Interview with Michael Elia

Michael Elia
Michael Elia
President and CEO
Gerber Scientific, Inc.
Gerber Scientific, Inc.

Wherever the industry is less mature, there is greater opportunity for software and...
Michael Elia, President and Chief Executive Officer of Gerber Scientific, Inc. enlightens about the usage of various types of softwares in the textile and apparel making business, to Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Manushi Gandhi. Synopsis: Gerber Scientific, Inc. is into the business of constantly improving the textile trade and clothing companies by providing customized software solutions. They have been doing this business since last 45 years and is enjoying a good reputation in the industry. Gerber Technologies have been offering support and solution to retail, footwear and apparel markets with product lifecycle management (PLM), product data management (PDM) and computer-aided design (CAD) solutions. In August of 2011, Gerber was acquired by Vector Capital, a San Francisco-based, global private equity firm specializing in the technology sector. Michael Elia has been associated with the company since a long time. In April 2008, he joined the company as Executive Vice president and Chief financial officer. Mr. Elia is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Financial Accounting from the University of New Haven and a Master's Degree in Business Administration from Duke University. Excerpts:

Gerber technology has been doing business with many companies in different sectors. How is the company associated with textile and apparel industry?

For 45 years, Gerber Technology has been a world leader in providing sophisticated hardware and software systems that enable apparel brand owners, retailers and manufacturers to automate and manage their product design and manufacturing processes. We provide a complete suite of products – from product lifecycle management software, to CAD software for pattern design, grading and marker making, and through to plotters, material spreading systems and computer-controlled cutting systems, serving more than 25,000 customers in a variety of industries.

Textile and apparel making was done even before such softwares were available in market; so what is the need of it?

Consumers have become much more demanding, in terms of number of styles, colors and seasons they expect. And, brand owners have become much more demanding in terms of the quality of product they will put their name on. So, with demand for more styles, more production, and a consistently high quality product, it’s difficult for organizations to meet their obligations without some level of automation. Computer-aided design (CAD) software helps you get more products out the door and helps uphold the quality of the product.

Why is PLM system important?

Product lifecycle management systems have become a necessity for businesses of all sizes because they help companies get the right products to market on time and at the right cost. Let’s face it. Many brands and retailers today operate out of several locations and work with multiple vendors around the world. As a result, communication and collaboration can be challenging, to say the least. PLM systems help users take control of communication and collaborate more effectively. They are a dynamic repository of all of the details associated with planning, designing, developing, sourcing, tracking and reporting on a product line. Without a PLM system, you have data spread out in all sorts of places – in emails and spreadsheets, and, because product details change so quickly, the data is never current. But, one has to be cautious when choosing a PLM provider. Understanding the apparel industry is critical to success. Because every business has its own way of doing things, you have to find a provider who can partner with you, identify and map your existing processes, and develop practical "future state" processes that will work best with the systems and the people in your organization.

Technological advancements are made only for the giant players in the apparel sector. They are also very expensive. Do you agree with this?

Absolutely not. We have very small customers who benefit significantly from the one AccuMark CAD station they use every day to design and grade their patterns and make their markers. They realize that the system can help them optimize their time and their material and ensure they deliver a quality product. The right technology can expand with a company as it grows. So, you may start out with one CAD system and then realize the advantages of a plotter, then a spreader and then a cutter or even multiple cutters, depending on your business. What’s important is to choose a reputable, experienced supplier with integrated solutions.

What is the cost range of software products available in the market for the apparel/retail industry?

The cost of software products can vary widely depending on the customer’s goals and his or her growth plans. For example, the needs of a small design shop will differ from a large, multinational design firm. Whether the customer needs to communicate with its own production equipment or a third-party's production equipment will also affect the cost. In short, there are many variables that determine the "cost" of a software solution. That said, small, standalone systems with limited functionality may start as low as $5,000. Larger, fully integrated, multi-national solutions could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish and the challenges you’re trying to overcome. Gerber offers a broad base of solutions supported by decades of experience to ensure we provide an integrated, end-to-end solution that enables users to automate all aspects of the design, development and production process and communicate across the entire organization. At the end of the day, software is a long-term investment that should streamline your processes and data management, provide meaningful information to guide decision making, and generate an attractive return on investment.

Do you also provide technical assistance to your clients? What is kind of support required by them?

With 45 years of experience in the industry, support is the foundation of what we can offer our customers. We provide technical, field service and applications support to companies in 130 countries. Some of our applications experts have nearly three decades of experience helping customers improve their operations. Think about that for a moment. During their time with Gerber, they’ve worked with thousands of customers and have seen, first hand, what practices work best. So, every day, our support professionals work with our customers to identify unique ways to help them improve their business. As a Gerber customer, you get the benefit of all of our experience in every aspect of apparel design and manufacturing to improve the way you do things and improve the health of your bottom line.

Currently, which country has a good textile market but needs more technical advancement?

Through the decades, the apparel industry has migrated into and out of many regions to follow low labor and production costs. Right now, we’re seeing migration from China to countries including Vietnam, Cambodia , Laos, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Bangladesh. In fact, Bangladesh now manufactures one in 10 pairs of jeans in the world. Wherever the industry is less mature, there is greater opportunity for software and hardware automation systems.

How do automation requirements for technical textiles differ from apparel making companies?

The main difference is the way each handles materials. Apparel tends to be stacked up and cut in multiple plies and there are multiple sizes and colors for every style. There is less variation in technical textiles but they tend to be cut one ply at a time using material that can be very challenging to work with. The bottom line is that all of these companies are looking for the same thing – to maximize their material utilization so they can reduce material expenses, to get more productivity out of the existing employees they have, and to produce the highest quality product they can on a consistent basis. Gerber offers solutions across all apparel and technical textiles applications.

How did Gerber perform in the financial year 2012-2013? What are the plans for the year ahead?

Nearly two years ago, Gerber was purchased by Vector Capital, a global private equity firm based in the United States, which specializes in the technology sector. Vector has more than $2 billion of equity capital under its management. Since we are no longer a publicly-held company, we don’t report financials. But, I can tell you that Gerber had a very strong year this past year. We welcomed many new customers across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. We also strengthened our position in many developing markets like Vietnam and Cambodia. With Vector’s backing, we are investing, more heavily than ever, in new product development and are busy working to define the next era in innovation to reshape the industry once again.

What are recent software innovations that have a booming demand in the global apparel market?

Because the apparel market is truly global, one of the things we're seeing every day is the need to overcome language and time zone differences. Companies need tools to help them communicate product details. For example, our pattern design software makes it easy to visually communicate with vendors and suppliers by adding annotation to patterns. In fact, it supports translation of annotation into nearly 30 languages - to ensure accurate communication. And information from it can now be integrated into Gerber's YuniquePLM system to eliminate duplicate data entry and minimize errors. We all know that the product development process is dynamic with changes occurring all the time. With our PLM, everyone in the process pulls data from a single source that tracks history, workflows and individual responsibilities to help companies go from concept to finished product in a fraction of the time.
Published on: 16/04/2013

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