Yvette Vink, director of ERP and operations at Fall Rush by Follett, describes how NGC Software’s Andromeda solution optimized product lifecycles at her company.
SCB: Yvette, talk to us about Fall Rush by Follett. What does the company do?
Vink: Follett, the parent company, has been in the college bookstore space since the late 1800s. So if you've bought a textbook in America or gone to school here, you bought a textbook from Follett. They're the largest privately owned company in America. Fall Rush is their private-label division. We have 1,200 college campus bookstores, and my team is tasked with creating and manufacturing the apparel that goes into the bookstores that is branded for Follett, called Fall Rush.
SCB: How would you characterize things before the relationship with NGC began?
Vink: When I was first hired by Follett to run their Fall Rush division, I discovered they didn't have systems at all. In order to scale to 1,200 stores, I needed a system that can manage the product lifecycle from development all the way through production and then in-store delivery, as well as a sales channel for e-com. When I got there, everyone was working on Excel spreadsheets. If you can imagine trying to track thousands and thousands of pieces of art that are college-specific through Excel spreadsheets and Dropboxes — it was impossible to scale. In very short order, I had to find a solution that was going to get us to a place where we could manufacture and control our art space within one solution and off of Excel.
SCB: Not having the kind of solution that you needed at the time must have been challenging indeed.
Vink: It was challenging. In order to find vendors, we had to make sure they were compliant with the Fair Labor Association. That requires vendor compliance software in order to track your vendors and where they are in the compliance process. We had none of that. We were doing that through Excel. And then through the supply chain we have to create something called a tech pack. That's basically a blueprint for creating a garment.
Even if we're just creating a T-shirt or a hoodie, and it happens to have certain embellishments on it, maybe a zipper or little drawstrings that come down with metal clips. Every single piece of that garment had to be sourced in a responsible way through the Fair Labor Association standards. Then we had to go out to market to create these tech packs, to find vendors that could create the garments and then manufacture these products.
Every step of the way we had to track manufacturing, sourcing, production and development. That's the stage we were in when I started. They had already started that, which is why they were on Excel spreadsheets. There were problems with our vendors because they didn't understand what our blueprint was. It wasn't in a standardized format. The image quality was not good because they were trying to save them really quick as JPEGs or files that weren’t readable by them. And they were not really in one manufacturing language. So we had to standardize language. We needed a place to store that standardized language with pictures, so the manufacturers could see how they should put our garments together. The only way to do that is through a software solution, because we had a small and agile team.
I needed to get this up and running really quickly, to find software that was could be implemented in micro phases. Many solutions want to do what I call the big bang theory. You discover, you configure, you test out the theory, and then you launch an entire product. I had to do that in micro phases. And that's exactly what we did.
SCB: Before we talk about the specifics of the solution that NGC brought to this relationship, let's talk about the vetting process itself. Presumably you must have investigated a number of potential providers. What led you to a relationship with NGC?
Vink: I created an RFP with all of the details that were needed, from planning all the way through execution and in-store product. That took up several tabs within an Excel spreadsheet. I sent those out to several vendors for product lifecycle management, and sourcing control-management systems. All of those had the opportunity to respond to the RFP. Not all decided that they would, because an integral piece that I needed between our systems was interfacing. I needed to be able to have our PLM [product lifecycle management] and sourcing system talk to other systems. It had to interface. It was a requirement of quite a few interfaces that have to be done.
Luckily, NGC Andromeda was one of many that came back. There were several leaders in the industry. Each was given the same information packet so that they could set up their systems. They were allowed to have interview phone calls with myself and the team to glean any information that they didn't get in the discovery docs that we had sent each of them. Each vendor was given a fair chance.
There was one vendor whose software is really easy on the eyes — they just couldn't nail the actual execution of what we needed for calendaring and sourcing production tracking. But they had five demos to try to come across to the team. Luckily, with Andromeda, it only took one demo, and the team was able to see exactly what they needed. But it was rather quick, and I was able to do the RFP and demo analysis within six weeks.
SCB: Let's talk about the Andromeda solution. Just what is it doing for you?
Vink: Currently, we have implemented what's called Moda, which is where we store all of our digital images. Now we have a catalog of images that has metadata behind it. If I need to know how many graphic designs I've created for a particular store or school with their mascots on it, all I have to do is type in the store number, the school name, and their license number, and instantly all the images pop up, and I'm not having to hunt through different Dropboxes. And if I can't open a Dropbox or don't have access to one, I’m can give access through the PLM system in Moda. My vendor that does my production art scaling comes into the system, picks up what they need in order to create new production art, and drops it back off into one of the Moda folders, where my back office picks it up and then attaches it to a body.
All of my styles are now in the system. Here's what's exciting about that. The tech packs are standardized. I have a blueprint on how to create that T-shirt or hoodie. I'm also able to track the sample so that I don't have to wonder anymore where samples are, which one I'm on, and whether or not it was approved. I know exactly which vendor has an approved sample.
In addition to that, we can put all of our bill of materials into the system. We have a database of components, colors, and art library, which is a more robust database system around the graphics. I collaborated with the Andromeda team, and we wrote a module that will help people that deal in the licensing space to track licenses and attach those to entities within the system. Previously, we didn't have a way to track it, and we were writing orders or producing product for schools that we had yet to get licensed, which is a problem because you can get in trouble with that.
SCB: If someone in the C-suite asks what are we getting for our investment, what do you say?
Vink: Speed to market.
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