Newport News, Spiegel Speed Product Development

If the apparel in the Newport News and Spiegel catalogs looks fresher or more stylish, it could be the result of a recently installed product management solution that reduced the time it takes the catalogs to develop a new product.

Speed to market has ramifications on the financial side for catalogs, said Darioush Nikpour, vice president of business development at Yunique Solutions, New York, which developed the Web-based product management solution for Newport News and Spiegel. Newport News and Spiegel are owned by private equity investment firm Golden Gate Capital, San Francisco.

“The longer you wait on a fashion product, the less margin you can get on it,” Nikpour said. Companies that bring fashion items to market in a timely manner get the best margins, he said. They also earn a reputation for being fashion leaders and so gain the loyalty of their customers.

Newport News and Spiegel launched the system in January. The goals when approaching Yunique were to increase ingenuity and innovation while reducing product development costs. Their “management identified a need to get the different departments involved in the development of products to get them together on the same page,” Nikpour said.

The challenge faced by Newport News and Spiegel was that their creative personnel used Apple Macintosh computers while the business personnel used PCs. Yunique added designers, technical design, sourcing, buyers and other key functional groups to the system while letting them continue using the same tools.

“After using our homegrown Probe computer system since 1996, we recognized the need to migrate to a better technology platform that would allow us to link” the teams, said Jojo Sanez, senior manager of production and planning at Newport News/Spiegel. “[Also,] our homegrown system would not allow us to fully integrate our designers in new-product collaboration. We wanted a tool that would give us the image management capabilities needed to view, share and visually collaborate across our entire process.”

The catalogs' vendors and agents also can log into the application and view information about products. They see information such as design, specs, details, size, item history and who changed what and when.

Other companies also seem interested in speeding products to market. Casual Male Retail Group recently selected New Generation Computing Inc.'s Web-based product lifecycle management and global sourcing solution to streamline design, product development, sourcing, production and inbound logistics. And Rocawear, the apparel brand developed by hip-hop artist Jay-Z, installed Yunique's plmOn solution in October 2004. Since then, the company has reduced the time it takes to develop a product by 66 percent.

This type of integration has consequences for marketers, Nikpour said. For example, if the product development team is working on a jacket and decides to add a trim that no other department has seen before, then Yunique's plmOn solution lets the advertising department be made aware of it in real time. For many catalogers, this isn't the case, and a disconnect exists between what happens in product development and other departments.

“A lot of what lets marketing be powerful is to have a strong infrastructure,” Nikpour said.

One step in Newport News' and Spiegel's product development cycle has undergone a 300 percent increase in productivity thanks to the new system. This is the point when an item has come from the factory and needs to be reviewed by in-house designers to see whether any changes are needed. They could process three items a day before installing plmOn but now can handle seven or eight, Nikpour said. The catalogs have decreased production time and gotten merchandise to market faster. Newport News and Spiegel expect to decrease product development time by 50 percent using plmOn.

The plmOn system also is integrated with their other systems such as quality control, customer service and systems for financials and budgets. So when a customer calls with a question about a particular product, the customer service representative retrieves the most recent information on that item directly from the plmOn system.

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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