Lulu Guinness - driving international growth

-          Mastering integration to get an accurate real time view

With an eye firmly focussed on growing international markets, especially the Middle East and Asia, the iconic British designer label Lulu Guinness continues to grow, all but ignoring the recent economic downturn in the UK.

A highly aspirational product collection with a price point that is very accessible, compared to many other luxury names, is part of its success. Recently, it is the combination of a robust retail management system and the resulting strong integration across the business that has added further confidence, freeing up management teams to focus more time and energy on where the real opportunities lie and helping to drive international growth.

In May 2013 the company went ‘live’ with the Futura retail solution across its UK estate, which includes stores on London Ellis Street, Burlington Arcade and The Royal Exchange, the Cheshire Oaks and Bicester Village outlet malls and a further outlet store in Ireland at Kildare Village near Dublin.

Lulu Guinness operates a complex multi-faceted retail model. This covers a direct retail business primarily in the UK, but also in New York’s Bleecker Street branch, and a powerful wholesale business supporting sales via major prestigious department stores in the UK and internationally. Overseas, the company has a growing number of wholesale franchise partners with stores in New York, Tokyo, Osaka and Bangkok.

Future store openings will be in retail destinations covering China, as well as Dubai and Taipei. A further channel is Lulu Guinness online, accounting currently for around 20% of sales and the whole business is supported by warehouse operations in the UK, the USA and Hong Kong.

Connectivity and integration to provide a cohesive single view of the business with live stock information has been extremely important and is one of the key challenges that Futura has helped to address. “It is sometimes not fully appreciated how big an issue integration can be for any retail brand,” explains Paul Spinks, Lulu Guinness’ Managing Director. “There are lots of good systems out there for running different aspects of the business, from accounting to e-commerce to warehouse systems, but they all need to link and talk to each other.”

Head office systems provided by the Futura retail management solution cover all core processes from merchandise planning and purchase order management, to allocations and replenishment  through to management reporting - the critical real-time information on which accurate business decisions are made.

By implementing web services, Futura has provided robust integration between head office systems and the online business to provide real time stock information for the new web site. This provides a dynamic bi-directional link between systems, with live stock availability and replaces a cumbersome flat file solution that required information on all 5,000 plus stock items to be sent at set intervals. The customer experience of course is all the better because of it.

In the same way, web services now link third party warehouse systems providing robust real-time links to head-office processes and to the Magento e-commerce system behind the website.  Work here by Futura’s software development team has streamlined processes to ensure smoother stock replenishment, supporting both the online and wholesale businesses, with warehouse fulfilment now following the same format as the website.

Paul Spinks explains:  “Warehouse integration is extremely important for us - essential for driving and supporting our growing wholesale opportunities globally. Stock management here and the single 360 degree view of the business that Futura affords are crucial. Futura is effectively the master system which everything else feeds off.”

As well as improving stock visibility throughout the business, Futura has also ended a dependency on time consuming and sometimes inaccurate manual processes. It means more time for key business decisions and inventory control and merchandise planning have improved, as has management reporting and integration between departments. Links from Futura to the CRM system, Wyvern Magic, to provide automated customer data capture online and in-store, and to a Sage accounting system have also been created.

A further benefit, explains Spinks, is that all of the know-how regarding specific processes is now embedded in Futura, which means that the business is no longer at risk if key individuals leave or move on. “We have a solid, process driven business and a robust solution delivering massive confidence and, from a process point of view, allows us much more time to reflect, review and improve how we operate.”

The ongoing experience with Futura has been, “extremely positive” says Spinks with very clear communication between the two businesses. With the foundations in place to power further international growth and strengths in merchandise planning and inventory control Spinks and his team can focus on the bigger issues of growing the Lulu Guinness brand and selecting the right opportunities for the business. It looks like there will be no stopping the British designer handbag brand.


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