Meeting customer delivery requirements is a key factor for most apparel companies. But for those competing in the bridal industry, it is a make-or-break situation. Deliver the dress of a bride’s dreams on time and all is well; if not, the company may face the wrath of a “bridezilla.” After all, if a customer’s dress arrives too late to make the trip down the aisle, it is pretty much useless.
“There is no margin of error when it comes to brides,” says Diane Garforth, director of distribution systems for David’s Bridal
, a 300-plus-store bridal retailer with headquarters and warehouse facilities in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Women in the United States and Canada have been depending on David’s Bridal for bridal gowns, bridal party attire, special occasion dresses, and accessories for nearly 60 years. The stores — which account for over 35 percent of all bridal gowns sold today —are known for their mix of off-the-rack garments that customers can try on and take home the same day, as well as special order items that are custom-manufactured to meet color and size specifications for brides and bridal party members, Garforth notes.
“If a bride falls in love with a white dress in our store, but she wants it in ivory, or she wants to add a long train, we take care of those requests as special orders,” she explains. “Similarly, we don’t stock each bridesmaid dress style in every color and size — so bridal parties sometimes need to place special orders.”
Saying ‘yes’ to technology
To ensure that its customers receive their gowns in plenty of time for the big day, David’s Bridal employs a suite of technology from supply chain software provider Manhattan Associates
. The company first implemented Manhattan’s warehouse management (WM) solution in 1999 and recently upgraded to the 2011 version. Serving as the foundation of its supply chain, WM helps David’s Bridal automate its distribution processes and improve order accuracy.
But as the company continued to add retail stores and expand its e-commerce channel, its requirements for replenishment, fulfillment and delivery became too complex for WM and its own homegrown systems to handle effectively. “If we are just replenishing something that was bought in one of our stores, it is a straightforward process — we send another item out to the store. But if a customer places a special order, we need to make sure it is delivered in the six-to-eight-week timeframe we give her,” Garforth explains.
In addition, David’s Bridal opened a second DC in Bristol, Pa., in 2006, splitting its inventory: the Bristol facility handles flat-pack items such as bridal gowns and accessories, while the original warehouse in Conshohocken, Pa., ships all the bridesmaids’ products, which are goods-on-hanger inventory. This move, while necessary to support the growing business, further complicated fulfillment processes. “We realized we needed an order management system that could understand two different distribution facilities,” Garforth says.
The solution? Manhattan’s distributed order management tool (DOM), which David’s Bridal deployed in 2007. “When we implemented DOM, we were able to retire eight homegrown applications. The tool has really changed our ability to grow with the business,” Garforth notes.
Finding ‘Mr. Right’ in DOM
Among the list of attributes making DOM a perfect match for David’s Bridal is the fact that the tool centralizes all orders into one repository for enterprise-wide fulfillment. It has also given David’s Bridal a more accurate, global picture of inventory and helped the company improve customer delivery times; boost inventory accuracy and productivity; and increase warehouse performance.
“As soon as one of our brides places an order, DOM can give us an estimated date of when the order will arrive at the store. It understands how long it takes for items to process in each of our DCs; and it knows delivery aspects like the fact that shipping to California takes five days whereas shipping to Boston is two days,” Garforth says.
And if something goes wrong within the supply chain, threatening a delivery date — and wedding-day bliss — DOM provides timely alerts so that David’s Bridal can step in and take action. With the improved visibility DOM provides, the company can come up with solutions such as asking a manufacturer to ship items overnight instead of via ground delivery, for example. “We are able to see delivery issues well in advance which has dramatically improved our ability to deliver on time to our customers,” Garforth says.
In addition, because DOM is integrated into the WM system as well as the Manhattan replenishment solution that David’s Bridal uses, it provides a more accurate picture of inventory. “As soon as inventory is moved to WM, within seconds, DOM reflects the new inventory,” says Garforth. The company also uses Oracle SQL queries to pull inventory data from DOM and send it to a proprietary host system and data warehouse. While the host system understands full purchase order quantity, DOM offers an extra layer of inventory clarity. “DOM can allocate orders against incoming purchase orders, so it understands what is accurately still available on the PO. We use DOM data to supplement our host system data to provide a more complete understanding of inventory,” Garforth explains.
The real-time inventory communication that occurs between DOM and WM has also helped David’s Bridal improve DC operations. Instead of waiting for overnight batch updates to inventory, workers can now pick and put away orders as soon as inventory is available. “This ability has boosted our pick rate and throughput, as well as service levels,” Garforth notes.
Lastly, David’s Bridal is exploring a new fulfillment option that DOM makes possible. Instead of continually creating a new purchase order, the company is exploring the option of using in-store inventory to fulfill some orders. “DOM understands store inventory levels. So if we need a certain garment in one location and it’s on the rack at another location, we could pull the dress from that store instead of ordering a new one from the manufacturer,” Garforth explains. “This approach will help us make the inventory in our supply chain more productive.”
Happily ever after
Another key aspect of the happy David’s Bridal-DOM marriage is the solution’s ability to help the company with its vision for the future. David’s Bridal’s e-commerce operation has seen significant growth and Garforth believes DOM is crucial to the company’s ability to embrace and drive e-commerce fulfillment forward.
“Every week, we are adding more styles for our customers to purchase online. Fulfillment for e-commerce orders follows the same process as our store orders, so we rely on DOM to get those orders delivered on time,” Garforth explains. Happily for David’s Bridal, DOM was developed with significant e-commerce functionality, so the company has not had to go back to Manhattan to work on developing new capabilities to support its e-commerce channel. “In terms of web commerce functionality, Manhattan has enhanced the DOM tool to be faster than we could have even envisioned,” she says.
The company is also planning to install DOM’s distributed selling module to enhance e-commerce customer service. This module will allow the David’s Bridal online customer service staff to quickly and efficiently execute tasks such as replacement orders and return merchandise authorizations. “The distributed selling module will give us better visibility and management of e-commerce orders,” Garforth notes.
Behind all the technological benefits of DOM, Garforth points to the solid relationship the two companies have built as a crucial factor. One success secret that Garforth recommends to any company implementing new software is the decision to conduct a discovery phase before agreeing to a full partnership. Perhaps akin to the technological equivalent of moving in together before getting married, David’s Bridal spent three months testing Manhattan and its solutions before signing a contract “so we were sure that we understood the tool, that it was the right solution for us, and that Manhattan fully understood our business,” Garforth says.
And, like any good pair, David’s Bridal and Manhattan are sure to maintain open communication and dialogue. “They have been really been great partners; they are very attentive and have responded well to our needs,” Garforth says.
Amy Roach Partridge is a New York-based free-lance writer specializing in business and technology.