Fashion Needs a Compass

The consumer goods industry needs a modern GPS. But more importantly, it needs to trust and follow the directions provided by a good GPS.

First let’s make sure everyone knows what a GPS is. There are likely at least a few people under the age of 30 who aren’t familiar with the term. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and it was to 1995 what Google Maps is to today. Enough said about that…

When GPS was gaining traction in the 90’s, we created a merchandise planning system for Tommy Hilfiger called MPS, which stood for Market Planning System. Notice how crafty we were for creating a name for our system! We did try other names including Compass, Pilot, and Navigator, but they weren’t available and it didn’t matter. Building the process to help Tommy be one of the most successful brands in the world at the time was more important than a name for our system. The MPS was built to be our guidance system through our market process when we met with department store buyers to place orders for future goods. If we followed our MPS, we did well. If we didn’t, we almost always got lost or into a pretty bad accident.

For the most part, the original GPS was useful only when you had no idea where you were going. It was the rough evolution of a paper map or a printout of step-by-step instructions downloaded from AOL. There were no ways of tracking traffic or road construction other than by listening to the radio (I trust most people are somewhat familiar with a radio). Sometimes roads were gone or not available, but overall using a GPS was much better than getting directions from a friend or someone on the street, which was essentially equal to “go down here, look for this, turn left, keep driving until you see this thing, then go turn this way and you should be close–if not, you probably made a wrong turn.”

Our Market Planning System did essentially the same thing as a good GPS at the time. It worked great with a store-based business. We knew how many stores we had, how much product each of those stores needed at different times of the year to be successful, then assorted those products according to how they sold in the past by color and size. We were remarkably accurate getting the right goods in the right doors at the right time. But it only happened because we made sure we put good information into the system, and then followed its directions. We entered a known address in our MPS and followed its step-by-step instructions to getting our partners and ourselves to that destination most efficiently.

Well a few a big things have changed or gone terribly wrong since then. First and foremost, most brands and businesses are entering bad addresses into their GPS—they’re targeting “someplace on the westcoast” when they should going to San Francisco. Two, they’re not following the instructions—they’re taking a lot of detours and diversions from the path. And three, there are much better technologies available that aren’t being used that can help brands avoid all sorts of problems that were unavoidable in the past, e.g., the bridge is out ahead.

It’s sort of like this; if you use a paper map to get from 100 Wall Street to JFK Airport, I will almost certainly arrive there quicker and with less hassle by using Google Maps. Likewise, if a friend of ours uses Waze, she would likely get there even sooner because Waze tracks traffic and speed from other social users.

A bigger point is we need to realize why we need to get to JFK (or LGA/EWR) if our destination is 1 Market Street in San Francisco. In this case, 100 Wall Street to JFK to SFO to 1 Market Street does the trick nicely. You can also drive from 100 Wall Street to Boston Logan then fly to LAX and hire an Uber to drive you the long distance to someplace in San Francisco. I suppose you’ll get close, but you’ll take twice as long, pay three times as much, and not get exactly where it is you intended to go had you planned and taken an efficient route to the destination.

Kapish? Get my point? There are a lot of very bad ways to get to where you think you ought to be going.

Spend the time to know where you’re going, then build and trust technology to get you there most efficiently. Don’t plan a destination to someplace out west, if you need to be in San Francisco. If you need to be at 1 Market Street in San Francisco, go there. That’s the first step in getting where you need to go. The next is using and trusting technology that can get you there quickly and comfortably most effectively and efficiently.

I’d like to see the day when brands have access to and use diligently a consumer and inventory management system equivalent to Waze. A technology that is social, accurate, live, and intuitive. A technology that knows all the routes, but uses intelligence and real-time information from actual users as to how to get where you need to be.

That technology is available. It’s the focus at PreeLine and the potential is huge for an industry desperately in need of a good guidance system. I love the potential of a social navigation system for consumers. We should be able to answer what do I want, where should I go, who’s been there, what should I do, how do I get there, who wants to join me? Like Waze was built by a small group of entrepreneurs, we will build this technology.

The question is who will be the early adopters? The fashion and branded apparel industry is built on innovation, yet it is one of the slowest industries to respond to the newest technologies available. Like entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk says however, “I spend ZERO % of my time convincing people.” It does no good. You’re either a charitable person, or not. You’re either a leader, or not. You either get it, or don’t.

I’ve long held the belief that it’s not about the product, but about the inventory–likewise it’s not the destination, but the journey.

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