Interview with Tony Parkinson

Tony Parkinson
Tony Parkinson
Option Systems Limited (OSL)
Option Systems Limited (OSL)

Our IT solutions help firms adapt to changes in business environment
Option Systems Limited (OSL) specialises in computer systems for the apparel, footwear and soft goods industries. The company's Styleman and Styleprm systems are used by over 100 companies in 35 countries. Director Tony Parkinson talks about disruptions in the apparel and footwear retail and the future of e-commerce.

You work closely with apparel and footwear retailer's world over. How would you describe their most common difficulties and requirements that they aspire from information technology (IT) solutions?

I think the common issues facing apparel companies start with the customer and how to keep them engaged with a brand.  Most companies have internet strategies geared around social media, blogs and website engagement with varying degrees of success.  A physical retail store is becoming less relevant given same and next day order fulfilment, and the cost of running them is becoming prohibitive. 

Brands are also challenged to remain fresh and relevant to their customers. The next big thing is never far away and those who do not keep up will struggle to maintain interest.

Global regulation and politics had become a surprising issue in the last couple of years after decades of relative stability.  Companies need certainty to plan and strategise, and Brexit, US uncertainty around the trans-Pacific trade pact, a potential trade war with China by President Trump and his threats to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have created an environment that is more difficult to work in.  The vast majority of volume apparel still relies on seasonal trade patterns, minimal international trade barriers and relatively long lead times.

Our Styleman solution can't do much about Donald Trump or Brexit, but it can allow a business to quickly understand the ramifications of changes to trade on their business and to adjust their model accordingly.  This is what customers want from their IT solutions - the ability to adapt to business needs and not constrain business change.

What solutions do you offer for omni-channel retailing?

The core strength of Styleman enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is its ability to manage demand from multiple channels and to prioritise any stock shortages according to business rules.  Stock can also be reserved for specific channels and also in multiple locations around the world to fulfil local demand.  Having a single view of a style across the business enables companies to make strategic decisions regarding unpopular styles, colours and sizes, and also whether to repeat or reorder and where best to consolidate stock for clearance if needed.  

Styleman Mobile provides an interface for channel users, such as wholesalers, sales staff, distributors, franchisees and concessions, to check availability and orders, view billing and effectively become self-serving.  Styleman Mobile is a web app that is designed to be used from a smartphone, tablet or a PC device, and has recently been extended to include a supplier portal.

Which are your major markets for Styleman ERP, PLM, Mobile, WMS, and BI? Which major retailers are your clients?

OSL predominantly concentrates on the United Kingdom and Europe from its Leicester headquarters, and also has resellers in Australia, South Africa, Canada, the United States and Sri Lanka.  In the United Kingdom, companies like Superdry and River Island are our clients and globally, Oregon, among the world's largest sportswear brand based in Portland, has been a customer for over 20 years.

What is the size of apparel and footwear companies using Styleman IT solutions?

Styleman addresses the problems of growing businesses, typically those which have outgrown their current systems and need a solution that is specifically designed to address their issues.  There is no particular turnover or head count for this. A lot depends on the 'shape' of the business, but usually a potential customer will have a minimum of 5-10 people needing access to the application, and our largest customer has over 600 users.

What factors will affect apparel and footwear retail industries in the years to come?

There is no doubt that e-commerce has changed retail forever and that the e-tail purchase to delivery timescale will compress further.  This will increase pressure on brick-and-mortar stores and undoubtedly, their numbers will reduce.    Order fulfilment time now is limited by travel time from the local depot, and increasing the number of warehouses raises both the total inventory and its fragmentation.  There has been much talk of Hyperloop for human transportation, but it may well find a niche in fast freight, allowing a single stock holding to service a wider geography with, for example, a two-hour delivery.

Robot assembly is starting to make inroads into manufacturing, raising the possibility of 'micro-factories' making to order, revisiting conventional tailoring.  You may visit a shop, browse some garments (physically or virtually), adjust the colouring or pattern to your taste, and have a coffee while the garment is manufactured on the spot.  This is more likely to happen in footwear first, since 3D fabric printing/knitting still has a way to go. 

Ten years hence, 3D printing may develop to a stage that it will disrupt e-commerce, allowing individual garment or footwear personalisation and printing at home. 

Blockchain is a technology more associated with crypto-currencies like Bitcoin rather than the apparel industry, but retailers are under increasing pressure to reassure consumers about the provenance of their garments and fibres, and blockchain may provide an un-forgeable history of a product from organic cotton through living-wage factory via green freight to the consumer.  
Published on: 27/04/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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