Success Story is a Sourcing Journal feature highlighting innovative solutions across all areas of the supply chain.
When retailers closed and later reopened their stores during the Covid-19 pandemic, century-old apparel manufacturer and licensor Trau & Loevner was in for a ride, tasked with managing a rapid falloff and spike in order volumes in a three-month span.
Lucky for the Pittsburgh-based business, which produces and screen-prints T-shirts under a large portfolio of licensed logos across categories like entertainment, colleges, beer, candy, automobiles and cereal brands, it already had a longstanding partnership with EDI platform TrueCommerce. Using the software, Trau & Loevner automatically and accurately processed orders of Froot Loops, Coors Light and Hershey’s graphic tees through the pandemic’s peaks and valleys.
At the onset of the pandemic, many retail partners canceled planned orders with the manufacturer months ahead of their summer rollouts, according to Ken Schnur, production coordinator of Trau & Loevner.
“It was really easy to keep track of what orders were canceled or put on hold by organizing purchase order cancellations through our TrueCommerce system,” Schnur told Sourcing Journal. “For [stores] to just transfer cancellations directly into our system, it saved a lot of time not having to go through each line item on each sales order in our ERP system.”
EDI, which stands for electronic data interchange, is a concept rarely discussed despite its important role in supply chain digitization. At a basic level, EDI software lets a brand directly send order information to a supplier electronically rather than with paper, eliminating the need for traditional manual, paper-based processes. So when Trau & Loevner receives an order (or a cancellation), it knows immediately from where it originates.
The technology helped Trau & Loevner smooth over a convoluted situation months later as thousands of stores started to reopen at the same time. The apparel licensor operates in a broad array of sales channels, but counts major department stores including Kohl’s and JCPenney as clients, as well as large specialty chains like Five Below and Urban Outfitters. With such a roster of heavy hitters, Schnur and the Trau & Loevner team knew the orders would start pouring in quickly.
“If you want to sell to Kohl’s, if you want to sell to Walmart, these guys will only work through EDI, so you better get it if you’re going to go after big fish like that,” Schnur said. “If you don’t have an EDI system in place, it severely limits the customers you can try to sell.”
Schur also noted that without an EDI platform, suppliers would still pay more for manual data entry labor in the long run.
Although Pennsylvania’s strict virus prevention measures prohibited Trau & Loevner from manufacturing and distributing new products, the company could still fulfill orders from its existing inventory that hadn’t been sold when stores were closed. The firm traditionally produces 12,000 to 16,000 T-shirts per week on average.
Schnur noted that the TrueCommerce EDI system benefited the team in that users could simply export orders from it into its ERP system, Microsoft Dynamics SL. Using the item cross-reference table, Schnur can ID each product and the screen-printed label the retailer has ordered before passing it off to the ERP. Since users didn’t have to type the data into Microsoft Dynamics by hand, the process could prevent human error that could potentially damage the licensor’s customer relationships.
Customer service is a fan favorite
The automated data transfers remain beneficial in 2021 as retailers operate at full strength and generate robust e-commerce demand, but Schnur highlighted the software provider’s customer service team as his favorite part of the partnership.
Under TrueCommerce’s Fully Managed Service model, Schnur said that Trau & Loevner can onboard a new trading partner within the EDI platform in just one week.
“They understand that I work on a deadline. I’ve been working with the system for nine years and there are still things that come up where I’ll reach out to TrueCommerce customer support to get an order out by the end of the week,” Schnur said. “Never once have they let me down.They won’t close the support ticket until you’re fully satisfied with the help you’ve received.”
New channels mean new opportunities
The customer service aspect is crucial as Trau & Loevner expands into different sales channels. Currently, the apparel distributor’s custom printing department produces screen-printed T-shirts for Army Air Force and naval bases, as well as employee uniforms and merchandise for national and local businesses like Pittsburgh’s Primanti Bros. sandwich shops.
But now, the screen-printing specialist sells both on Amazon and direct to consumer via its own websites, Tee Luv and premium clothing brand Parts & Labor. While TrueCommerce isn’t integrated into the Amazon and DTC channels yet, that could change due to the company’s recent success.
“Our Amazon and e-commerce sales have skyrocketed over the last year,” Schnur said. “We’ve actually been in talks with our TrueCommerce rep to possibly think about converting all of those orders through the software because it’s a system we’re already familiar with. If we could get all that automated, it would probably make our e-commerce department run a lot smoother.”