Intimate apparel manufacturer Sara Lee Branded Apparel has introduced an integrated mix of retail and supply chain software at its Lovable division in Italy to enhance the smooth running of its new retail operations.

The software, from VcsTimeless, is helping to improve stock rotation and reduce out-of-stocks, as well as provide store staff with the necessary tools and information to provide good customer service and optimise sales.

"We were far too manufacturing focused with our previous IT systems, and not really set up for retail," said Giuseppe Zambarbieri, chief information officer at Sara Lee Branded Apparel Italy.

In 2004, the company opened over 100 new stores in Italy using the Lovable lingerie label. It is slowly re-branding these stores as LO', so that by mid-2005 it will be selling a range of intimate apparel under this new youthful fascia.

With the new software in place, the Sara Lee Italian head office is now able to suggest the ideal mix of weekly orders and what retailers should be stocking in order to maximise sales.

The first phase of the project involved addressing continuous replenishment, and was successfully completed in the summer of 2004.

The outcome of installing this new supply chain technology is that weekly replenishment allows for a much greater reduction in sales forecasting errors, so that retailers are more likely to get the right product, at the right time.

"The costs of getting forecasts wrong is extremely expensive," said Zambarbieri.

New point of sale (EPoS) technology was rolled out to all stores at the same time, with the added advantage of staff more easily being able to view new collections and order online, not to mention the benefit of improved customer service in-store.

The second phase, introducing assortment planning, was addressed later in the year, just in time for the busy Christmas trading period. This technology deals with helping retail stores with budgeting, and suggests best-selling ranges by region, store location, or season.

Following the success of the supply chain project, Sara Lee Europe has already opened some 15 Dim stores in France and Benelux using the VcsTimeless Colombus suite.

The company also said that it is now determined to boost the "retail strategy," planning to extend it to other European countries including the UK, Spain, Portugal and Greece.