John Bovill, Commercial Director of fashion retailer Jacques Vert, spoke to Retail Gazette about the importance of streamlining the supply chain for the crucial Christmas period.
Jacques Vert merged with Irisa in January; how has this affected the smooth-running of the business in regard to supply chain and delivery?
Outside of Christmas and just generally on supply chain, it has had a very positive effect particularly on Irisa. Irisa went into administration in September 2011 and as a result they lost a lot of credit insurance . As a result of our merger, we have been able to secure credit insurance and backing from the banks. This has put them in a much stronger position and we are certainly seeing that from a trade perspective by being able to get the business back into stock again. Obviously, after going into administration, Irisa was disrupted quite severely last year which is normal for the circumstances but if anything this has had a very very positive impact. So from that perspective it’s been all upside for those brands particularly.
Having worked at Sears, Warehouse and Aurora Fashions, how does Jacques Vert’s strategy differ?
The UK women’s market is split between value offerings like Primark, then the mainstream market such as Marks and Spencer and Next while we are classed as premium as well as Karen Millen Hobbs and Whistles for example. Whereas before at Aurora Fashions I traded with brands across the mid mainstream market there is a big premium market to cover now. We are aimed at the older demographic which is at this point quite a growth market so from that perspective, while there is always risk in fashion as it is a tough market, we are at the right end of it.
When you trade in the premium market, typically everything is exclusive to you meaning that we design items in-house which means that we have a longer supply chain. Others at the value end or a mid-market player will have a shorter supply chain which can be good. It means you can are able to book a lot up front and get planning for things like Christmas as the big problem with the festive season - particularly in fashion - is being able to forecast demand and supply coming through. Given the fact that we book so much in advance, the demand coming through is not such an issue as it is not so volatile compared to the more fast fashionretailers. What’s always very difficult in fashion is forecasting demand; in fact it’s impossible. We in this business pre-allocate everything before it goes to the distribution centre .
You have spoken previously about the importance of being a “cross-channel” retailer; how can this be achieved and how do these commitments affect the supply chain?
The big difference in our business is that we have direct channels to market in that we have an e-commerce business. Predominantly, we trade in 2,000 outlets which is a significant amount though the vast majority of those are concessions in host stores. That means that when you manage supply chain, we have a very big reliance on our hosting partners and when we talk about the cross-channel proposition we are very reliant on what they are able to do as far as the customer offer is concerned and the space we operate in. So for us, where the consistency comes in is obviously in the pricing of the garments themselves which is a given.
However, with regard to customer interaction this is very difficult for us to do because we are a concession based business and don’t have a huge amount of standalone stores. But from our perspective it is all about trading with our concession partners, delivering a bigger international footprint as, while we are a consistent brand in each of the countries we trade in, there is a slightly different take on what the brand means and we need to be able to localise it while underpinning that with consistency.
Innovation is a core part of your supply chain strategy; what new technologies have been introduced over the course of this year and what is planned for the months ahead?
With regard to e-commerce, we are looking at mail order which could be a really strong proposition and we need to make sure that our pricing, product and messaging are on point.
Customer service is probably the one area where we get a funnel now as a lot of our store queries go through them. Hopefully not too many but certainly extended aisle if we haven’t got the stock in-store as we have a relatively small store footprint and this is a very big proposition for us. Approximately 10 per cent of our e-commerce sales now come through phone orders. We deal with general store and e-commerce queries while mail order inquiries will go through that customer service offer and increasingly that will become our single touch point as this is a very big and ever-growing part of our customer interaction and customer service offer.
We work on a single stock pool model as fashion by definition is trend based and there are lots of variables; it is not a commodity based product but rather a considered purchase product. So that becomes very difficult to forecast so we mitigate that risk by pre-allocating stock out to either stores or e-commerce and so on. We will direct ship to our international markets from stores and factories but where we are not direct shipping will go to our national distribution centre here in the UK.