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STUDY: Americana sets IT ‘Bench’ mark

STUDY: Americana sets IT ‘Bench’ mark
Thursday April 11 2013

UK fashion retailer’s strategic investment in supply chain systems has reduced stock holding as a percentage of sales and increased stock flow

Americana International, the brand owner and manufacturer of Bench indoor and outdoor fashion clothing, turns over in the region of £130 million annually and continues to grow. 

Americana’s business covers the complete product lifecycle from design, through specification, to manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, warehousing, distribution and finance. Each main season, the company designs thousands of styles. Following sampling and sales assessment, it manufacturers approximately 1,000 of these. 

For the last five years, Americana has managed its business using Microsoft Dynamics NAV with Pebblestone Fashion enterprise resource planning (ERP) software from K3. Ives Waters, business systems and operations manager at Americana, said the system “fits our business perfectly”.

Prior to implementing the Pebblestone Fashion enhanced ERP system, Americana had outgrown four different ERP systems within five years – such was its rate of expansion. When it was clear that its final system could no longer support the business, the management team turned to Microsoft for advice. Microsoft recommended two Dynamics NAV resellers with extensive fashion industry expertise. Following the meetings with both vendors, Americana selected Clarita, which is now part of K3 following its acquisition in 2010.

Fast-growing fashion fit

“In addition to all the background activities of design and planning, our workflow follows a very simple pattern. Our salespeople take the range out to the customers and while onsite, using a remote sales system that interfaces with our ERP system, they will take orders and transmit them back to the office,” explained Waters. “When the selling window has closed, we simply press a few buttons and Pebblestone Fashion calculates what we need to buy from our suppliers and creates the purchase orders automatically. We don’t spend weeks analysing spreadsheets to work out what we need to buy; it is very straightforward.”

Over the following two months, the stock arrives in the warehouse. While en route, the system allows Americana to track the containers so that the company has visibility of its products while onboard ship through to when they finally arrive at the dock. The finance department also uses the system to calculate the cost of freight and duty, giving a clear picture of landed costing to the company.

When the products are in the warehouse, the customer services team allocates the stock to customers. In the UK, the warehouse team picks it using a voice-directed picking system that interfaces with Pebblestone Fashion. While in Germany, the warehouse team uses barcode scanners to pick the orders, where these also integrate to the ERP system for paperless picking.

Tracked carriers deliver the orders to customers, so that Americana can provide delivery updates and know when product arrives. Once delivered and proof of delivery has been received, the credit control department can begin tracking payment. Some customer payments are by direct debit, which links to the system. Pebblestone Fashion also provides electronic interfaces with Americana’s 75 retail stores, together with various consumer websites, wholesalers and eBay sellers.

Providing fashionable flexibility

Waters suggested the value of the system is so much more than the sum of its parts. “Generally, when you implement a system, it will be the right thing for the business at that time. However, if you grow quickly, then the likelihood is you will outgrow the ability of the system to evolve with the business. That was our experience before implementing Pebblestone Fashion with Dynamics NAV. 

"With this system, we have flexibility and scalability, allowing us to make the changes we need quickly and easily so that it meets our needs now and in the future. In a dynamic business like ours things can change rapidly and yet I have the confidence that the software will continue to meet our needs,” he said. 

“A key emphasis for us over recent years is automating a lot of the tedious and laborious functions, so that we can constantly improve our efficiency across the business. You can make those changes easily and the system retains its same familiar user-friendliness. By implementing the changes with the software we are making important improvements that eliminate manual tasks, while improving response time for our customers.”

Waters also listed the most important business benefits of the systems. “We have reduced stock holding as a percentage of sales and increased stock flow. We have reduced our headcount by introducing best practice and process automation and we have increased the capacity of customer orders without extra people.

“Pebblestone Fashion gives us the ability to service our office in Germany and its warehouse operation without implementing another system. It also provides us with accurate free-to-sell/free-to-promise information, especially regarding incoming containers and airfreight.

Gaining further system benefits 

“By automating our buying, we have reduced supply chain lead times and we have improved our cashflow forecasting, which is enhanced by having implemented direct debits.

“Also, EDI [electronic data interchange] integration increases our ability to service larger organisations customers such as Amazon, Sportscheck and Otto, so that we can deal quickly with electronic orders and speed fulfilment. And, of course, we have the ability to run retail, ecommerce and wholesale out of one system,” he added.  

Americana has further developments in the pipeline. Most of these focus on interfacing with additional technology. “We acknowledge that implementing the ERP system is a key milestone in the growth of the business and we include it in most of our company presentations. Our next key project is to integrate it to the Visual PLM [product lifecycle management] 2000 system, which in effect will integrate the design and product teams into a single system infrastructure. 

 “Talking to other fashion industry companies, the main things we discuss are improving the speed of the buying process, but more especially the ability to get an accurate free to promise/free to sell figure. This seems to cause everyone a real issue, as getting this right is the key to ensuring you have not oversold or hold too much stock.  We're happy with what we've got now, and I often explain how we do it,” Waters concluded.

Tagged as: Americana | Bench | fashion | stock | order | delivery | ERP | supply chain | warehouse | voice | picking | K3 | Dynamics |