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Many acquisitions later, apparel giant VF runs a best-of-breed supply chain.

Catering to more than just cowboys with its signature Lee and Wrangler jeanswear lines, VF Corp. has become a “lifestyle” apparel company by acquiring brands tailored to surfers, skateboarders, outdoor enthusiasts and others. Supply chain management has helped this manufacturer change its image and overhaul its factory operations and sourcing channels.

Greensboro, N.C.-based VF has been around for more than a century and is one of the world’s largest apparel makers. When VF first went into acquisition mode several years ago, officials decided to consolidate administrative functions by adopting a best-of-breed approach in which it routinely discontinues the use of many systems from the companies it absorbs. At the same time, an overarching supply chain management system now stretches across VF’s many divisions.

Having grown to gargantuan size, VF is determined to make the most of volume purchases, locate the best facilities in which to make particular products and quickly move inventory. VF takes in $7 billion in sales annually. It churns out more than 800,000 SKUs — ID numbers used for each backpack, pair of shoes or jeans that it makes and ships to about 47,000 retailers. Production relies on more than 1,600 factories, over 100 fabric wholesalers and nearly 3,000 trim suppliers.

“When you start to track all of these numbers and think about managing a supply chain of this size, it is just mind-boggling,” says Ellen Martin, vice president of supply chain systems at VF. To identify and keep up with customers shopping for both new and traditional VF brands, IT officials are forever grooming the supply chain system, which is based on i2 Technologies Inc.’s Supply Chain Planner Versions 6.1 and 6.2. VF partnered with i2 in the late 1990s, initially using SCP 3.8.

In some cases, SCP helps VF to reduce risk, but it also helps the company to take chances on new ventures. “Humans have a real habit of getting into habits. Because a color was once popular, there is a tendency to stay with it, even though demand has gone down. SCP doesn’t have any habits,” says Martin.

VF worked with i2 to ensure that SCP could run all components of its manufacturing resource planning system in a nightly batch window. The process takes about three hours, starting with data feeds to the software engine and ending with the export of planning and procurement answers.

Optimizing SCP for each major business line, however, isn’t without its challenges, says Will Shiver, senior project lead in VF’s forecasting and planning area. “Even though SCP is a common system within VF, our individual business units — we call them coalitions — are very diverse. Each one has offered unique opportunities for customized solutions,” he says.

Unlike VF, many companies fail to make supply chain management an integral part of consolidations or mergers and acquisitions, says Mark Hillman, a supply chain analyst at AMR Research Inc. “Companies are not necessarily looking for supply chain efficiencies and opportunities to consolidate the number of suppliers in their base,” he says.

Using a supply chain system is essential for planning internal operations and addressing the needs of major suppliers. “Our system helps us plan for base items — the products we need month after month — and optimize production of those products to keep the capacity of the sewing floor steady,” says Martin. “We don’t want to have spikes one day and send workers home the next.”

VF has worked with i2 to develop a system called Material and Asset Planner, or MAP Solver. This module lets business unit leaders determine how to maximize volume discounts while keeping in mind options for producing a particular item.

“In the end, it comes down to a passion for this business,” Martin says. “We are passionate about VF, passionate about our customers and even passionate about the software we use.”

McAdams is a freelance writer in Vienna, Va. Contact her at

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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