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How Planning Software Helps UK Clothing Chain FatFace Compete

Given all the ways consumers can shop for clothing, it takes more than a well-stocked shop to seal the deal.

Though packed racks may once have attracted shoppers in their droves, today’s class of spenders is seeking a more curated product offering in stores, tailored according to their location, while online is where they turn to browse the whole collection.

But how do retailers, particularly ones with a diverse store portfolio, figure out what goes where?

British lifestyle clothing chain FatFace found itself confronted with this very dilemma when it decided to expand its 200-plus store count and venture outside of Europe for the first time. What started out as a small business selling T-shirts and sweatshirts in the Alps in 1988 has grown into a wide range of stores in the U.K. and Ireland, spanning seaside shops to city-center locations, in addition to wholesale and e-commerce, hawking relaxed looks for men, women and kids.

FatFace recently launched a dedicated website stateside and plans to open its first U.S. store in Boston in the fall, with more locations to follow. But as Nick Stevenson, the retailer’s head of merchandising, said, “In stores, what sells on the beach is very different to what’s needed in an urban shopping center.” Factor in a fast-growing online business, and that’s a lot of shoppers looking for different things.

“With the business expanding and becoming more multi-channel, it soon came to light that handling all our merchandising and buying processes on spreadsheets was no longer suitable for making fairly critical business decisions,” Stevenson said.

That’s where TXT Retail came in. FatFace enlisted the end-to-end retail planning solution to help the business optimize assortments across multiple categories and channels, ditching its previous processes—which were becoming more and more complicated to manage—in favor of something more streamlined.

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“Our biggest stores might have 100 bays to be stocked, whereas the smallest stores only 18,” he said, noting that TXT’s merchandise and assortment planning tool helped his team identify ideal product mixes and volumes, depending on a particular store’s profile and available space.

According to Stevenson, around 60 people across the business—ranging from buyers and merchandisers to finance and e-commerce to store managers and visual merchandisers—now regularly use the software, starting a season ahead to put together financial plans and then analyzing historical data (what typically sells where and when) to break down objectives into weekly stock, profit and sales goals. After that, the tool builds a detailed plan of what every store or channel should stock and how many of every item to buy.

For instance, if a particular location sells a lot of swimwear, that store will automatically get more swimwear.

“TXT Retail’s software gives us greater visibility and foresight in the planning process, helping us always provide a consistent product assortment across a growing business, no matter which channel the customer is using,” Stevenson shared, adding that having one version of the truth has been a huge benefit. “It’s much more secure and also better from an auditing and data management point of view,” he said.

Furthermore, the automation side of things has considerably reduced repetitive data-entry and manual number crunching, which frees up time for decision-making because, as Stevenson pointed out, “Retailing is getting more and more complicated, a lot more multi-channel and more competitive, too.”