In the fashion retail business, speed is what separates the chumps from the Valentino's. How fast an organization can respond to new customer demand is key. And when creatives and seamstresses are all driven to turn around ideas quickly, frittering the time gained makes a mockery of the system.
But like a fast moving stream entering a broad plateau, garments destined for Wills Lifestyle Retail slowed down when they got to warehouses. It was like the warehouses were thumbing their noses at the system. And it wasn't funny. Everyday that a box of clothing stayed shelved in the warehouse, was a day less on display and 12 hours worth less of opportunities to make a sale.
That, however, was a fact at the US$3 billion fashion house that belongs to the ITC Group. As truckloads of boxes waited outside warehouses, workmen couldn't inventory them fast enough. "The challenge was to deal with large volumes because people have been doing it manually," says O.P. Bansal, CIO, ITC Lifestyle Retailing.
A lean supply-chain could help. But with traditional and manual practices, there was only so much that the company could crunch its time-to-market cycles.
Looking to streamline their operations, ITC Lifestyle Retailing, conducted a detailed study to assess their overall supply chain process. After their huddle, they returned a solution they had probably guessed before the study: RFID was the solution that could best increase the company's responsiveness. "A business case was put forth to implement RFID at an item level. The aim was to speed up existing processes, reduce time-to-market, handle material efficiently, and bring more accuracy of books versus physical stock," says Bansal.
But the company knew they were shopping in the unknown. Few companies have invested in RFID, shying away from the technology because of its price and inaccuracy. Fewer still have attempted in India's retail scene. So, the core team decided to start with a pilot, and follow it up with phased implementations. The first phase would last a year starting from September 2006.
Making It Stick
ITC Lifestyle Retailing has two gigantic warehouses, which swallow up everything their factories produce and carefully distribute clothing based on location, season and host of other parameters. The warehouses run on a warehouse management system that are tied into MOVEX, a fashion ERP. They have separate bays that receive, scan, store (in metallic bins), segregate and dispatch products.
The IT team looked at this workflow picture and decided two things: any garment carrying the Wills Lifestyle brand needed to be RFID tagged at a ITC Lifestyle Retailing factory (before they got to the warehouse) or at an outsourced manufacturer. Second, they needed to create two RFID tunnels at each warehouse: one for incoming goods and another for those leaving the warehouse.
Like other RFID implementations, the IT team at ITC Lifestyle Retailing bumped into challenges of read accuracy, read speed and tag orientation. That's when they turned to solutions such as PLC-based RFID tunnels for the warehouse and smart, customized point-of-sale software (POS) for the stores.
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