Top 4 Planning Tips for Apparel and Fashion Retailers
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
So said one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, way back in the 1700s, and the phrase still rings true today, especially for apparel and fashion retailers.
Every retailer wants to be responsive to changing consumer trends. But to do so, their teams and supply chains must be on the same page and working efficiently toward the same goals — singing from the same hymnbook. After all, it’s challenging enough to plan a season and get the right styles on the rack. Retailers can’t afford to lose cycle time and miss fashion opportunities due to difficulties in sharing information and staying aligned on plans.
Yet how many times has it been a challenge to make a category financial plan line up perfectly with an assortment plan? Or to align a design collection with a buy plan without a lot of confusion, internal debates and time-consuming data entry? These and many other common challenges can be solved with integrated planning. Planning technology is available today to make all these plan-related processes highly transparent, automated and seamless. How? Here are four ways to leverage integrated planning.
Tip #1: Align All Plans
Every retailer has its own way of doing business, and there is no one-size-fits all when it comes to planning processes. However, ultimately every retailer needs to meet its financial plan for sales and profits and minimize losses. An integrated planning software solution should give different departments visibility to financial planning assumptions and goals so that they can roll up their plans to reconcile with financial objectives. It is particularly important to have synchronization between high-level financial plan decision-makers, often a retailer’s top executives, and the merchandisers, buyers, assortment planners and allocators responsible for building out detailed plans for specific products, pricing, mix and distribution. Design, product development and sourcing teams also must be included and working within the same technology platform in this holistic planning process. The system should provide all planners with accurate historical data to build plans so that they make informed decisions based on facts.
“Preseason planning and in-season OTB [open-to-buy] management need to be in a common solution, with agreed metrics and consistent process and cadence,” said Clay Parnell, Parker Avery Group. “Role alignment and management of the plan between buying and planning is key.”
Tip #2: Integrate with Design, Product Development and Sourcing
When it’s time to execute their plans, many retailers lament the disconnects within their organizations. From one department’s vantage point, a plan may be spelled out clear as a bell. But then weeks, maybe even months, later, the actual execution of the plan has gone in quite different directions. Then the questioning begins: Were the other teams not present at the planning meetings? Did they not see the spreadsheets? How did one version of the truth become so blurred?
Often the problem is not that one team is ignoring another’s well-laid plans. It’s more likely that they lack a straightforward way to connect the dots between their roles and responsibilities — and their planning activities and data — with those of their counterparts. Today’s planning and supply chain technology solves this issue by allowing seamless integration of plans and processes between teams. For example, designers and product developers see when merchandising or buy plans go live and can build styles and collections to fill the plan (or vice versa, depending on a retailer’s processes). For designs that have been promoted into styles, that style data circles back automatically in the system for ready access by assortment planners, allocators and buyers, so that they can fine-tune and flesh out their plans. Sourcing and purchasing also are in the digital loop, using the style and plan data to initiate purchase orders, which in turn tie back to the plan.
“It is very important to invest in an ERP solution with built-in PLM so that the integration between the two is seamless for end-to-end traceability. Then, for example, a company can compare anticipated, or standard, costs with actual costs,” Apparel Magazine said in a 2019 Thought Leadership Report.
Tip #3: Reconcile and Compromise
No plan is perfect, of course, and technology should allow retailers the flexibility to adjust. The latest planning and supply chain solutions allow for top-down and bottom-up planning visibility and collaboration. For example, category assortment planners and allocators may recognize that 10 percent more style bodies will be needed to meet the financial plan’s projections. Foreseeing constraints to execute such expansion, the retailer’s leadership can downgrade the overall financial target for the category. They could compromise on a financial target that requires 5 percent more styles.
Likewise, buyers and sourcing teams may encounter challenges in procuring precisely the quantities called for by the plan, or they may need to make substitutions. These proposed changes also can be handled within the integrated planning system with exception management capabilities. Then when products from the supply chain are received, all receipts can be reconciled to plans.
Tip #4: Analyze and React
Once a plan is in action, it’s essential for a retailer’s systems to provide timely visibility to sell-through trends. Teams must be able to expedite or postpone markdowns and manage inventory based on actual demand.
“The forecast needs to be managed regularly (not ‘set it and forget it’),” said Parnell. “Integration is critical for both [allocation and replenishment] — for up-to-date information for inventory, on order, and sales — and clean integration is always a challenge.”
A challenge, yes, but one readily surmounted with the right end-to-end retail planning and supply chain tools. Or to put a positive spin on Ben Franklin’s famous quote, “If you succeed in planning, you are planning to succeed.”
Learn more about how CGS’ BlueCherry Suite can support seamless planning and execution for your apparel and fashion business. Contact us today to discuss your greatest planning challenges so that we can help you seize the next big opportunity!
- Apparel Magazine, 2019 report: https://act.cgsinc.com/rs/756-XUI-889/images/apparel-plm-system-of-record.pdf
- Parker Avery Group, 2020 outlook: https://www.parkeravery.com/newsletter_issue_26.html
Tommy See currently leads product marketing and go-to-market strategies for the BlueCherry® portfolio, enabling organizations in manufacturing, wholesale and retail to digitalize their supply chain and manufacturing operations.