Forecasting and planning software will play an increasingly important role in fashion related industries over the next few years as companies continue to try to reduce their inventories and increase customer service and on-time delivery.

But for several users of the System A3 fashion planning and forecasting software this goal has already been achieved. Speaking at the company's annual user conference which was held recently at Lloyd Shoes in Hamburg, Germany, Lloyd's sales manager Helmut Schaller explained: "From a poor 48 per cent customer service level over the past 4 years we have been able to push this figure up to 89 per cent last year. Our target is 95 per cent this year." Mr Schaller added that the average customer service level in the shoe business is around 50 per cent.

Once users have got used to its accurate forecasts, the system can also function as a controlling and steering tool ― particularly in companies that have large ranges and short product life cycles. Says Helmut: "The turnaround from mainly make-to-order (65 per cent in 1989) to make-to-stock (85 per cent in 1999) was successfully achieved. The emphasis on stock production means that complete ranges can be delivered to customers, along with improved availability of bestsellers and a quicker reaction to trends in market demand. These things count in fashion!"

Lloyd's experiences seem to be shared by companies such as Carli Gry International, adidas, Triumph and Mexx International where System A3 is used to speed up decisions on collections, styles, fabrics and capacities. Market and customer acceptance of a new collection can be judged at an early stage, and there are reliable forecasts on style-colour demand.

Yarn and sewing thread supplier Amann is another enthusiastic customer. "Proven functionality and very user friendly," are the comments from Roland Krankel, IT and logistics manager. In addition to sales forecasting, Amann also uses the budgeting and turnover planning modules. The budgeting module enables the company to set its budgets for the next year, based on the latest sales forecast ― and continually compares the two. With the turnover module, Amann translates the sales forecast from units into financial figures and kilograms.

The latest System A3 development is a module to forecast brand new products. Traditional forecasting tools need at least 14 months of history in order to generate reliable forecasts and to recognise seasonal patterns. But by making use of genetic algorithms, System A3 is claimed to be able to forecast new products from a sales history of just 3 months.

It is expected to be particularly useful for the large numbers of companies that are confronted with shortening lifecycles and rapidly changing styles. Manfred Zimmermann, planning manager at module test site adidas Salomon comments: "As we are in a very dynamic market, the sooner we have a reliable forecast, the better it is for adidas. Therefore we have put a lot of effort into the development of this module. We have been testing it for the past 2 seasons and have been pleasantly surprised by the results. The return on investment is fantastic. We can't live without it anymore!" During the conference Mr Zimmerman revealed that adidas visibly earns US$25 million each year with System A3.

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