The PLM Evolution: Supporting Compliance and Brand Value

In today's retail landscape, consumer demand has increased the pressure put on retailers, brands and wholesale providers to produce quality products quickly and at the lowest price. This fast-paced evolution creates an ultra-competitive environment among apparel and consumer lifestyle product companies. Before making purchases customers compare products and ask themselves questions such as: which product is the most innovative? where will I find the greatest value?; and what retailer will have the product available fastest? These, and a range of other consumer priorities, are all things brands must consider when manufacturing products.

In addition to meeting consumer demands, retailers and brands must answer to growing social and ethical compliance mandates. These requirements range from meeting product quality assurance standards and managing hundreds of certifications to ensuring safe and fair work conditions for the employees at factories they utilize. 

And with these and other aspects to track, lack of business process visibility – both internally and with global supply chain partners – can cause operational efficiency issues, such as missed deliveries; and it can negatively affect the bottom line with high product and operational costs. It can also lead to dissatisfied customers and loss of brand loyalty.  

So how can companies meet consumer demand and keep up with mandates and regulations effectively? What will help them gain a competitive edge while remaining socially and ethically compliant?

To address these challenges, some companies are turning to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions to better manage processes from concept to consumer, ultimately creating a better customer experience. But what many companies don't realize is that PLM solutions have the added benefit of supporting ethical and social compliance as well.

Visibility is key for business control
To keep pace in today's omnichannel environment, retailers are striving to be smarter, leaner and more agile throughout the product lifecycle. Making use of the best PLM solutions can be the key differentiator for retail companies among their competitors – with the most advanced tools offering added benefits to the bottom line.

For example, if we look at the apparel industry in particular, a large component of the product lifecycle is the sampling process. Most PLM solutions offer basic tools for managing this cycle. But new-age PLM software is often more process-driven and can provide the full range of raw materials management, product purchasing and tracking capabilities for both samples and production within a single system. This enables companies to efficiently move through sampling and directly into production with the exact same tools and system, significantly minimizing the risk of errors and keeping costs under control.

By streamlining processes in this manner from design to delivery, PLM solutions offer immense benefits in the form of cycle time reduction, end-to-end visibility, and overall business control – ultimately increasing customer satisfaction. This centralized control over the product lifecycle also ensures quality control and that both ethical and social compliance standards are met.

Compliance is increasingly the catalyst with PLM
In today's market, consumers want products that are the best quality and the right price as quickly as possible – often a hard combination to achieve. This places a huge demand on the factories and suppliers utilized by brands, which may cause them to take shortcuts in production or potentially go against government-set requirements and regulations. With a greater number of factories and suppliers involved, companies risk landing bad press and negative headlines due to the increasing possibility of ugly compliance issues.

There are several factors that can lead to non-compliance. For example, if a retailer uses factories and suppliers in a dozen different countries to manufacture the array of products it provides, they may struggle to accurately oversee each location, even with the best of intentions. Relying on a manual process can provide inaccurate or slow insight into the factory work conditions, as well as consistency in product testing – as a result, that retailer may run into issues maintaining compliance.

PLM solutions provide retailers and manufacturers with the reassurance that they are legally and ethically following requirements put in place to ensure proper work conditions and product quality. PLM solutions also act as a central repository for the large number of licenses associated with the breadth of factories and suppliers involved in the production lifecycle – streamlining the organization of suppliers remaining compliant.

Another key issue PLM addresses when it comes to both customer satisfaction and regulation is quality assurance. Many web-based PLM tools generate and manage CPSIA, General Certificate of Conformity (GCC) and other required compliance documentation. Quality assurance tools provided through the web or in a convenient mobile app enable more efficient and effective Acceptable Quality Level (AQL) standards, onsite sample approvals, and mill and factory scorecarding, as well as other quality initiatives.

Emphasizing brand value
Optimizing business processes, ensuring compliance, and enforcing quality control can have an effect on how customers view your brand and the products they purchase. With PLM solutions offering benefits in these facets, brands that leverage them can build a reputation of being reliable and trusted – two of the most important things a brand can be.

As consumer demand and expectations continue to increase, implementing next-generation PLM platforms will be essential to retail, brand and wholesale success and growth.

Paul Magel is president of business applications and technology outsourcing division for CGS.

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