brand websites. The company’s international operations added its own twists and turns. Products are mainly supplied from Asia and Europe and delivered direct to Canadian stores or to a central warehouse facility in the U.K. for redistribution. The process was made more complicated by different countries and sales channels requiring a varying mix of products. Since it caters to an older demographic, Jacques Vert is not entirely at the mercy of “fast fashion.” Nonetheless, “Fashion changes in rapid and unpredictable ways and the connectedness of consumers to media and technology has resulted in a need for instant availability,” says John Bovill, commercial director. “It was critical for us to gain clear stock management in order to react and plan more efficiently and quickly.”

Robust planning capabilities The need for heightened efficiency became an even greater concern last December when Jacques Vert was acquired by private equity firm Sun European Partners. The company was subsequently merged with the Irisa Group, also owned by Sun, a move that doubled the number of concessions and standalone stores, including units in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany that will be operated under the Jacques Vert Group banner. The bulk of the integration process should be completed by 2013, and merging each company’s back office operations is a top priority. “Jacques Vert had already invested in its systems and processes, while Irisa needs a lot of investment,” says Paul Daccus, managing director of Sun European Partners. “It makes sense to merge the two.” Once the integration process is complete, the company will be able to focus on organic growth, which, according to Bovill, can be extremely difficult in some markets. The U.K., for example, has minimal potential for expansion because it’s mature, fragmented and competitive. Jacques Vert is in a better position than other brands, however, since it caters to fashion-conscious women in the over-40 demographic. “But it’s still a market share game and will be for some time to come, so growth really lies in developing channels to market,” Bovill says. “For us, e-commerce is a big one. We’re looking for significant improvements on that side of the business, as well as in international and mail order.” The current state of the business and its future direction made it necessary for the company to scrap its old ERP system. “It was at the end of its life,” Bovill says, “and wasn’t the solution at the level we needed for more robust planning and assortment capabilities in the new channels being developed.” In addition, he says, “the market changed. There was a paradigm shift from product push to customer pull. The old system served our purpose for a very long time, but it struggled to cope with the increasing complexity of the supply chain. We had little choice but to look for other solutions.” Jacques Vert engaged Deloitte to help in the search, and “they came up with the rationale behind our strategic requirements,” Bovill says. “We looked at a number of suppliers, but in the end we felt that Maple Lake and Retail Assist would fit our business in terms of complexity and scale.” The company began implementing the system in February and is looking at ways to roll it out into Irisa as part of the integration process. “The target is to have it in place by early to mid 2013,” says Bovill. “It’s a thin solution that can be deployed rapidly to our stores and integrated in areas like human resources, payroll and stock systems.”

Fast-fashion stock cycles
Although the merchandise planning segment won’t be fully in place until next year because of the fashion planning cycle, the company has already seen significant benefits. “In the old days we had much longer cycles — as long as 20 weeks,” Bovill says. “But fast fashion has had a significant impact on the supply chain. The average cycle can vary drastically from six to 15 weeks. That’s a significant change in the stock-turn cycle.”

The solution from Maple Lake and Retail Assist provides what’s been called a fully integrated “single version of the truth” by accelerating the decision-making process for buying and merchandising. Improved stock management has enabled buyers and merchandisers to define optimum stock pages or targeted allocations for all channels, says Bovill. Meanwhile, the automated product and sales data transfer functions have led to savings in productivity and a reduction in e-commerce staffing costs.

The group now gets stock updates every 15 minutes, enabling Jacques Vert to expand its distribution center operation to seven working days, improving order fulfillment. Overall it’s providing the company with a flexible and agile distribution model to manage an increasingly complex supply chain, Bovill says.

“A centralized stock pool ensures that less product is automatically allocated out to stores,” says Nigel Illingworth of Retail Assist, “meaning it’s sent to the right places for replenishment. Terminal stock has reduced, improving margins.”

Maple Lake’s planning application “provides in-depth analysis and visibility to aid the alignment of product to stores and/or channels,” says Bob Jolley, Maple Lake’s group commercial director. “The solution provides Jacques Vert teams with the ability to conduct detailed and comprehensive assortment planning, integrating financial plans and purchase order processing. It’s now a fully streamlined and automated process.”