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The Race for Style
By Richard E. Crandall, PhD, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP | January/February 2014 | 24 | 1
Evaluating the breakneck speed of Zara’s integrated supply chain
Zara, a division of Inditex, has become a worldwide success in the high-fashion clothing business and an
example of one of the top supply chains in the world. The credit for this success often is attributed to the
company’s highly integrated, quickly responsive network. However, is an integrated supply chain just a
management fad that soon will be replaced with a newer, better idea? Perhaps; perhaps not.
Inditex
Inditex, one of the world’s largest fashion retailers, welcomes shoppers at its eight store brands—Zara, Pull &
Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home, and Uterqüe. It boasts 6,104 locations in 86
markets. Inditex is comprised of more than 100 companies operating in textile design, manufacturing, and
distribution.
In its Top 25 supply chain rankings, Gartner writes that Inditex’s “well-known ability to go from idea to shelf
in weeks, rather than months, redefined the apparel model, and points to strong supplier collaboration and
excellent demand-sensing and shaping capabilities” (Gartner 2013).
As Table 1 demonstrates, Inditex has grown steadily over the past five years, and its profits have grown even
faster. Sales per employee and sales per store both increased, indicating that revenue growth was achieved
through better resource use. During the same period, the company reached newer markets, venturing into
Russia and China. In 2012, Europe (excluding Spain) accounted for 45 percent of in-store sales, Spain 21
percent, and the Americas 14 percent.
Zara
The first Zara shop opened in 1975 in A Coruña, Spain, still home to Inditex headquarters. Zara, the flagship
entity within Inditex, is based on four guiding principles: beauty, clarity, functionality, and sustainability. Part
of Zara’s mission is to bring customers into direct contact with fashion. Zara has nearly 2,000 stores serving 86
markets and generates net sales of about $13.7 billion—two-thirds of Inditex’s total revenue (Inditex 2013).
This is accomplished via a supply chain with the almost unbelievable response time of two weeks from the
beginning of design to when a new product is available in stores. Contrast this with the industry average of
about six months. Zara uses a pull system that produces what customers want instead of a push system that
creates a product and then has to figure out how to sell it. Sull and Turconi (2008) describe the fast response
time as achieved through developing and maintaining “shared situation awareness, [meaning], a team’s ability
to recognize a pattern in a fluid situation and use it to anticipate what might happen next.” Teams form this
awareness in three steps: observe raw data, spot patterns to form hypotheses about how a situation might
unfold, and test hypotheses.
An integrated supply chain
Zara relies on a combination of cultivating customer awareness, strong communication between local stores
and corporate, collaboration among organization functions, and committing to meet rigid delivery time and
design and production schedules. In short, it has a tightly integrated supply chain. Following are more detailed
descriptions of Zara’s supply chain success factors.
Information gathering. At the retail level, the store manager is responsible for finding out what customers
will and will not buy. This is accomplished not through a plethora of written reports, but by observing the
racks and talking directly with salespeople. The manager even evaluates items tried on but not bought to see if
patterns can be detected in colors, styles, and the like.
Store managers also are responsible for deciding what items to carry. They communicate upward through
regional and country managers to the central design teams. At the same time, corporate-tablelevel designers
review daily sales to determine trends and patterns. Information gathering at Zara combines hard data with
informal inputs to get a sense of changes taking place among consumers. One of the strengths of the system is
that new designs come quickly and on a regular schedule.
Product design. Ideas for new items flow from the stores to headquarters. There, teams of designers,
marketing specialists, and production planners collaborate to convert ideas into reality. The layout of the
building in A Coruña is designed to facilitate cross-functional collaboration. There are no offices, only open
spaces with desks and tables. All employees are expected to be team players.
The design team creates a concept, sewers make a prototype, and employees model the item. If it does not
meet approval, it is discarded; if it does, it moves on to the production area. Only about 25 percent of
prototypes reach stores—teams at Zara generate more than 10,000 new designs each year (Petro 2012). Teams
regularly change their members to encourage the flow of new ideas.
Prototypes are displayed in an area at headquarters called Fashion Street, a parade of stores with existing and
proposed shop formats. The area enables architects, designers, and visual merchandisers to test not only the
clothing, but also the store format and layouts to see how they work together as a system (Sull and Turconi
2008).
Manufacturing. Zara can move new designs through the manufacturing phase quickly via a number of local
subcontractors in close proximity to headquarters. About 50 percent of manufacturing for items with short life
cycles and low inventories is performed in Morocco, Portugal, and Spain. Some of these factories are highly
automated; others are small subcontractors with the ability to respond quickly to Zara’s time schedules.
Factories operate using just-in-time production systems codeveloped with logistics experts from Toyota.
Staple items, such as T-shirts, are outsourced to low-cost countries in areas including Eastern Europe, Africa,
and Asia (Capell 2008). Production occurs in small batches with high variety. Factories maintain some excess
capacity to be able to move quickly when new designs are needed (Ferdows et al. 2004). In 2012, Zara
purchased from a total of 1,434 suppliers—672 in Asia, 446 in the European Union, 136 in the rest of Europe,
112 in Africa, and 48 in the Americas (Inditex 2013).
Distribution. After clothing is made, it is shipped to stores—twice per week to keep stocks fresh and
inventory low. Zara’s logistics system provides continual replacement and ensures that stores receive new
products within 36 hours in Europe and 48 hours in the rest of the world (Inditex 2013). Many items come
already priced and put on racks to reduce the preparation time at the store. If stockouts occur, they actually can
offer opportunities to introduce new items and encourage customers to visit stores often.
Stores. Zara’s stores are located throughout the world, with the majority in Europe, but a growing number
elsewhere. At around 10,000 square feet, stores are spacious and not kept crowded with endless racks of
clothes. Instead, a limited number of items may be available to convey the impression that a customer should
buy now because an item might not be around later (Ferdows et al. 2004). Stores are often located in
fashionable, high-traffic areas.
Technology. Technology is embraced at Zara. Store employees use handheld mobile devices to record input
from customers about preferences, factories use robots to cut and dye material, computers employ inventory
optimization models to calculate delivery routes and schedules, and online sales are expanding throughout
markets. As Gallaugher (2008) writes, “The firm is able to be so responsive through a competitor-crushing
combination of vertical integration and technology-orchestrated coordination of suppliers, just-in-time
manufacturing, and finely-tuned logistics.”
Sustainability.Inditex and Zara are dedicated to integrating environmental and social responsibility as
important parts of company philosophy. In a letter to stakeholders, Inditex chair Pablo Isla emphasizes that
revenue growth is accompanied by growth in both sustainability areas. He reports that a significant portion of
sales comply with the eco-efficiency criteria set by Zara’s environmental plan and that the company is moving
decisively toward the goal of ensuring that its entire network will meet these requirements by 2020 (Inditex
2013).
In the area of social responsibility, Inditex performed 3,500 supplier audits in 2012 to assure compliance with
the manufacturers’ and suppliers’ code of conduct, a document that sets out guidelines to monitor and improve
conditions the supply chain. In the areas of health and safety, Inditex made around 35,000 visits to factories
and, with the help of external supervisors, carried out more than one million analyses.
The results
Does Zara’s tightly integrated supply chain produce positive results for Inditex? There are a number of
indicators that it does. Inditex is now one of the world’s largest clothing retailers, with revenue of about $21
billion in 2012. It has more inventory turns, fewer markdowns, and a higher average gross margin on sales
than its competitors.
It’s important to note that Zara operates contrary to some conventional practices in clothing retail—it
outsources less to low-wage countries, keeps more spare production capacity, ships by air rather than ocean,
and has a higher concern for supplier working conditions. Thus, there is danger for competitors who try to
copy Inditex’s results. Capell (2008) cites analyst Luca Solca, who advises that the Zara model should not be
followed halfheartedly. It is an all-or-nothing proposition and must be fully embraced in order to realize
results.
For Zara, however, the outcome is a higher return on investment. The company puts together the pieces into a
self-reinforcing system that gets the job done—and demonstrates that a tightly integrated supply chain enables
financial success.

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The race for style zara (1)

  • 1. The Race for Style By Richard E. Crandall, PhD, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP | January/February 2014 | 24 | 1 Evaluating the breakneck speed of Zara’s integrated supply chain Zara, a division of Inditex, has become a worldwide success in the high-fashion clothing business and an example of one of the top supply chains in the world. The credit for this success often is attributed to the company’s highly integrated, quickly responsive network. However, is an integrated supply chain just a management fad that soon will be replaced with a newer, better idea? Perhaps; perhaps not. Inditex Inditex, one of the world’s largest fashion retailers, welcomes shoppers at its eight store brands—Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home, and Uterqüe. It boasts 6,104 locations in 86 markets. Inditex is comprised of more than 100 companies operating in textile design, manufacturing, and distribution. In its Top 25 supply chain rankings, Gartner writes that Inditex’s “well-known ability to go from idea to shelf in weeks, rather than months, redefined the apparel model, and points to strong supplier collaboration and excellent demand-sensing and shaping capabilities” (Gartner 2013). As Table 1 demonstrates, Inditex has grown steadily over the past five years, and its profits have grown even faster. Sales per employee and sales per store both increased, indicating that revenue growth was achieved through better resource use. During the same period, the company reached newer markets, venturing into Russia and China. In 2012, Europe (excluding Spain) accounted for 45 percent of in-store sales, Spain 21 percent, and the Americas 14 percent.
  • 2. Zara The first Zara shop opened in 1975 in A Coruña, Spain, still home to Inditex headquarters. Zara, the flagship entity within Inditex, is based on four guiding principles: beauty, clarity, functionality, and sustainability. Part of Zara’s mission is to bring customers into direct contact with fashion. Zara has nearly 2,000 stores serving 86 markets and generates net sales of about $13.7 billion—two-thirds of Inditex’s total revenue (Inditex 2013). This is accomplished via a supply chain with the almost unbelievable response time of two weeks from the beginning of design to when a new product is available in stores. Contrast this with the industry average of about six months. Zara uses a pull system that produces what customers want instead of a push system that creates a product and then has to figure out how to sell it. Sull and Turconi (2008) describe the fast response time as achieved through developing and maintaining “shared situation awareness, [meaning], a team’s ability to recognize a pattern in a fluid situation and use it to anticipate what might happen next.” Teams form this awareness in three steps: observe raw data, spot patterns to form hypotheses about how a situation might unfold, and test hypotheses. An integrated supply chain Zara relies on a combination of cultivating customer awareness, strong communication between local stores and corporate, collaboration among organization functions, and committing to meet rigid delivery time and design and production schedules. In short, it has a tightly integrated supply chain. Following are more detailed descriptions of Zara’s supply chain success factors. Information gathering. At the retail level, the store manager is responsible for finding out what customers will and will not buy. This is accomplished not through a plethora of written reports, but by observing the racks and talking directly with salespeople. The manager even evaluates items tried on but not bought to see if patterns can be detected in colors, styles, and the like. Store managers also are responsible for deciding what items to carry. They communicate upward through regional and country managers to the central design teams. At the same time, corporate-tablelevel designers review daily sales to determine trends and patterns. Information gathering at Zara combines hard data with
  • 3. informal inputs to get a sense of changes taking place among consumers. One of the strengths of the system is that new designs come quickly and on a regular schedule. Product design. Ideas for new items flow from the stores to headquarters. There, teams of designers, marketing specialists, and production planners collaborate to convert ideas into reality. The layout of the building in A Coruña is designed to facilitate cross-functional collaboration. There are no offices, only open spaces with desks and tables. All employees are expected to be team players. The design team creates a concept, sewers make a prototype, and employees model the item. If it does not meet approval, it is discarded; if it does, it moves on to the production area. Only about 25 percent of prototypes reach stores—teams at Zara generate more than 10,000 new designs each year (Petro 2012). Teams regularly change their members to encourage the flow of new ideas. Prototypes are displayed in an area at headquarters called Fashion Street, a parade of stores with existing and proposed shop formats. The area enables architects, designers, and visual merchandisers to test not only the clothing, but also the store format and layouts to see how they work together as a system (Sull and Turconi 2008). Manufacturing. Zara can move new designs through the manufacturing phase quickly via a number of local subcontractors in close proximity to headquarters. About 50 percent of manufacturing for items with short life cycles and low inventories is performed in Morocco, Portugal, and Spain. Some of these factories are highly automated; others are small subcontractors with the ability to respond quickly to Zara’s time schedules. Factories operate using just-in-time production systems codeveloped with logistics experts from Toyota. Staple items, such as T-shirts, are outsourced to low-cost countries in areas including Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia (Capell 2008). Production occurs in small batches with high variety. Factories maintain some excess capacity to be able to move quickly when new designs are needed (Ferdows et al. 2004). In 2012, Zara purchased from a total of 1,434 suppliers—672 in Asia, 446 in the European Union, 136 in the rest of Europe, 112 in Africa, and 48 in the Americas (Inditex 2013). Distribution. After clothing is made, it is shipped to stores—twice per week to keep stocks fresh and inventory low. Zara’s logistics system provides continual replacement and ensures that stores receive new products within 36 hours in Europe and 48 hours in the rest of the world (Inditex 2013). Many items come already priced and put on racks to reduce the preparation time at the store. If stockouts occur, they actually can offer opportunities to introduce new items and encourage customers to visit stores often. Stores. Zara’s stores are located throughout the world, with the majority in Europe, but a growing number elsewhere. At around 10,000 square feet, stores are spacious and not kept crowded with endless racks of clothes. Instead, a limited number of items may be available to convey the impression that a customer should buy now because an item might not be around later (Ferdows et al. 2004). Stores are often located in fashionable, high-traffic areas. Technology. Technology is embraced at Zara. Store employees use handheld mobile devices to record input from customers about preferences, factories use robots to cut and dye material, computers employ inventory optimization models to calculate delivery routes and schedules, and online sales are expanding throughout markets. As Gallaugher (2008) writes, “The firm is able to be so responsive through a competitor-crushing
  • 4. combination of vertical integration and technology-orchestrated coordination of suppliers, just-in-time manufacturing, and finely-tuned logistics.” Sustainability.Inditex and Zara are dedicated to integrating environmental and social responsibility as important parts of company philosophy. In a letter to stakeholders, Inditex chair Pablo Isla emphasizes that revenue growth is accompanied by growth in both sustainability areas. He reports that a significant portion of sales comply with the eco-efficiency criteria set by Zara’s environmental plan and that the company is moving decisively toward the goal of ensuring that its entire network will meet these requirements by 2020 (Inditex 2013). In the area of social responsibility, Inditex performed 3,500 supplier audits in 2012 to assure compliance with the manufacturers’ and suppliers’ code of conduct, a document that sets out guidelines to monitor and improve conditions the supply chain. In the areas of health and safety, Inditex made around 35,000 visits to factories and, with the help of external supervisors, carried out more than one million analyses. The results Does Zara’s tightly integrated supply chain produce positive results for Inditex? There are a number of indicators that it does. Inditex is now one of the world’s largest clothing retailers, with revenue of about $21 billion in 2012. It has more inventory turns, fewer markdowns, and a higher average gross margin on sales than its competitors. It’s important to note that Zara operates contrary to some conventional practices in clothing retail—it outsources less to low-wage countries, keeps more spare production capacity, ships by air rather than ocean, and has a higher concern for supplier working conditions. Thus, there is danger for competitors who try to copy Inditex’s results. Capell (2008) cites analyst Luca Solca, who advises that the Zara model should not be followed halfheartedly. It is an all-or-nothing proposition and must be fully embraced in order to realize results. For Zara, however, the outcome is a higher return on investment. The company puts together the pieces into a self-reinforcing system that gets the job done—and demonstrates that a tightly integrated supply chain enables financial success.