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BLEND OF MASS CUSTOMIZATION AND PRODUCTION SATISFIES CUSTOMERS WHILE CONTROLLING COSTS: APPAREL MAKERS CAN BUILD BRAND LOYALTY AND GAIN INSIGHTS INTO CONSUMER BUYING HABITS.

ATLANTA-For many apparel makers, the term "mass customization" brings to mind body scanners used to make clothes to fit an individual's body. While made-to-order clothing is appealing to consumers, such garments are not always practical or cost-effective to produce.

Manufacturers are wrestling with ways to offer consumers made-to-order clothing without the high cost of individually producing each garment.

The solution, according to observers, may be to offer a limited assortment of customized clothing that satisfies the consumer's appetite for individuality by allowing each shopper to mix and match elements of a garment that are already being mass produced. For example, enabling the shopper to choose a collar from one jacket with a pocket from another jacket would provide the consumer with a unique product within the capabilities of a mass production environment.

"For the manufacturer and the retailer to realize any benefit, there has to be a coexistence of mass customization and mass production," said Steven McLendon, vice president of sales and marketing at Nester Inc. in Waleska, Ga., a software firm specializing in marking systems.

McLendon and others participating in a panel discussion on mass customization at the Bobbin World show here last month agreed that the key to success in mass customization is to keep the number of options at a reasonable level.

"[A manufacturer] knows that of the 10 jackets they offer, there are two or three that sell well," McLendon said. "By offering select fabrics, colors and trims on those jackets, you build brand loyalty with the consumer. They feel special. They'll tell their friends, `Look, I got a jacket with the color, fabric and collar I wanted.' Meanwhile, the manufacturer is using standard components," he said.

While mass customization will help reduce inventory for the manufacturer and the retailer because the apparel maker is producing garments to order, there are technology costs involved in mass customization that have to be factored into the cost of the garment.

"The entire process has to be automated, which means higher IT costs," said Jerry Armfield, vice president of Kurt Salmon Associates, Greensboro, N.C., who also participated in the panel discussion."You have to use technology as an enabler, but it puts real stress on the IT staff."

In addition, shipping costs are much higher for smaller, more frequent shipments. However, consumers are generally willing to pay more for customization, so while the cost of mass customization is higher, the price of the garment can also be higher.

Mass customization could also provide opportunities for manufacturers to learn more about their customers, which could ultimately lead to higher profitability, said Joseph W. Kernodle, site director of Clemson University's Apparel Research Facility, Clemson, S.C.

"As the manufacturer gathers more information about their consumer through mass customization, there is the potential for better overall forecasting due to increased knowledge of the core customer," he said.
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Author:Zimmermann, Kim Ann
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 14, 1998
Words:476
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