Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Brion Carroll, vice president, global business development, retail business unit at technology firm PTC, discusses how apparel brands can build closer relationships to suppliers and the digitization of planning.
Name: Brion Carroll
Title: vice president, global business development, retail business unit
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
As a general concept, supply chain integration is most often efficiently executed when the supply chain participants are such that each have unique positions in servicing the requirements of the customer. For example, the automotive and aerospace industry have been forced to develop tight supply chain relationships because both parties—finished goods producer (FGP) vs the assembly/subassembly/part-component suppliers—are vital to the continued existence of the other. Without the intimate relationship—i.e. if all parts were available as commodity suppliers—then the need for an integrated supply chain will be loosened per the vast options available to the FGP.
In the apparel industry, the bulk of products are composed of common materials, which reduces the mutual dependence between the FGP and its vast number of suppliers. Therefore, the intimacy between parties appears to be a disadvantage because it creates the apparent dependency of the FGP with that supplier. That causes cost to potentially rise when suppliers sense they are of critical importance and potentially irreplaceable. The development of an intimate, but still replaceable, relationship can be achieved by bringing the supply chain into the operational use of the FGP’s product lifecycle management (PLM) solution. This enables direct interfacing with the suppliers, thereby creating the necessary intimacy, while still creating a competitive landscape of supply chain participants by managing supply chain risk through multi-source of key materials, etc.
Do you consider yourself a typical consumer?
I would consider myself to be an atypical consumer since I most often buy what I know I need and don’t get inspired through fashion or trend.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
The ability of a retailer, brand or producer to deliver what I perceive they advertise that a product will provide. I buy a Lexus because I know that they will deliver exactly what they promised and with quality that is far beyond those in the automotive marketplace. Do what you say and not what you can get away with.
What’s your typical uniform?
PTC has a business casual dress code—including jeans, business-friendly shirt with sports coat or blazer. On weekends I drop the business shirt and jacket.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
Probably the early-mid ’70s when five-button Levi’s blue jeans were in. They were comfortable, long-lasting and were my “uniform” with pocket T-shirts.
Who’s your style icon?
I don’t have a style icon—just what makes me feel like me and not dressing up to match any trend, unless it reinforces and correlates with me.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
Since PTC is a technology provider, the best decision we made was to move forward to deliver integration of our FlexPLM product with Browzwear 3D—[the] future design standard from the existing 2D design approach—as well as the delivery of our configurable systems integration facility referred to as the ThingWorx Retail Connector to greatly simplify how FlexPLM connects to both upstream planning, niche systems and services such as the MSI system of Sustainability Apparel Coalition, and downstream ERP and logistics systems.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Highly motivated, idea soliciting, diverse workforce formed through numerous acquisitions, and focused on delivering a value-based partnership with our customers.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
With today’s competitive profile and the medium- to long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, apparel companies should be focused on how to operate with a virtual workforce, how to develop an intimate level of supply chain integration with appropriate risk management through diversity both in material suppliers and factories per geography, and how to virtualize their product line review—both internally and with buyers to ensure execution in market, and finally soliciting and engaging voice of the customer such that sell-through is all but assured both per brick-and-mortar and e-commerce.
What keeps you up at night?
Selectively I am kept awake when new business solutions are in the middle of transitioning from vision to reality, going through what needs to be done the next day, week, or month to ensure success.
What makes you most optimistic?
The combined team of the PTC Retail Business Unit combined with the partners we collaborate with in market, the technological advancements that are ever increasing what can be achieved, and mostly the optimism and challenges that we work to find solutions for in direct partnership with our broad range of customers.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
PTC recently released v11.2 of FlexPLM in direct collaboration with more than 50 customers, or end users. This version of FlexPLM provides a fluid, responsive, Excel-like grid interface to friendly search and filtering functionality. It also provides the Samples Console that addresses one of retail’s biggest challenges by saving significant time and money in tracking all material and product samples by reinforcing the intimate partnership that retailers need to have with their supply chain partners. This latest release of FlexPLM delivers a direct integration of Browzwear to FlexPLM ensuring seasonal material and color palette access and transformation of proprietary 3-D imagery to web viewable assets access through the enterprise.