Family-owned and founded over 50 years ago, LT Apparel is a supplier of owned and licensed brands of children’s clothing with relationships with more than 1,800 local and national outlets. For example, Walmart is the exclusive retail partner for the company’s Healthtex brand. Shoppers may also know LT Apparel by its French Toast Brand, comprised of school uniforms, active, basic and casual wear. Licensed properties include Adidas, Carhartt, and Lee Uniforms. Add it up and LT Apparel clothing totals well over $500 million in annual retail sales, said Lee Johnston, SVP, Finance.
When Johnston arrived at LT Apparel in 2014 from PVH, he’d inherited the budgeting task for a business that had multiple parts (i.e., wholesale, retail, and .com) and was growing fast. His only tool was Excel. Worse, the team kept budget spreadsheets on a network in New Jersey even though Johnston worked out of LT Apparel’s New York headquarters.
“It would take me 10 minutes to open and save the file … if it didn’t just crash my computer,” Johnston said. He and his team usually elected to download copies of the file and update locally, merging data later, which led to version control problems.
And if all that weren’t enough, Johnston said the Excel file itself was riddled with “ghost links” to files that had long since been deleted. Fixing those errors and accounting for the inevitable version control problems made dealing with Excel “a nightmare,” Johnston said. The budgeting process he’d begun in September 2014 would drag on until mid-February of 2015.
“I vowed at that point to my boss, the CFO, that if we have to do it again the same way next year, I’ll quit,” Johnston said.
With the 2015 budget finally completed, Johnston spent the next several months looking at alternatives, settling on Planful that summer because of its modeling capabilities. Trouble with a new rack and conveyor system at LT Apparel’s New Jersey distribution center led to delaying implementation until the fall, when two key executives quit.
“I was by myself, with little help except for our partners at BrightPoint Consulting,” Johnston said. After two months of working on the 2016 budget by day and implementing Planful at night, he and the consulting team finished just in time for the 2015 Christmas holiday.
Benefits accrued quickly. Reporting requests from the CFO that used to take four or five hours to compile are now completed in five minutes, a 98 percent reduction in turnaround time.
“With Planful, I just build the report, do a little slice and dice, and there’s your information.” Other short term benefits of using the system include:
• Precision forecasting instead of budgeting. Johnston and his BrightPoint team loaded 24 months of actuals into Planful and built a 27-month forecast accessible from the modeling interface.
“The whole budget process as we know it is going to be gone,” he said.
• Cloud capabilities. Keeping LT Apparel data in the online Planful database means there’s no more version control issues or waiting forever for large Excel files to open.
Johnston expects the magnitude of improvements in reporting and analysis that LT Apparel has already realized to grow over time. His long-term plans include:
• Enabling what-if scenarios. Apparel is a fickle business. With Dynamic Planning, Johnston can try different “what-if” scenarios and see how they impact his 27-month forecast.
“It’s very powerful to be able to make decisions based on reasonably reliable information,” he said.
• Real-time monitoring of the business. The same connections that allow for continuous updating has Johnston dreaming of new reports and better processes.
“I want this to be second nature,” he said, “so that not only do we know what key metrics are driving the business, but we also have them at our finger-tips every morning when we come in.”
Thanks to Planful, that future is within reach.