Against the backdrop of a difficult retail market, fashion wholesale channels are continuing to grow, yet the technical infrastructure at many organisations remains under-developed and ill-prepared to take advantage. Many pain points relate to how operational teams have established their business processes, notably through the use of MS Excel. These operations have grown organically over the years and use spreadsheets to underpin critical business processes, driving how they manage and communicate information both internally and with their wholesale.
A network of hundreds of spreadsheets connects and processes data across teams, acting as templates, reports, and databases. Several versions of the same spreadsheet exist for different product lines, with variations and inconsistencies across teams. Manual re-entry of data is common, alongside time spent formatting, calculating, checking, collating and re-organising data, at times, involving external databases and information from emails and other documents.
There is the potential to save tens of hours per week in automating repetitive and convoluted processes, improve data accuracy and team productivity, provide a better service to partners, and reduce product delivery timelines and costs. In order to do this, it is important to understand business processes and working environments at both a high and low level and plan for strategic growth.
Businesses need rapid responses to opportunities in the wholesale market and the ability to scale on demand. Traditional, more established software platforms would take too long and be too costly and disruptive to implement, and teams need the flexibility to adapt and evolve their processes as business models and the demands of the market and partners change at an ever-increasing rate.
Solution and Approach
The wholesale selling cycle consists primarily of five keys processes:
- Product data input (including managing dates, prices and photos).
- Capturing buyer orders.
- Consolidating and reviewing orders and raising with suppliers.
- Managing product changes, delivery logistics and data reconciliation with buyers.
- Reporting and analysis.
Excel remains a prominent tool in all of these processes owing to its capacity for easy and quick data input and manipulation, its flexibility in reorganising and scaling data, its universal accessibility within and external to a business, and its inherent value in reporting and cross-examining datasets. What it lacks is strong enforcement of data integrity and security, reliable and scalable multi-user access, and structures to avoid bad practices. However, many of these limitations can be overcome with good workflows, automation and standardisation, which open the doors for extremely rapid business development in very custom and niche ways, and with little technical overhead and maintenance.
As a firm that has directed many digital transformations for our clients, we offer a set of tools, best practices and customisations that allow for rapid automation and growth of wholesale channels. We have developed and refined tools, best practices and services across clients that have helped them realise significant growth in a short space of time. These tools and services include the below, all of which can be readily tailored to the specific requirements of the business.
- Detailed analysis and mapping of business processes and technologies to identify pain points and opportunities.
- Templates to standardise data entry and administration, validate data and restrict user access.
- Macros to aid and automate data transfer from and into other files, databases and web services.
- Tools to manage photo libraries and photo manipulation.
- Macros to collate data and generate documents and reports on a daily/weekly basis.
- Macros to support data reconciliation with wholesale partners and financial teams.
- Triggers to manage alerts and run batch processes.
- Hands-on Excel and VBA support with the aim to upskill users for long-term autonomy.
In delivering these tools and services, we take a highly agile approach, embedding consultants directly among wholesale teams to allow for close communication, feedback and collaboration, and to develop a deep understanding of employee roles and functions, documents and systems, the underlying processes, and broader insight into relationships inside and outside the organisation. This enables us to be proactive in iterating and refining processes and reactive when new requirements arise or change.
There are four key components to delivering changes that leave a lasting and sustainable impact: Automation, Standardisation, Support, and Training. The majority of the work typically revolves around developing or refining tools to automate multi-step, time-consuming processes, building more efficient and flexible templates, linking data systems and extending data queries. Through analysis of existing processes, we can identify ‘quick wins’ which can be achieved rapidly, yet offer significant benefit in terms of time saving, data accuracy and accessibility, team productivity, cost savings and delivery schedules. At the same time, we would standardise spreadsheets across as many areas as possible, building consistency into how teams work and communicate information. Teams would be supported in transitioning to new tools and processes, alongside more general technical support through close interaction with our hands-on consultants. We also wanted to add a training element to ensure any tools and scripts developed could be supported independently, and to encourage continuous learning.
Within the first few months alone, we are able to deliver significant time savings, greater data accuracy, accessibility and insight, and higher team productivity. Wholesale teams are able to more accurately fulfil orders on time and take on more business from existing and new buyers. The speed of development is critical. Volatile economic markets mean there is little breathing room for deliberation, and for most modern businesses, progress needs to come at a pace more akin to a start-up as external demands advance.
The changes empower the business and individuals to think more strategically on their ways of working and how they might contribute. In many cases, this work goes on to encompass many other areas of the business, introducing significant cost savings and reduced production time-scales. The approach builds unity across departments, providing an opportunity to understand functions and targets across the organisation and how they might align and share resources. Standardising some of these critical processes and documents lead to key insights into the limitations of existing technical infrastructure and inter-departmental processes and often set the groundwork for how larger, cloud-based systems might better structure and automate these processes.
It is work that spans across multiple roles (from managers to junior allocators), across varying degrees of technical proficiency and business knowledge, and across digital systems (from legacy databases to web services). We aim to be thorough and responsive in all these aspects in order to build effective and accurate tools, engage and empower all stakeholders, foster collaboration and open communication, and ultimately enable growth in a fast-paced and competitive industry.