In the third in a new, exclusive series of interviews from TexProcess 2013, our Editor talks to Anastasia Charbin, Director of Marketing, Fashion, for Lectra about developing customer relationships, ‘Lectra technology’, and the potential of new 3D solutions.
Ben Hanson: The most striking thing about Lectra’s presence at this year’s show is your booth, which I’m sure you’d agree is something of a unique statement. Tell me a little more about what prompted the choice not to show software or hardware.
Anastasia Charbin: Our focus this year is on meeting our customers: creating customer intimacy, developing partnerships with customers, and in order to do that the first thing we need to do is understand one another. Sometimes, at shows like these, we find that people get caught up in the details – focused on the micro-details of a particular bit of functionality – and it’s all too easy to lose sight of the big picture.
So the shift in our marketing this year has been to bring people together, and then, yes, we want to demonstrate our solutions and our expertise, but we want to do it in the customer’s context – not just on our terms.
BH: It’s an approach that makes a great deal of sense to me, since these busy trade fair floors are far from the ideal environment to be demonstrating fine detail.
AC: And honestly? You get a lot of tourists that way, while we’re working to create more meaningful interactions.
If we look at the evolution of technology for fashion, historically the need for solutions was so great that technology was an obvious and stark improvement, enabling people to move from the manual world to the digital world. Basically anything you did with a computer, then, was automatically better than the equivalent action performed without a computer…
BH: The benefits were more readily apparent, right?
AC: Definitely. Whereas today it’s no longer about that. The level of technology has improved overall, and people are working together better today than they ever have in the past. So today, rather than show people how things can be different, we’re interested instead in explaining the “why” – why communicating via a true collaborative platform is better than email, for example. And providing these answers is very much dependent on getting to know the customer, understanding the relationships they have with their suppliers, and so on.
So our strategy this year is informed by the fact that we see lots of common challenges across the industry, but equally many unique and creative ways of solving them.
BH: This seems to be an ethos that you’ve extended to every aspect of your presence here; I notice you’re speaking about “Lectra technology” rather than discrete pieces of software, for example. Was this a conscious choice, to take a more holistic approach to solutions?
AC: It was. More importantly, it was a choice our customers led us to make. When we sat down with our customers – those retailers or brands we’ve worked with for twenty years or longer – we found that they never had one Lectra solution; they each had multiple Lectra solutions, and they were really the first to piece these different solutions together.
Of course we know, intellectually, that putting everything on a single platform makes sense, but it’s a different thing entirely to see that evolve organically over time. So what you’re talking about is a change we’re not making only in our marketing, but in our speech, because we recognise that this is really how our customers work. It’s all about applied knowledge – not just theory, but best practices.
This isn’t just an outward-facing change either. It’s something you can see within Lectra, too. Traditionally marketing and R&D and other departments were divided by product line, whereas today we have multidisciplinary people who can manage all of design, or all of product development… because really it’s one big process.
BH: The creation of this unified Lectra family of solutions has been galvanised by customer demand, so what do you see emerging as the next steps or components for that family?
AC: There are a couple of things we’re not quite ready to talk about yet, but the biggest thing for us is 3D. We see the impact it’s having on the ways our customers work, and we’ve had an eighteen-month pilot programme running with key brands to help us ensure that what could be a very disruptive change is handled as smoothly as possible.
Now, our 3D solution is built upon Modaris, our pattern-making system, and so we made a point of visiting the pattern-making departments of these key customers to talk about how they might use it.
And the reaction… wasn’t quite what we expected. We had a representative of one company stand up and proclaim that they were never going to use a 3D solution. When we delved a little deeper and sought to find out why he was so reticent to consider working in 3D, he explained that it was going to create a huge amount of work, with designers coming into his office every day, asking for their latest ideas to be prototyped in 3D.
So this was an issue of understanding, and one of change management. As I said before, 3D has the potential to be an extremely disruptive process (it’s really what we see as bridging the gap) and our customers are almost teaching us how to take advantage of the opportunities it offers. Our early adopter programme has been an amazing process for us, because of that relationship.
BH: I’m guessing that some of those early adopters went on to use solutions in ways you perhaps hadn’t envisaged?
AC: Absolutely. Our early adopters have done really creative things – things we’ve now incorporated as added best practices.
One of the most interesting things we chose to do was not to draw any conclusions until each of our early adopters had lived with the solution for at least one full cycle. Because sometimes smaller pilots just don’t give you the insight you need. Whereas with our approach we’ve been provided with some truly unique feedback that transcends departments, divisions and regions. And that’s really exciting for us.
BH: Finally, how effective are trade fairs like TexProcess at fulfilling your aims?
AC: I think they’re effective for meeting people – for networking. Personally, I don’t feel they provide a good platform for disseminating product information, or for prospective customers to make decisions. They’re valuable for us from the point of view of establishing and building relationships, but not necessarily the right place for actual demonstrations.