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Fat Face Makes IT Fit with PMC

PMC helps top quality clothing brand implement merchandise management system upgrade.

Fat Face is a young and fast growing multi-channel clothing brand, that has built an enviable reputation for top quality men's, women's and children's wear, designed for people who go out and 'do' the outdoor life. They operate through a rapidly expanding store base across the UK and France, plus an established home shopping channel operated through both web and call centre channels.

Stuart Owens, financial director, Fat Face states: "Our growth brings the issues that any business faces when it goes through exponential growth. A key problem was that our systems were fragmented and our infrastructure had been built in a fairly haphazard way. We needed to solidify the infrastructure and put the systems in place that could handle business volumes going forward and cope with similar growth increases over the next three to four years."

"Although our systems environment employed many best of breed elements, the interfaces were less than robust, and some of the key building blocks within the infrastructure required updating. For example our Prologic Merchandise Management System (MMS) had not been upgraded for four years, so an upgrade to the MMS had to come first."

Fat Face initially chose PMC to run the selection process for a potential new MMS supplier, but then engaged them to project manage the entire upgrade programme. Fat Face and PMC reviewed the Prologic MMS and three other systems, considering risk, cost and opportunity. At the end of the process, Fat Face decided to stay with Prologic in that it made the best strategic sense plus the implementation risk would be low.

The right processes and systems for the business

Owens explains: "Once we decided on our strategy, we looked at the scale of change and the complexities involved. It became obvious that we did not have the large scale project management resource we needed - initial analysis capability, setting up and leading the various workshops – these were skill sets we did not have in abundance. Couple that with the need to keep the business running and the obvious answer was to bring in an external resource."

"It made sense to continue working with PMC, given their project management and implementation skills, in-depth knowledge of retail IT and vendor-independent position. I could have used Prologic for those skills but I wanted an independent consultant to work alongside our supplier. That way PMC could focus on the upgrade while we focused on our business."

PMC ran a series of requirements workshops with Fat Face and Prologic to determine how to re-engineer the business processes to make best use of their upgraded system capabilities in line with their business needs.
The requirement workshops raised a number of key issues, these included the managing the supply chain to the warehouse, efficiently moving stock through the warehouse to both the retail and mail order businesses, stock integrity across the entire business and improving lead time for mail order pick and despatch.

Taking mail order to the next level

Owens continues: "Once we had the upgrade of the MMS underway, we took a decision to implement a new channel on Prologic to replace our existing mail order system. Our system was one of our best of breed packages but integration was problematic. As a result, customer service was not as good as we would like. We were experiencing stock inaccuracies and that's not good when you have a mail order business which has promised to deliver stock to a customer."

"We decided that the best way to further consolidate the complex system environment and to strategically leverage the platform, was to ask Prologic, who were developing a mail order system, to complete the development of the software and implement it with us. Again, I felt comfortable working with PMC, given the scope of the project and the fact it was new software."

The project included re-engineering the Fat Face mail order operation to separate stock from the retail operation and create a new mail order operation integrated with their packing and call centre functions. The advantage of consolidating mail order into one site and removing it from the retail warehouse also resulted in efficiency gains in the retail picking process.

PMC were also involved in a number of parallel initiatives, including, defining reporting requirements, merchandising processes, mail order and web integration specifications, data migration and mail order warehouse requirements.

Owens comments: "We considered a 'big bang' approach for everything but we decided that the work streams were not going to be co-terminus so we phased the mail order system to happen later, however, the merchandising system was ready and so we went live with that upgrade 2 months earlier.

Improving the customer service proposition

PMC helped Fat Face focus on bedding down the merchandising system upgrade and acceptance testing the new mail order warehouse system, plus using the associated new business processes. This included system and acceptance testing for the newly developed mail order modules and web integration to the new mail order system.

PMC were also involved with finalising the cutover plan, which included the transfer of approximately 40,000 stock units from the retail warehouse to the new mail order warehouse.

Fat Face now has vastly improved stock integrity and they know that what they see on their systems is actually there, they can send items out to their customers up to 15:00 each day and expect it to be with the customer the next day, providing of course the item is in stock.

Owens confirms: "When the new mail order system went live, with associated new warehouse and web integration, we encountered the usual go-live issues, however the business began trading successfully on the new system. We are already beginning to reap the benefits of faster customer delivery times and better visibility of the stock position for both retail and mail order."

"The MMS has made improvements to our store allocation and the ability of our merchandisers to analyse data, meaning we are doing a much better job at understanding what is selling and why it is selling."

"The advantage with PMC is they help drive decisions. They added value in the project management and application development environments, helped us manage Prologic and provided that all-important independent view. If I were asked to summarise, I would say it was a well managed piece of work throughout."