Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Strategic Planning and Technology for Apparel and Textile Mfg - Developing a Competitive Advantage

In my 25 years of experience as a Management and Technology Consultant, I have found one common denominator among apparel and textile companies’ and that is that they have major weaknesses when it comes to their ability to plan strategically and apply the use of technology.

The apparel and textile industries have long suffered from loss of market share, U.S. manufacturing capability and jobs, ability to respond to cost management and the overall ability to consistently generate a profit.

Effective strategic planning provides a blueprint for developing capabilities which can keep companies ahead of the curve, more profitable and competitive. A complete evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats along with providing apparel and textile executives with the tools and understanding to implement and follow a strategic action plan is a key component to staying healthy and in business.

During many of my strategic engagements, I find that executives and managers are inexperienced at thinking outside of the box and understanding how to direct their teams to move in the direction of strategic thinking.

As a strategic coach, I teach owners and managers how to create a solid strategic plan and evaluate major issues, roadblocks and opportunities, as well as, create ideas for future improvement. It is important to determine what the future idealistic state of the business will be and develop action plans to move toward those goals.

The area of use of technology by apparel and textile companies has long been a major roadblock to these firms being able to quickly respond to market influences, reduce the cost of operations and provide meaningful real- time event management and reporting that aids in making correct on-the-spot decisions.

As we look back on the demise of the American textile industry, we are reminded of companies like Burlington Industries, Cone Mills, Cannon Mills and many others who could not see the impact that technology could have on their businesses and would not spend important dollars on technology investments. We watched as plants closed because they could not implement cost saving technology products and that would make machinery and employees more efficient and cost effective. We see the American automotive industry moving in the same direction and closing plants in the U.S. while the Japanese and Germans are building new plants.

It was not long ago that the apparel and textile trade shows took up multiple locations and hundreds of thousands of square feet of showroom space in Atlanta and Las Vegas and now are taking place in one corner of one building. This is a testament to how these industries are failing to stay profitable, competitive and in business.

The use of business intelligence applications is a very good example of how mid-sized apparel and textile firms are missing the boat when it comes to understanding how to let technology applications work for them. The ability exists to immediately generate paperless dashboard reports on critical conditions in their operations and, also, create a culture where managers are evaluating and fixing those conditions. However, mid-sized apparel and textile companies are still tied to expensive static spreadsheets, paper reports and high-cost labor to create them.

The development of key performance indicators (KPI's) and metrics is an essential component of strategic planning. KPI’s give the owners and senior managers to monitor how their operations and employees perform and is a critical step in the planning process. It is important to teach their managers how to implement performance tools and KPI reporting.

A vital factor of creating competitive advantages is the understanding of business process management and performance engineering. In my strategic planning sessions, we go through a number of exercises which are geared toward training managers to think entrepreneurially and develop a performance mentality. The results are dramatic when individuals who have the ability to make change understand what the performance factors are and develop the skills to implement them.

Another technology area that apparel and textile companies should begin to invest and utilize is sales optimization tools. Sales optimization products are developed to automate order taking by their customers' buyers and make the experience faster and easier. Additional products, which can aid the sales force, are mobility application dashboards to review bookings, sales, inventory and determine which products are currently selling at major retailers locations geographically.

My hopes for the apparel and textile industries are that they begin to create competitive advantages through strategic planning and investing in technology products so they can survive and that we can protect our economy and jobs with what remains of these industries.

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