I recently spoke at length with a potential new client about their current apparel program and the challenges they are having. I started thinking, why do I hear this so often? From my point of view, there is an overall lack of strategy when developing an apparel program. Strategy is the most important component of a successful program, but it is most effective when accompanied by service & support, technology, in-house manufacturing, plus reporting & analytics.
Every apartment company has apparel as part of their brand even if they do not have an official uniform program. Too often, companies start with product selection to build their apparel program. However, given the importance of apparel and its impact and impression on people as well as the brand, I want to share why crafting a strategy to drive your product selection is the best approach. Since an apparel program is a choreographed balance between form, function, individuality, and conformity (typically with a lot of opinion thrown in) it can be a daunting task. Our data shows that a single apparel piece will often not get a likeability rating of more than 60%. But when a strategy is in place that takes into consideration geographic location, body types, asset type, etc. we have seen an average increase of 36% in the likeability rating of products.
Generally, the apparel industry sells based on product selection alone, so it is common to see product selection hijack strategy, but then the product likeability is limited to the program implementer. This helps support the argument for partnering with a wears company to create your apparel program. At its core, an experienced wears company is a company with a strategy that sits in front of the product selection. A good wears company is equipped to overcome the most common apparel program challenges in order to help you improve your program. Some of these challenges include:
- Inventory - Either being out of stock or having to overstock too much of a particular style.
- Required Minimums - Not being able to order one piece at a time.
- Turnaround Time - Taking too long to get apparel delivered.
- Limited Product Options – Lack of access to suppliers needed to provide the selection required to successfully accommodate geographic and body type needs.
- Archaic Ordering Systems – Lack of automation, all-in pricing, gift card programs, spending accounts, and geo-targeting are just a few examples.
- Reporting & Analytics – Not being able to provide actionable data.
These challenges resonate with most operators and marketers alike. We recently worked with a national management company to “right size” their apparel program. One of the key components to the success of this roll out was the focus group. While I am not usually a fan of involving too large of a group, apparel is an instance where it is best to cast a broader net. We pulled in team members from nine regions and worked to gather feedback. Combining the data from the focus group with the corporate initiatives and our understanding of geographic needs, we were able to develop a national program, with only 49 items, that was well received by their team members. Within the first 90 days of the roll out we saw more than a 10% decrease in returns and an increase in product likeability ratings – portfolio wide.
New Likeability Average Score 62% | Previous Likeability Score 42%
Likeability Score of the Program Increased 36%
We all know there is much more to it than the focus group – we had to be able to take the feedback to create a simple buying experience, using clear merchandising, and product purpose. It’s very important to ensure you take into consideration that not every team member has the same style, size, body type, etc. Merchandising is key to ensuring the team member understands what they are buying – from material to fit. For example, when looking at a simple cap you can see the varying differences in fit, form, and style.
This may seem like a simple task to most, but developing a successful program truly takes:
- Experience, Methodology, and Approach – An experienced and well thought out approach to creating an apparel program, the rationale, and the process. A successful program will have a well-developed plan, inclusive of buyer needs across an organization that include conference needs, new hire and investor gifts, employee tenure, and executive needs, since these categories make up about 20% of a company’s apparel spend.
- Technology – A system beyond a traditional ordering site, with capabilities to cater to specific demographics, broader merchandising, and incorporate multiple team’s needs is key in supporting a successful apparel program. It is also essential that the site keeps the ordering process simple and easy.
- Service and Support – Apparel support goes beyond an ordering site. A true call center and account team is needed to provide the best experience.
- Product Options and Decorating Capabilities – It’s critical that output and timing are managed with in-house manufacturing.
One important take away is that the product is the product. A good wears company will help narrow down the funnel, consider different geographic location needs, body types, and provide appropriate pieces for equal inclusion. To improve your apparel program, find a provider with the expertise in developing, implementing, maintaining, and supporting your company’s apparel program strategy.
Benson Wears is an experienced wears company that also provides a Centralized Marketing Platform (CMP). Research shows that companies that have invested in integrating a robust wears strategy into their CMP see better compliance with other corporate branding initiatives. We have seen up to a 30% increase in compliance amongst the 15,000+ properties we support compared to those who do not have a defined wears strategy integrated into their CMP.
To learn more about our Wears program, contact Kim Grisvard, VP of Business Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.