D E D I C AT E D T O R A D I O F R E Q U E N C Y I D E N T I F I C AT I O N A N D I T S B U S I N E S S A P P L I C AT I O N S
www.rfidjournal.com May/June 2009
“Charles Vögele Group has taken a vertically
integrated approach to RFID, tracking goods from
Best RFID the point of manufacture to the point of sale. This
is probably the most comprehensive retail supply-
chain application I have seen.”
—Awards judge Bill Hardgrave, director, RFID Research Center,
University of Arkansas
An RFID Fashion Statement
Switzerland’s Charles Vögele Group discovers that fashions
tracked and managed via RFID are always in style.
by john edwards
hile Switzerland isn’t considered with minor exceptions in Switzerland, we
W one of the fashion capitals of the
world, it is known for its com-
mitment to product design and construction.
have purely 100 percent private label,” says
Thomas Beckmann, VP of group supply-
chain management for Charles Vögele.
Now it’s on the map as the place where fash- “Everything is designed by ourselves and was
ion and technology converge, thanks to a produced according to our orders.”
“Swiss-made” item-level RFID system devel- The RFID system that places Charles
oped by fashion retailer Charles Vögele Group. Vögele on the leading edge of supply-chain
Based in Pfäﬃkon, near Zürich, Charles technology tracks individual garments as
Vögele is active in international retail cloth- they move around the world. “It’s the ﬁrst
ing markets, operating subsidiaries in time ever that RFID has been used to do
Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, the Czech end-to-end item-level tracking—from tag-
Republic, Germany, Hungary, the ging in Asia all the way to the stores in
Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. The com- Slovenia,” says Prasad Putta, VP and general
pany specializes in women’s, men’s and chil- manager of merchandise visibility solutions
dren’s collections, which are produced by for Checkpoint Systems, the RFID technol-
external suppliers in various countries in ogy provider that helped Charles Vögele
Southeast Asia and Europe. “In our stores, develop its system.
Like a growing number of retail businesses, pliers: a pair of “A” suppliers, with a total of Charles Vögele believed
particularly those carrying high-value items, eight production sites, that through the years that item-level information
would provide a base for
Charles Vögele was intrigued by the idea of had achieved a solid performance record and competitive advantage,
using RFID to track products on an item- overall good relationship with Charles increasing sales rates and
level basis. The technology promised to give Vögele; and all the “B” suppliers, which pro- costs.
the company visibility into key supply-chain duce garments for the retailer either at a low
steps, while providing fuller control over volume or on a sporadic basis. Both “A” and
inventory and store stocks. “B” suppliers were asked to RFID-tag the
After pondering the matter, Charles garments they produced. The “A” suppliers
Vögele soon found itself focusing on a single, were also required to use handheld RFID
fundamental idea. “We believed that item- interrogators to help their employees pick
level information would facilitate better and pack orders faster and more accurately.
information and process development in our “‘A’ suppliers executed an RFID-based pick-
entire supply chain,” Beckmann says. “That ing and packing process,” says Jörg Koopmann
would provide a base for competitive advan- of KooBra Software Entwicklungs, a German
tage, which could increase sales rates and software developer that collaborated on the
decrease supply-chain costs.” project. “‘B’ suppliers picked and packed tradi-
tionally, without any technical support.” The
DESIGNING A SYSTEM approach enabled Charles Vögele to compare
delivery performance between RFID-enabled
Charles Vögele began developing a sophisti- and non-RFID-enabled suppliers. “The result
cated RFID system, working with a team of was that ‘A’ deliveries were more accurate,
external partners. To provide a standards base according to the order we send oﬀ, than the ‘B’
for its RFID infrastructure, the company suppliers,” Beckmann says.
turned to EPCglobal, which ensures that Both supplier groups transfer their ship-
every tag is serialized and unique. ments via a logistics service provider to a
The project focused on two types of sup- container freight station (CFS) located near
2 RFID Journal • May/June 2009
Shanghai Harbor, in China. At the station, Front store/back store stock booking.
RFID interrogators read every tag on every RFID records which items are brought out
garment inside each box received, verifying from stock and onto the sales ﬂoor, updating
the data against a virtual packing list. “When the status of each item individually.
the boxes get to this CFS, the quantities in The RFID tags serve a dual function, says
the boxes are checked without opening the Checkpoint’s Putta. They operate as ordinary
boxes,” Beckmann says. “If they are oﬀ, the RFID tags for traditional supply-chain and
box is marked with an X.” The mark serves as inventory-control processes, and as electronic
an important signal for inspectors located article surveillance (EAS) tags inside stores to
farther down the delivery chain. deter shoplifters and employee theft.
The next step in the garments’ journey from Beckmann notes that Charles Vögele is
Asia to Europe is a stopover at Charles also exploring the possibility of using RFID
“The project was created Vögele’s European hub, located near Hanover, to study consumer buying habits. Recently,
in a way that allowed Germany, where quality checks are performed shoppers agreed to participate in a customer
us to learn and develop on the goods. Damaged and inferior deliveries tracking trial at one of its stores. “People were
as we moved forward are sent back to the suppliers. Shipments des- given RFID tags and left to roam the stores,”
to improve technology tined for the ﬁve stores in Slovenia head to Beckmann says. “By tracking customer
and optimize running Charles Vögele’s distribution center, just out- movements, managers could determine what
processes.” side of Graz, Austria, for short-term storage. types of racks [presentations] sold, which did
—Thomas Beckmann Here, employees inspect incoming cartons, not and which areas were most popular.”
opening those marked with an X to inventory
and repackage the garments. SHAPING THE FUTURE
Before delivery to the Slovenian stores,
some garments are sent to a value-added The entire system took about two years to
logistics service provider for ﬁnal prepara- design and implement, Beckmann says.
tion. The items undergo a “tunneling” process Planning began in November 2006, followed
that uses heat and humidity to steam out by development and testing in August 2007.
wrinkles and creases. The rollout got under way in March 2008
RFID kicks into high gear as the gar- with source tagging in Asia. Warehouse
ments arrive at each store, each of which has tracking began in June 2008, and the stores
approximately 800 square meters (8,611 came online in August. From September
square feet) of ﬂoor space, roughly 25,000 through December, performance measures
products and a single point-of-sale (POS) and optimization processes were established.
position. So far, the company has RFID- “The project was created in a way that
tagged more than 380,000 items. Beckmann allowed us to learn and develop as we moved
says the technology is used for: forward to improve technology and optimize
Goods entry and departure tracking. running processes,” Beckmann says.
Handheld RFID interrogators are used to He notes that item-level tracking poses
record the arrival of new garments, as well as unique challenges. Perhaps the most signiﬁ-
the disposal of any unsold merchandise. cant issue the company faced was tweaking
Stock-out management. Handhelds tell the system to get accurate reads on multiple
store employees when stock needs to be products jammed together inside a single
replenished. box. “A unique hanging garment is not a
POS transactions. Fixed RFID interroga- problem for RFID at all,” Beckmann says.
tors under the counter read the tags, allowing “But if you have a few hundred pieces on a
the system’s software to record the sale and ﬂat pallet, then you come into some limita-
update the store’s inventory database. tions. If you look for swimwear, where you
RFID Journal • May/June 2009 3