To capitalise on often unpredictable consumer preferences, you need to set up an in-season fast-track product development process. A time to market of 40 days is the goal!
Time to Market in 40 Days: Mission Impossible?
My last article focused on how to reduce the time to market for your main collection. The goal was to set at a time to market of 50 weeks or less to allow you to leverage comp season sell-out data.
This time, let’s focus on one more element of a fast-fashion company: the so called in season fast-track program.
Fast track means that you are reacting to in-season sell-out trends of your own collection, or on obvious trends in the market. Assuming that it takes some time to detect a trend and that any season lasts at most three months, your process needs to be really quick. We are talking 40 days from beginning to in-store date. To make this mission possible, you need to get a couple of things right.
Mission Possible: The Data
Reliable sell-out data of your own product and a good read on what is selling in the market in general forms the basis of everything. Without this data, you have no way of establishing a successful fast-track process that is driven by more than pure chance.
Getting sell-out data is easier if you have your own stores or website and/or have direct end-consumer contact from selling on marketplaces. While getting sell-out info from your own direct-to-consumer channels is usually relatively straightforward, getting your sell-out data from selected key accounts is slightly trickier. It requires solid EDI interfaces and clear and unified data definitions, so that you can compare and analyse you receive. Sounds relatively simple, but on my projects, I have rarely seen this work particularly well, no matter the size of the brand in question.
Tools like EDITED can also be helpful in gathering and analysing market and competitor information. They allow you to track the competition based on near real-time data scraped from the web. And don’t forget to look at feedback from your most recent order period and store visits from your retail and sales teams. There may well be valuable infoormation hidden in there.
Mission Possible: The Team Setup
Assuming that you run a tight ship, your mainline product team will already be stretched to the max, making sure that the seasonal collection gets to market on time, looking beautiful and with a great gross-margin.
One of the key principles of making your fast-track product development process a success is to allocate a dedicated team to the task. Yes, you heard right, additional headcount, or at least people who do nothing but make this process for a super-fast time to market work. Why? because it requires data analysis on a daily basis, few but decisive meetings, and super tight interaction with your suppliers or agencies, so that the necessary fast decisions including proto signoffs at the factory can happen.
In terms of skill set you will need the usual suspects: design, development and buying and someone with the skills to analyse data and prepare it for fast decision making. And all of this should be supported by a PLM system or process-/project management tool that lets you tie in neatly across all parties, including the suppliers.
And to make sure that the team performs well, they need to be working towards their own set of KPI’s and be held accountable. Typically, I see a mix of sell-through and achieved margin as KPI’s.
Mission Possible: Products and Timeline
Of course there are limitations in terms of products for which a time to market fast-track is feasible. You cannot start to develop new cutlines or new technical fabrics or start developing a new leather jacket for your fast-track program, as these products would never work on a 40-day time to market process.
Typically, you will have approximately 10-15 working days for design and development of a proto and 25-30 days for manufacturing and delivery.
Compared to your main collection, where you most likely only do a proper post-mortem once per season, you need to continuously analyse sell-out data for your fast track process. The typical cadence for this process would be:
- Continuous (i.e. daily) data analysis and tracking of your open to buy budgets.
- Weekly summary and discussion of potential product opportunities
- Bi-weekly production order
This means, that you will need to have a well set up toolbox for standard fits, fully developed fabrics, and a pre-selected assortment of trims to select from.
So how big should this fast track program be? This depends to some degree on the performance of your mainline collection. If most of your mainline styles perform very well, the fast track program is likely to be smaller and generate true on top revenues to your seasonal revenue budget. If your mainline performs weaker, however, the fast track styles may amount to 10% or 15% of your mainline styles, and will help to achieve seasonal revenue goals rather than exceed them.
From an achieved margin perspective, you should plan with a lower going in product margin, but similar achieved net margin due to the higher sell-through and lower markdowns compared to mainline styles.
Mission Possible: Supplier Selection and Logistics
The nature of the beast is speed. Therefore, in order to also keep transportation cost to a minimum, your suppliers should be as close to where the product is sold as possible. If you manage a global business, you will need to aim to have suppliers in all key regions, and particularly in your main markets per region.
To be 100% suitable for your process, suppliers will need to dedicate enough resources to support you with ongoing product development capabilities. They also have to be comfortable working with brands that operate on short lead times and make immediate product decisions when looking at the proto in the factory.
Placing orders twice a month means you need to have suppliers set up to develop and deliver fast and likely in smaller quantities. To ensure product cost stays within boundaries, it makes sense to initially focus on fabrics that look likely to be around for several seasons. This allows you to order larger quantities and reuse season after season.
As you can imagine, organising and orchestrating this setup is no easy task and requires sound rules – particularly around supplier selection and quality assurance.
Time to Market Fast Track: Your Next Mission?
Fast track processes are something like the black belt of the fashion business. They are not easy to set up, but can be a powerful weapon to ensure that your brand stays close to consumer needs and achieves its financial targets.
If your current mainline calendar is still much longer than 50 weeks and you don’t have a proper NOS system up and running yet, I would suggest you tackle those issues before embarking on a fast track process. But if you have already mastered the fundamentals of a short time to market and want to get your brand ready for competition, then let’s go for the icing on the cake!
About the Author:
Christoph is a consultant in strategy development and process optimisation for fashion brands and retailers. He has more than 15 years experience as a consultant, line manager in the sports wear industry and in e-commerce marketplace distribution. Read more of his work here and get in touch with him on LinkedIn to speed up your time to market!