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, Anshuman Agarwal, co-founder and chief operating officer of inventory optimization solution Increff, shares how fashion can drive better demand planning and the role of data and algorithms in sustainable supply chains.
Name: Anshuman Agarwal
Title: Co-founder and chief operating officer
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
The auto industry supply chain works like clockwork. The entire industry has adopted just-in-time inventory practices and reduced raw material and work-in-progress inventories to almost zero. The way they predict demand and manage with the just-in-time supply chains, by limiting risk on the supplies, is something to learn from. Of course, they have their own challenges that industry experts are trying to resolve, however, as [with] the fashion industry, they too work on very thin margins, and hence every penny matters.
The fashion industry, on the other hand, plans four to five months ahead of time, which results in poor demand forecasting, poor placement of inventory across points of sale, very high days of cover, a high level of carry forward stock, and ultimately high level of discounting to sell off the unsold inventory. We can definitely learn a lot from the auto industry in terms of smarter demand planning and efficient supply chain management.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
I prefer buying a few things, but whatever I buy has to reflect class and should be value for money. I am not an impulse buyer, as I do my research before making a purchase.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
The brand should be genuine, stand true to its promises, and should deliver value for money.
What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?
Both at work or over the weekends, I prefer casual dressing. A polo T-shirt and denim work well for me.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
Nothing in specific. I love fashion that is minimalist, not over-the-top.
Who’s your style icon?
Amitabh Bacchan (India’s megastar)
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
Considering the Covid-19 impact on the global retail industry as a challenge we can solve. Our warehouse management and merchandising solutions are future-focused, built to adapt to the dynamism of the retail industry. However, Covid came at a time when we were expanding our market reach and due to cash crunch, brands were reluctant to invest in new-age technologies. We took that as a challenge to build more cost-effective solutions and extend our offerings.
Each solution solved specific challenges in the supply chain—for example, returns management, inventory planning and allocation, dynamic markdown and automating reordering and replenishment, etc. We created a content repository on a wide range of topics covering best practices and tips on improving supply chain management efficiency. This was to educate and build awareness and top-of-mind recall when the Covid impact recedes and brands are looking to get back on track. We generated a quantum of work and our hiring increased. While companies were reducing their team size, we expanded our team to keep us going strong.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
We have a transparent company culture where every employee is heard and respected. This open-door policy makes interactions within a team or across departments easy, as we encourage employees to reach out to anyone in the company, even the founders, for help or guidance.
We encourage innovation at all levels, giving opportunities to recent graduates to explore their creativity and come up with new ideas. The tech industry is very competitive and dynamic, so one of our employees suggested we open our groundbreaking technology codes to the tech community so anyone could use, build and improve on them. Now we have our own GitHub page where we have shared our open-source codes for others to capitalize on.
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
Businesses need to build agility and flexibility in supply chains so they are able to adapt quickly to the changing market dynamics. Technology has been a key enabler in this transformation, as it has helped brands develop solutions that are responsive to customer requirements and focused on building process efficiencies. Companies should partner with new-age tech providers who have domain expertise to ensure rapid, sustainable development and growth.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
The fashion industry is considered one of the major polluters in the world. The fibers and garments used in the industry contribute hugely to greenhouse emissions, water and land pollution. Hence, there’s an urgent need for the apparel industry to promote circular economic practices to revive our planet. Sustainable fashion is not easy. For big brands, the demand is high and it is difficult to source sustainable fabrics at a large scale consistently.
By implementing sustainable practices driven by new-age technology, brands can limit carbon emission and pollution. For instance, predictive algorithms and tech tools can be used to capture emerging and evolving trends and patterns early. They can further be used to target and price products appropriately. Sourcing and manufacturing the right quantity, as per the demand, can help brands sell more at higher margins, and significantly save on costs of overproduction and stocking.
At Increff, we work to optimize inventory for fashion and lifestyle brands. Our solutions have helped brands build a strong foundation, and be agile and flexible to adapt to the change. We have helped global brands like Puma, Lenskart, Celio, Adidas, and more optimize inventory and excel in operation proficiency to experience multifold growth in the rate of sales.
What keeps you up at night?
The fact that I am responsible for shaping up the life of 150-plus young professionals in my company is a huge responsibility and I take it very seriously. My objective is to ensure that we create something which all my employees feel proud of, and on their journey with us, they develop new skills, be happy and create wealth for themselves.
What makes you most optimistic?
We have created a culture where every employee is happy with what they do and look forward to creating something awesome every day. Our full team participates in internal discussions, which is proof that we may have divergent views but we are all working toward the common vision and goal. This makes our work as founders very easy, as we are confident that we are moving in the right direction. These are some of the most brilliant people I have worked with, in my 20 years of professional career, and I am very proud of our team and culture. I am optimistic that we will create a world-class company delivering some really innovative solutions to make the retail industry more sustainable.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
We keep innovating and building new solutions to cater to the industry’s needs. Some of our latest products are: omnichannel returns management for hassle-free returns processing and enabling rapid re-commerce; a dynamic markdown management tool designed to help brands and e-commerce marketplaces automate discounting to increase profit margins and reordering of bestsellers at the desired frequency; an omnichannel inventory distribution optimization tool that helps access regional demand and brings inventory closer to customers by optimizing distribution across the brand’s multi-warehouse network; and Increff omni OMS (order management system), which lets brands sell on multiple marketplaces simultaneously, improves picking accuracy and enables efficient order fulfillment.