NikiTait visits one of the fastest growing clothing brands in the US.

“It all started back in 1865. Backwhen we manufactured denim overalls and jackets for the nation’s railroad workers. Goodand sturdy clothes, just right for the times, these were the hardy ancestors of the DuckHead brand. Next, came the humble khaki. Sporting the world’s first Duck Head logo in1978, the khaki classic, easy going style was in big demand on college campuses throughoutthe south east (USA). Its unparalleled popularity started a whole new generation of DuckHeads. To be sure, the world wanted more of our unique brand of quality. Soon, there wereDuck Heads in fine retail and department stores everywhere. Comfortable, casual clothesyou could tell were cut from a higher grade of fabric. More Duck Heads. Today, there areall kinds of Duck Head pants, shirts, shorts and skirts offered in a wide variety ofstyles and colours, worn by people of all ages and all walks of life”, explains themanagement of Duck Head.

But life for Duck Head has not been allrosy. Recently, for example, following a spurt of growth at the turn of the decade, DuckHead’s branded sales to department stores began to sink. By the mid-90s they had fallen toless than US$40 million, which is in stark contrast to the 1990-91 $175 million projectionthat was almost achieved following a series of mergers and take-overs resulting in theformation of Duck Head Apparel Company in 1989.

To address this, in 1995 the new presidentand CEO, Paul Robb, began to introduce major change throughout the company. The newstrategies have caused branded sales to rebound to more than $100 million, with sales nolonger limited to thirteen regional southern US States, to become one of the fastestgrowing, and increasingly national, labels in the country, according to NPD data.

These strategies incorporate all areas ofthe business from brand strengthening and diversification, new directions in retailing,consumer marketing and advertising, to overseas sourcing, introducing quick responsemanufacture and store replenishment. The four distribution centres have been merged intoone $13 million, 230,000 square foot state-of-the-art distribution centre adjacent to thenew corporate head office, and ambitious licensing programs incorporate sweaters,footwear, eyewear, swimwear, underwear, leather accessories, umbrellas and handbags intothe Duck Head family.

INTEGRATED IT PROGRAMME
To underpin these strategies an ambitious integrated IT programme underpins the wholedesign, management and logistical infrastructure: DH2000.

This incorporates the AS400 AIC orderentry, order allocation, production planning, bill of materials, finished goods and rawmaterials inventory systems, work in progress, purchase orders and invoicing, HarbingersEDI translation package, Manhattan Associates‘ PKMS warehouse management system and thePansophic financial ledgers and payroll.

Also included is the MLS custommanufacturing planning and loading system; MMS-Replenishment vendor managed inventorysystem that allows Duck Head to replenish core product to selected major customers;MMS-Planning which allows for business planning from a retail view at retail door levelwith measurements of actual to plan; STS-Point of Sale and back office software formerchandising, sales audit, inventory and purchase orders used at the retail stores; andMarketWorks which provides the customer profile and contact controls.

For store layouts and fabric design DuckHead uses ModaCad’s packages with Gerber Technology’s CAD/CAM systems for the technicaldesign, fabric cutting and detailed product data managements, costings and detailedgarment specifications.

NEW STYLES
With 1500 concessions within stores such as JC Penny, Sears, Belk Stores and Proffitts,Duck Head operates four seasons per year – spring, summer (incorporating late spring),fall and holiday (winter). Approximately two hundred new styles are introduced each seasonon a rolling basis with new styles being launched into the stores every thirty days, apolicy that keeps the merchandise fresh and interesting, and an average of 700 differentSKUs in any store at any time. Core products naturally flow through seasons. Fifty percent of products, mainly tops, are sourced abroad in countries such as Turkey, India,Pakistan and Mexico, 45 per cent is made in Duck Head’s Costa Rica factory, and 5 per centof production is made in six quick response modular teams located at the company’s factoryin Monroe a few miles from the head office in Winder, Georgia, USA.

Here over 90 per cent own production is cuton two S91 Gerber cutters which have been operational within the factory for eight or nineyears. Marker lengths average 20/30 yards laid on 140 foot cutting tables to a height of120 plies (3″). Output from the cutting room amounts to approximately 1500 dozenpieces per ten hour day, an average cut amounting to 250 dozen. Nearly all fabric cut is100 per cent cotton, most of twill construction and US produced, though some tubular knitT-shirt fabric and some private label polycotton is also cut.

Once a cutting order is received, theGerber Accuplanner library highlights which of the required markers already exist, andwhich need to be newly made. Both markers and cut files are then e-mailed to the factoryfor plotting and cutting.

Once cut, work for Costa Rica is stacked inbulk direct from the cutting table into large boxes, ready for transportation. By cuttingin the US, customs tariffs, quotas and import taxes are avoided on finished goods.

Duck Head itself concentrates on producingmen’s and boy’s wear. The design and manufacture of women’s wear is licensed to WilkinsIndustries, a company handily situated only 20 miles away in Athens, Georgia; whilstchildren’s wear is licensed on a similar basis to Liberty Childrenswear based inBirmingham, Alabama. For this licensing to work and a corporate Duck Head theme to runthrough all its apparel, the licensees work closely with Duck Head and preview all themen’s and boy’s wear new season’s styles and fabrics.

DESIGN SYSTEMS
The new season’s looks often start with the fabric, and much is designed in house usingModaCad’s ModaWeave, ModaDrape and ModaToolkit packages to experiment with and simulateideas before sampling and for colour separation – systems they have been usingsuccessfully for the last seven years. ADOBE Photoshop is used for sketching and technicaldrawing, whilst designs are interpreted into patterns, grades and then markers usingGerber’s Accumark and Silhouette.

The key to communicating technicalinformation between the designers and the factories manufacturing the designs is Gerber’sPDM, introduced into the company about three years ago. Planning to upgrade to Web-PDMnext year for ease of use, the company already relies on the Internet for speed ofcommunicating production and technical information to the many sites around the world inwhichever language the factory requires: English, Turkish, Spanish translation beingautomated. A full set of PDM forms may include up to 75 pages per style, although thisamount of data would only go to new suppliers or be needed for new products as detailsinclude such things as how to measure specific garment types. Typically, twelve to sixteenpages are required for costing and technical data and these will include such things asassembly notes and diagrams, labelling details and placement, embroidery information, andgraded measurement specs. Password protection is used to prevent confidential informationgetting into the wrong hands, and sheets are colour coded to differentiate betweenlanguages.

Communication is a two-way thing, with thefactories e-mailing back sampling information, measurement checks etc.

According to Kathy White, productdevelopment manager: “Although the basic information takes quite a while to set up inthe first place, once up and running a full set of forms for a new style can be developedwithin two hours. The company now has over eight hundred styles within the system”.

GSD used for labour costings is not yetintegrated within their PDM, but it is anticipated that this link will be establishedwithin six months simultaneous to the introduction of Web-PDM.

On average it is taking Duck Head onlythirty to forty days from the concept design to full production of a new style.

For sourced production the company worksclosely with eight agents who in turn use subcontractors around the world. Their mainagent, SRS international, is indeed conveniently located in offices within Duck Head’shead office complex. This enables an open working relationship, eased communication and astrong partnership to ensue. Typical orders of fashion shirts will be in the region of6000 units, whilst a popular style may have between 20-30,000 units per order. Withmultiple delivery dates from the suppliers, and close scrutiny of sales combined withjoint weekly planning meetings, maximum flexibility is the objective.

DISTRIBUTION CENTRE
Both sourced and in-house manufacture is brought into the new central distribution centre.The receiving system, capable of processing up to 37 cartons per minute, enables an 800carton trailer to be unloaded in 25 to 30 minutes. It utilises the concept of AdvancedShipping Notice where cartons from all suppliers arrive with a barcode already in place.Individual boxes are placed on the receiving conveyor and scanned. The PKMS software(Manhattan Associates) will route the carton to the quality, no read or mis-read lanes,the bulk area or, if needed immediately for orders, the pick area, with the receivingsystem passing the carton to the central sorter which sends the carton to its appropriatediverter where the carton is scanned and put away.

The PKMS allows pick tickets to be groupedin waves and determines the bulk stock needs for each wave. These needs are passed to astocker, via radio frequency paperless transactions, who pulls the stock needed and placesit onto the central sorter which transports the goods to the pick area where orders can beprocessed through a high volume lane, a fixed pick, a flexible pick, radio frequencyorders or bulk processing. Whole case and split case pulls are allowed with consolidationat the staging lanes. This central sorter provides a processing capacity of 71 cartons perminute, or 32,775 per eight hour shift.

Picked orders are then sent to a packingstation where each garment is scanned via a vendor supplied UPC barcode. This creates atracking process by carton number. If necessary, floor ready processing (hangers, specialtags, poly bags) occurs, then the box is weighed and sent to the shipping sorter where thecarton is manifested and staged for shipping – a system enabling output in excess of17,200 cartons per day.

Using point of sale data transmitted byretailers, Duck Head continuously tracks sales of items by colour and size andautomatically generates purchase orders and picking tickets when stock units with thedistribution centre have reached predetermined levels. The automated replenishment systemcan account for seasonal fluctuations in sales, and changes in calendar events such asEaster, forecasting needs based on historical data. The objective is to maximiseinvestment in inventory and the retailer’s floor space without compromising the in stockposition.

POINT OF SALE
To help ensure that the most beneficial use is made of retailers’ floor space, beforegoods have even arrived at the store, the company uses ModaCad’s ‘3D Visual Merchant’which Duck Head has been beta testing for some time. The area of the store allocated toDuck Head is photographed and measured. Back at the head office Duck Head’s staff inputthe floor plan information which can then be visualised in 3D with the ability to view thespace at any angle. Fixtures and fittings, again in 3D, can be added, colour and lightingschemes changed at will, and images of actual clothes placed on the fixtures. Many’what-ifs’ can be tried out until the optimum store layout is achieved – neither overcrowded nor under utilised, with ease of movement of consumers around the area and maximumvisual impact.

Forms containing information about eachproduct can be added, then accessed by a mouse click, as can order forms. The wholepackage can be used to demonstrate in ‘Virtual Reality’ what a new Duck Head concession inany store would look like, as well as helping stores display new season’s garments totheir best effect.

As Duck Head points out, it’s not enough tohave a hot product. It needs to get the product onto the store shelves and into thecustomers’ shopping bags.

THE DUCK HEAD MISSION
“To profitably manufacture and market a line of value-orientated casual clothing,styled with an authenticity in keeping with our 125+ year heritage”.

Key objectives to accomplish the mission:

  • Help our customers be successful.
  • Set high standards for our customer service and sales representatives – expect and accept nothing less.
  • Keep quality high, but keep cost down to maintain our advantage as a value-priced apparel source. This is our niche.
  • Make dependable delivery a top priority at all times.
  • Have continuing dialogue with the consumer and pay close attention to their needs and wants. If we effectively satisfy the consumer, the retailer will always want our product.
  • Make a commitment to better communications – within our company and with our customer, the retailer. In order to achieve a partnership, the retailer should know where we are going and what we intend to do.
  • Continue to design new product which is fresh, but in keeping with what has characterised Duck Head in the past. Be true to who we are and let our unique heritage be reflected in new design strategy.
  • Stay closely attuned to key retailers to make sure we don’t stray from our niche. If we change from what the retailer wants us to be – we will no longer be needed.
  • Provide a safe workplace for Duck Head people.
  • Provide work that is meaningful and fun. Empower Duck Head people to run their jobs in a manner necessary to accomplish the Duck Head Mission.