"As you can imagine, it's impossible to separate production from the overall success of a brand, as great concepts can be designed, developed and sold, but a fashion business will ultimately live or die based on what is produced and delivered to the consumer."
-Business of Fashion (BoF) | The Basics | Part 7 – Production
Nuggets like this make the Business of Fashion's Basics Series a must read for anyone building a fashion brand. The most recent installment, Production, details how to identify production partners and monitor your production facility for quality. As BoF notes, a third-party distribution center is often the only stop between the manufacturer and your retail and eCommerce customers. To ensure that your end customers have a great experience and shop with you again, it's crucial that your warehousing partner focus on quality control, order fulfillment and order presentation.
The first thing a fashion warehouse should do when it receives a shipment is open the shipping cartons and Quality Control (QC) the product for errors and discrepancies against the Purchase Order. The exact process and amount of time permitted to QC the products and make them available for sale should be specified in a Service-level Agreement (SLA) with your distribution center. A good rule of thumb is to have 5% of inbound products QCed, although this percentage can vary based on your level of comfort and experience with a manufacturer. If you don't have this type of SLA in place with your distribution center, start talking to them about putting one in place that codifies your requirements and expectations now.
Once the SLAs are in place, the warehouse associates receiving your products and QCing them should be able to detect any damages, errors or discrepancies with your products and transmit this information to your team at headquarters.
The first rule of order fulfillment is to only sell products that are in-stock at your warehouse. This sounds simple, but it actually requires complete integration between your front end eCommerce and retail systems and your distribution center's Fulfillment Management System. When the inventory available for sale on your sites matches only what you have in-stock, you cannot sell items you don't have.
Once an order for an in-stock item is placed, the order goes to your distribution center to be fulfilled. Retail stores and eCommerce customers want or need their orders quickly, so it is important to have a contractually specified window within which each order must be fulfilled by the distribution center.
But don't trade speed for accuracy. Bad things happen when an order is fulfilled incorrectly. Retail customers who receive the wrong products will be upset; eCommerce customers who get the wrong item might not shop with you again. Ensuring that you only sell what you have, and getting the right products to the right people at the right time and in perfect condition, are the primary jobs of a fashion distribution center.
Order Packaging and Presentation
Failure to adhere to the packaging requirements of a retailer can result in charge backs and order cancellations, so it's important to ask your current (or any potential) fulfillment partners if they have experience shipping to the retailers you work with, or hope to work with in the future. If you have an eCommerce channel, or are interested in launching one, ask fulfillment providers about their experience with fashion fulfillment and eCommerce order presentation.
Beautiful eCommerce order presentation builds brand equity and improves the customer experience. Conversely, shipping products that arrive strewn inside a plain brown box can sully the customer experience.
As the BoF noted, "a fashion business will ultimately live or die based on what is produced and delivered to the consumer." Couldn't have said it better myself!