In this exclusive article, our Editor reports on the third annual “Thinking Retail!” conference, which was hosted by TXT Maple Lake at London’s prestigious Savoy Hotel on 21st March 2013, and featured some of the industry’s biggest names.
This year has been big for TXT.
In the twelve months since the last Thinking Retail! event the company has acquired assortment planning and allocation specialists Maple Lake, simultaneously strengthening their hold on the integrated retail planning market and expanding their reach further into North America and Australia.
This international expansion is particularly noteworthy for TXT, further reinforcing the company’s retail practice, and bringing to the combined entity approximately 50 new customers, mostly in North America.
Readers interested in learning more about the July 2012 Maple Lake acquisition should see our exclusive interview with TXT CEO Marco Guida, but suffice it to say that TXT’s third event in the Thinking Retail! series (taking at London’s Savoy Hotel on 21st March) was a pivotal step in presenting a unified front to some one hundred C-level industry Executives from around the world.
Produced in concert with long-term partners Microsoft, Thinking Retail! 2013, with its lavish surroundings, impeccable branding and exclusive guest list was in many ways an encapsulation of the identity of the now-joined TXT and Maple Lake teams – anchored in the haute couture capitals of Europe but geared up and, now, prepared to take on the world.
Striding to the stage of the Savoy’s grand ballroom, joint TXT Maple Lake COO Mark Stone set the scene for the full-day event with a general introduction, explaining how integrated retail planning can support the creativity and profitability that drives modern product development. Despite qualifying for equal billing, Stone acted very much as a facilitator to the speakers – colleagues, customers and partners – who followed, and quickly ceded the stage to Marco Guida.
As we might expect after such a landmark year, Guida (and later Chairman Alvise Braga Illa) took the opportunity to both introduce the day’s agenda and do a little grandstanding about his company’s financial and market position in 2013.
According to Guida, TXT has enjoyed 16% year-on-year growth, recorded €47 million in revenue, and accrued €6 million in free cash in recent months. In the 2012 calendar year they went live with more than sixty projects around the world, and Guida thanked the passion and professionalism of his team – the things that he credited with strengthening the company’s reputation as the “world leader in integrated retail planning and PLM”.
To some this may have seemed like boasting, but in light of the Maple Lake acquisition, the financial stability of the new joint entity is just cause for celebration. TXT Maple Lake is, as Guida put it, a “global, viable partner and [one that is] 100% self-sustainable”, a position that allows them to continue investing in innovation and growth, and that has permitted them to commit to a further five years’ worth of development to the Maple Lake software and community.
As a segue into a presentation from Microsoft’s Karen Laucka-Caudill (Global Alliance Director), Guida closed his presentation by announcing two new initiatives: the migration to the cloud of the existing Planning and PLM solutions and the new TXTMobile platform. TXT, which already offers an end-to-end solution tailored to the needs of the fashion industry, is looking to further expand their innovation with TXTMobile – encompassing new processes like mobile collection books, the ability to buy and sell on the g, and the opportunity to conduct in-store assortment planning.
Laucka-Caudill began by lauding TXT as “top-tier” Microsoft partners, with a partnership that dates back to 2005 and has led to TXT’s status as vanguards of the Windows Metro interface, as seen in the massive, touch-screen demonstrations available in the breakout Innovation Hub outside of the ballroom itself.
As Laucka-Caudill explained, Microsoft (and many of its partners) are embracing several notable IT “mega-trends” throughout its retail operations: mobility, social, cloud, big data, pervasive displays, natural user interfaces and computing ecosystems. None of these were particularly surprising to hear about, but she made it abundantly clear that Microsoft and TXT treat each of these tines of the computing revolution as more than just buzzwords.
The new customer, Laucka-Caudill said, is accustomed to having the line between his or her work and home life blurred (for better and for worse) and, as a consequence, the new retail customer is constantly connected – expecting similar user interface paradigms and functionality online and off, in-store and at their desks.
This was by far the highest-level presentation of the day, but one that nevertheless raised some interesting points. Will customers who work with touch-screen, cloud-connected devices in their day jobs look for consistent experiences in the form of digital collection books and untethered points of sale? Conversely, will workers exposed to these in the retail environment be more receptive to their use in design, line planning and product development?
Line planning itself is one area to which TXT devoted considerable attention, and Laucka-Caudill was followed on stage by Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Simone Pozzi, a regular fixture at these events. It fell to Pozzi to extoll the benefits of integrated retail planning, which amount in essence to his neat distillation of “consistency between decision making and execution”.
Pozzi gave a well-received presentation, providing detailed insight into how and why retailers and brands are making the migration from Excel to what he called “a decision support system” (i.e. from undocumented to clearly defined methods, and from sequential to concurrent and iterative processes).
Following Pozzi’s overview was a speech by Robert Hetu, Research Director for Gartner. Hetu works within Gartner’s retail division, and I had the opportunity to catch up with him outside of his presentation, where he demonstrated a virtuosic knowledge of the industry, underpinned by Gartner’s considerable research might.
As Hetu explained onstage, a nexus of forces – social, mobile and cloud – are being felt across industries, but perhaps more keenly in retail than anywhere else. According to Hetu, Gartner surveyed some 10,000 shoppers worldwide last year, and discovered that close to 80% of young shoppers (aged between 18 and 24) shopped both online and in-store before buying. The age group he referred to as “digital natives” (I’ve seen them called “millennials” elsewhere) are today increasingly likely to shop for fashion online, and as Hetu put it, those customers want “a consistent and contiguous experience” across retail channels.
Hetu’s session was a sobering remainder, amidst all of the day’s talk of integrated retail planning, that, where the customer is concerned, the ability to plan ahead and adopt a true multi-channel strategy is essentially taken for granted today. Whether your brand is prepared to meet these expectations or not, consumers want a single set of product information, single pricing structure and coherent returns policy across channels. This was eloquently summaries as “many views of the customer; one view of the retailer”, and Hetu was certainly not alone (on-stage or off) in believing that investments in integrated planning and analytics are essential for any retailer or brand wishing to compete in the modern market, and develop truly “consumer-centric” planning practices.
Hetu was followed onstage by Manel Jimenez of Spanish mega-brand Desigual. I have seen Jimenez speak several times, and this was no less insightful than those that have gone before. Desigual, he explained, have undergone precipitous growth in an extremely short space of time. And this, Jimenez said, was only possible through sound investments in technology – including integrated retail planning.
Equally introspective were John Bovill and Justyn Dunt of UK womenswear group Jacques Vert, who approached their presentation as an open and frank learning experience for themselves as much as for their audience. As well as emphasising the importance of stability (“without a stable base, you aren’t going to be able to deliver”), Dunt and Bovill spoke about their reasons for implementing a planning system, and together, they outlined their most vital lessons with an ear always open to feedback from others: the importance of change management, the need for phased launches, optimum methods of post-implementation support, and the necessity to keep things as simple as possible, even in the face of increasingly complexity and demand.
Complexity was certainly at the forefront of the next full presentation, by Nancy Marino of Columbus Consulting. In a whirlwind fifteen minutes, Marino tried to give a complete and comprehensive overview of “end-to-end planning in a consumer-centric world”.
Echoing much of Robert Hetu’s earlier talk, Marino spoke of changing consumer preferences and demographics, and the importance of innovating to enhance the consumer experience. The store, she said, remains critical despite the alarming high-street casualties we’ve seen here in the UK in the last year, as shoppers remain committed to the retail experience. As with Hetu’s comments about the nexus of forces conspiring to transform modern retail, Marino talked about the ways in which social media is driving the worldwide shift to cross-channel planning, and explained that market leaders no longer treat different channels as distinct business entities, but rather adopt a holistic approach to planning and retail.
The day’s final case studies were presented by Aeropostale (Eya Yerkes and Maureen Minard) and Louis Vuitton (Patrick Ferrand, Estelle Rigal and Alexandra Stretz), two companies with extremely distinct product ranges and wildly divergent approaches, but much in common in terms of size and scope.
While Ferrand, Rigal and Stretz focused on the technical aspects of their implementation (including data harmonisation and forecasting), Yerkes and Minard couched their own integrated planning project in more personal terms, emphasising the autonomy it affords their colleagues, and the importance of remaining flexible in order to meet internal as well as external demand.
Closing the proceedings were Giorgio Loidice and Amandine Roy, both of TXT, who shared an overview of the TXT planning and PLM architectures and functionality. I have seen both Loidice and Roy speak and demonstrate before, and I did not envy them the task of articulating complex and far-reaching functionality in the space of forty-five minutes, but they conducted themselves admirably, and anybody in the audience who was left in any doubt as to the power and flexibility of integrated retail planning had their concerns allayed by a competent and comprehensive overview of the systems themselves.
Having seen this demonstration before, my eyes had the opportunity to wander to the logos and straplines emblazoned either side of the stage as Loidice and Roy worked their magic. Does “Thinking Retail!” mean more in TXT’s world, I wondered, than just the point of sale or store planning? Taking the day’s considerable breadth and diversity of presentations into account, along with the number of people I’d seen enrapt by the large-scale collection planning touch screen in the breakout area, I was left with little doubt that, for the event organisers, thinking retail really is an all-encompassing ethos, taking in each of the tributaries (product development, planning, merchandising, sourcing) that contribute to the role of a retailer.
Thinking retail, then, is more than simply planning how to sell, but rather it means giving proper consideration and planning at every level to the creation of products that people want to buy. And this is a goal that the newly-joint TXT Maple Lake entity is clearly more committed to than ever before – in Paris, Milan, and now here in London.
Find out more about TXT Maple Lake by visiting the company’s microsite here on WhichPLM.