The publicly traded fashion house anticipates monumental, far-reaching benefits through implementation of technologies including a retail POS analysis tool.
Ed Eskew, the vice president of information technology for Bernard Chaus Inc., says he is notoriously cautious and selective about his IT investments.
"I have never been a big toy guy - I'm old-school," says Eskew. "Before I recommend to our chairwoman anything that takes the company in a particular direction, that tool or technology needs to have passed through rigorous scrutiny."
In Eskew's case, the chairwoman he seeks out is Josephine Chaus, the fashion designer and co-founding force behind the respected company that bears her late husband's name.
The New York-headquartered apparel company has kept up with fashion trends for 32 years in designing a high-end range of women's career and casual sportswear.
In recent years, as she actively assumed the helm of the company, Josephine Chaus has instituted many branding changes - in 2005, for example, the company inked a licensing agreement with Kenneth Cole Productions to manufacture and sell women's sportswear under the Kenneth Cole Reactions line - while at the same time helping her company navigate globalization.
The publicly traded yet relatively small firm of 350 employees has established operations globally throughout Asia and South America, and its designers and manufacturers collaborate through business critical applications such as Gerber's WebPDM product data management (PDM) and AccuMark pattern design software solutions.
"We've extended our networks and access to our applications and our enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools around the globe," says Eskew, noting that the company is in the midst of integrating its ERP and PDM tools while extending deployment of them to its Hong Kong office and worldwide factories.
According to Eskew, Bernard Chaus' culture has positively embraced new technology to keep pace with globalization. "I think the art form lies in finding the correct tools that will be the most welcome in your environment and synergizing those with your users and where the company is looking to go," he says.
While the company is not afraid to try new things, Eskew says he "won't just buy any new technology." It is his goal to ensure a good marriage between efficient cost-effective technologies and a good solid direction for the organization
A tailor-made plan
Accordingly, Eskew developed a comprehensive yet highly-customized IT plan that in some instances has outsourced characteristically in-house technologies. The strategy is designed to keep the company "as nimble as possible," he says.
The fashion house, for instance, outsourced its entire network infrastructure to one local company, Rosalyn, NY-based CGAtlantic, which has in turn implemented security technologies for the company such as spam filtering. Many of the solutions it has implemented are from Check Point Software.
"Globalization demands that you [don't] sit in your ivory tower in New York and expect the world to respond to your decisions," Eskew says. "You need to be far more connected than you've ever been." He says the company has taken "very strategic steps," investing in technologies that relate to the Internet, virtual private networks, Check Point security systems, firewalls and so forth. "This has been a long plan that has been put together and executed very methodically."
The technology initiatives, he says, have worked well in tandem with a company strategy to outsource its overall logistics operations to third-party partners rather than funnel its product first through a New Jersey-based distribution center (DC). This measure facilitates the delivery of goods to their intended destinations more quickly, he says.
Immediate results, long-term benefits
While all of the essential IT implementations have solidified Bernard Chaus' worldwide infrastructure, Eskew says the company's March implementation of Sky I.T. Group's SkyPAD retail POS analysis tool has enabled the company to reach previously unattainable heights of supply chain visibility while dramatically enhancing its vendor-managed inventory program.
Despite its very recent implementation, Eskew says SkyPAD immediately improved employee access to POS information, enabling the Bernard Chaus sales team to better track and respond proactively to both positive and unfavorable sales results.
He says the web-based tool can be accessed remotely, and that its dashboard cuts through huge amounts of data to provide sales employees with a better snapshot picture of key trends.
"I think anyone who is considering this type of technology could expect almost instant return on their investment, as opposed to some of the other steps we've taken that were far longer planning [processes] and required far more effort, coordination and integration," he says.
Eskew envisions that the POS analysis tool will create a favorable chain reaction that has a sweeping impact throughout the entire Bernard Chaus supply chain. In immediately identifying slow-selling items, for instance, the tool allows the company to "more aggressively discount to ultimately improve sell-through results."
It is able to monitor hot, swiftly moving items and replenish them, or at the least, contact the stores proactively to attempt additional sales. Inventory turns have already improved, he adds.
Also, Bernard Chaus' sales representatives can more quickly identify common retail problems, such as the delay of goods' reaching the retail floor because of late arrivals or back-room hold ups. The tool has also sped up the company's insight into what items to cut, and what to manufacture.
Ultimately, Eskew says he expects the SkyPAD solution to lead to enhanced, more strategic business relationships with its retailers: "When [a product's sale shows a slowdown,] we can instruct the buyers or stores to take a further discount and absorb some of that ourselves," he says.
"Now they're moving goods more rapidly and we're benefiting because we don't have this enormous erosion that's hitting us all at once at the end of a particular season."
A virtual, secured connection enables Sky I.T. Group to extract the Bernard Chaus point-of-sale 852 data on a regular basis, process it through its servers and make it available to Chaus employees through the browser-enabled password-protected technology.
The data and pie charts are customizable by sales division. An employee in the Kenneth Cole Reaction division, for example, can set the profile to monitor the activity of just that part of the company. Ditto for someone involved with the Cynthia Steffe line, and so forth.
As employees become even more familiar with the technology, Eskew anticipates that they will realize even greater efficiencies. Although the POS information is currently filtered through Sky I.T., Eskew said a critical selling point in his selection of SkyPAD was the unique option to be able to someday purchase the software outright, "source code and all."
The arrangement would allow the company to bring the entire IT environment in-house and, according to Eskew, "allow me to host it myself, create the connections from my own internal server, off my AS/400, and handle this whole process myself. That flexibility was important to me."
Eskew says he believes that, although retail analysis tools such as SkyPAD are in their relative infancy, they are capable of helping position apparel companies, such as Bernard Chaus, for more steady growth, while at the same time creating new levels of sophistication and an entirely new paradigm in the manufacturing and retail landscape.
"I think we're at the precipice of potentially turning the corner on buyers just coming in, looking at something, 'liking the way it looks' and buying 'X' number of units," he says.
"We're getting to a point where the information flow between both parties is becoming more complex. I think tools such as SkyPAD will be enormously instrumental in augmenting those critical relationships," he concludes.
Michael D. Cole is a former associate editor of Apparel and a frequent contributor.