05 Nov Custom Apparel Fulfillment Tips
Do you sell high-end fashion, or is your warehouse filled with apparel for people who work with hazardous materials daily? Do you have a stockpile of clothing you’re hoping parents will buy for their children throughout the school year, or is your business focused on selling footwear to people of all ages or a specific age group?
No matter what kind of apparel product you sell, it can be difficult to remain competitive in the apparel industry. Retaining customers while attracting new ones, processing orders accurately and preparing corresponding bills of sale in a timely manner, tracking your employees’ productivity along with your inventory of goods as well as receiving, shipping and keeping your customers up-to-date about the status of their individual orders — any one of these things, or all of them combined, can be the difference between your business making a profit or losing money.
While being in the clothing industry clearly presents some operational challenges, apparel fulfillment issues can be even more difficult when you accept custom orders. Even if you perform tailoring services in-house, it can be challenging to keep track of pieces of your inventory when they’re being customized to suit the preferences of individual consumers. However, although custom apparel fulfillment can be problematic, systems exist that can make it easier for you to manage every facet of your business efficiently, including your custom orders.
Warehouse Management Systems vs. Enterprise Resource Planning Software
Over the years, electronic systems have been developed to make it easier for people in a wide variety of industries to manage their inventory of goods. Material requirements planning systems were developed which helped businesses manage their raw materials. Manufacturing resource planning systems (MRP) were the next generation of technology, and they enabled manufacturers to coordinate their raw material needs, scheduling and capacity planning using just one system. Enterprise resource planning systems (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS) followed MRPII systems, and they are used by businesses in many different market segments today, including the apparel industry.
Even if you still track your inventory using clipboards or rudimentary spreadsheets, you’ve probably heard about ERP and warehouse management systems. While many people think a WMS and ERP system are the same, there are some distinct differences between the two. Being familiar with these differences can help you decide which system is the right one for your apparel business.
A conventional warehouse management system is a standalone system that enables you to manage your inventory efficiently. A WMS tracks the pieces of your inventory from the moment they’re received until they are shipped to your customers.
While a WMS can tell you where your goods are as they’re received, picked, packed, moved and shipped, it generally doesn’t share this information with anyone who isn’t specifically looking for it. This means a WMS doesn’t automatically update your billing department when an item is shipped, and it doesn’t alert your buyers when your inventory of a certain product is running low. Instead, to relay critical information to all of your departments, a WMS will normally have to be integrated with the systems used in those departments.
Like a WMS, ERP software tracks your inventory so you know where your products are at all times in real-time. Unlike a traditional WMS, however, an ERP system automatically shares information about your business activities with all of your company’s departments. In other words, ERP software provides an integrated, comprehensive system you can use to seamlessly manage the different departments that make up your business as a whole, including accounting, payroll, shipping, receiving, billing, customer service and inventory management.
The Benefits of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems
The Aberdeen Group polled 174 midsize organizations to determine the market pressures they’re facing on a daily basis. Based on its research, the Aberdeen Group reported that 40 percent of businesses experience pressure to reduce costs, and 35 percent feel they need to be easier to do business with.
The Aberdeen Group also learned that 31 percent of midmarket organizations think they need to manage their growth expectations better. Additionally, 18 percent of these businesses are concerned with interoperability issues across numerous locations, and 18 percent of midsize companies are interested in improving the amount of time it takes them to respond to their customers.
Whether your business is small, midsize or large, the odds are good that you are experiencing the same or similar pressures. Luckily, ERP software can help you manage these pressures, compete more effectively in your niche and improve your bottom line. While implementing an ERP system may seem like a daunting task, the improvements in how these systems are designed and implemented that have been made in recent years have significantly reduced the amount of time and money it takes to integrate one.
These improvements and cost reductions, coupled with the increased globalization of the marketplace, make it virtually impossible for even small businesses to avoid using ERP technology to improve their operations. When you look at the benefits a fully optimized ERP system can provide, it’s easy to understand why approximately 84 percent of midsize companies have already incorporated ERP software in their operations.
The potential benefits of using an integrated ERP system include the following:
- Decreased errors: If you’re using an old inventory management system that requires data entry whenever a product is received, picked or shipped, then you’re probably aware your system is vulnerable to human error at multiple points along the chain of supply. With an ERP system, you track the location of your goods electronically. This means your employees won’t have to manually input the number of goods they receive or ship. Instead, they’ll use scanners that will automatically capture this information and share it across departments.
An ERP system can do more than “just” reduce the number of errors your employees make when inputting data, too. It can also reduce picking mistakes because your employees can use their scanners to identify the exact products they need to fulfill an order. Because it tracks the amount of inventory you have on hand, ERP software can prevent your buyers from purchasing too much or too little of a given product as well. This capability can help you keep your carrying costs to a minimum.
- Improved customer service: Tech-savvy shoppers expect to know where the products they ordered are at every step of the fulfillment process. They want to know when their order was received, when their items will be shipped and when their products will be delivered. They expect accurate information that’s readily available over the Internet, telephone or both.
Since an ERP system tracks every piece of your inventory and every order your company receives, your customer service representatives will be able to provide your clients with the information they want in real-time. Your employees will be able to tell someone the status of their order and when it will be delivered with a high degree of accuracy. This transparency will increase the level of satisfaction consumers have with your business and make it more likely your customers will shop with you again.
- Reduced labor costs: By reviewing data generated by your ERP technology, you can see what products are moving the fastest. Based on this information, you can organize your warehouse so your most popular items are readily accessible while relocating slower-moving products to less frequented areas of your commercial space. This will enable your employees to fulfill orders quicker, which can help you to reduce your labor costs.
Because ERP systems share information across departments automatically, ERP software can help you keep your administrative expenses to a minimum as well. Your payroll department won’t have to reconcile time sheets, for example. Your accounting department also won’t have to prepare invoices because many ERP systems are designed to create invoices on their own.
- Better demand planning: If you’re trying to figure out how to streamline your screen printing fulfillment process, ERP technology can help. In addition to giving your employees access to the information they need to do their jobs efficiently in real-time, an ERP system can improve your ability to plan for changes in the demand for your products.
Your system will keep an historical record of your sales, enabling you to see which items move the fastest at certain times of the year. This, of course, can help you make sure you have enough products on hand when you’ll need them, and it can prevent you from tying up money in excess inventory.
ERP software can also create purchase orders for you based on your sales figures and the vendors that supply your goods. This can help you avoid accruing a lengthy list of backorders because it minimizes the chance you’ll run out of a given item.
With so many options available to them, consumers can usually find a product similar to yours somewhere else, which means they may not be willing to wait for you to replenish your inventory if they want something now. For this reason, it’s critical to anticipate demand accurately and make sure you have enough product in your warehouse to satisfy your customers’ immediate needs.
- Improved communication: While it’s clear that ERP technology can help your employees communicate better with each other as well as your customers because it gives them access to critical information in real-time, it might not be as obvious that this same software can help improve your communication with your vendors and third-party logistics partners. Many ERP systems enable you to integrate your system with the systems used by your vendors. If you do this, your suppliers will be able to see how much of their products you have on hand at a given moment in time. If you’re running low, your vendors will be able to restock your inventory before you run out of a popular item.
By integrating your ERP system with the technology used by your suppliers, you greatly decrease the likelihood you’ll run out of a product when you’re receiving orders for it. You also reduce the chances a mistake will be made on a purchase order because you won’t have to prepare purchase orders manually.
Decorated Apparel Fulfillment Tips
Even though an ERP system offers many benefits that can help you optimize your operation, improve customer service and increase your bottom line, apparel fulfillment issues can still arise from time to time. This is particularly true if you allow your customers to customize the goods they buy from you. While you may get excited whenever a customer asks for a special design or pattern, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to process custom orders efficiently and accurately unless you have a system in place to do so.
The first tip that can help with your decorated apparel fulfillment process is to choose an ERP provider with knowledge of your industry. By working with an ERP provider that has experience in your niche market, you’re gaining a partner with an understanding of your company’s unique needs and will know how to address them.
Selecting a provider that knows your industry provides another potential benefit as well. If you have a problem with your fulfillment process or another aspect of your business, your provider may have ideas about how the issue can be resolved based on the company’s experience working with other businesses in your industry.
The next tip is to choose an ERP system that has the ability to process custom apparel fulfillment. Whether you do custom work in-house or you use a third-party to work on your custom orders, your ERP software should still be able to track where all of your goods are in real-time. Your system should also be able to monitor changes to design patterns and store previous designs so you and your designer can access them at will.
The final tip to perfect your decorated apparel fulfillment process is to contact FDM4 International, Inc. We’ve been in business for nearly 40 years and focused on the apparel industry for more than two decades. During that time, we have grown to become the largest software vendor in the blank apparel, imprintable industry by providing software solutions that are tailored to suit the precise needs of our valued clients.
Our ERP system includes an integrated Decoration Module which makes it simple to manage your custom orders from the moment you receive them through the time they are shipped — and at every point in between. Using our Decoration Module, you can enter the product a person wants to buy as well as the custom enhancements the individual wants on the same page. This module also enables you to track your custom goods and monitor the work that’s being done on them in real-time.
With our Decoration Module, you can manage your designs, artwork and proofs easily with your ERP system. You can store new versions of your art while retaining previous artwork as well. This module enables you to keep multiple digital files with a single custom order, which prevents you and your designer from having to search in more than one spot for the information you need. This capability not only saves time, but it also keeps everyone “in the know” about the current state of a custom order and the work that has already been completed.
With more than 20 years of experience in the apparel industry, we’ve developed software solutions that have helped businesses just like yours grow exponentially. When you work with us, you get a partner that is truly dedicated to your success, beginning with our very first visit at your location.
We have more than 30 talented programmers and over 30 customer support representatives who will help develop a software solution for your company. Whether you want an ERP system that uses cutting-edge, browser-based technology, a warehouse management system, PLM, e-commerce or CRM, we are your one-stop shop for all of your software solutions.
If you have one location or several, or if you trade in dollars or in multiple currencies, our ERP software can help you streamline your business. You can use your system to purchase products, manage your inventory, calculate your freight charges, bill your customers, process custom orders and much more. If you’re trying to improve your efficiency, reduce the amount of time it takes you to respond to customers and increase your bottom line, talking to us about our scalable ERP systems is a great place to start.
We’ve been helping businesses in the apparel industry succeed for years, and we’re ready to help you take your company to the next level as well. We work with some of the most recognized brands in the business, including Trimark, Gildan, Pine Island and Baywood. Let us help make your brand a household name with a software solution that’s right for your business.
Contact FDM4 to learn more about what we can do for your business today.