You would think that creating a proper Supply Chain that benefits Creative Casuals customers, would have been an easy task to do, but it took many long years to create what is a very well run efficient company. Creative Casuals is a promotional marketing company who has grown from a single person cottage industry to a mid size company with many employees, an embroidery and screen-printing department and three locations. The main office and production warehouse is in Listowel On, with sales offices in Kincardine and Stratford.
Mari-Lou Lowry Started Creative Casuals after graduating from design school. She knew she wanted to start a viable business that could withstand the test of time. The company needed to be vibrant and grow with the ever-changing environment of technology today. 29 years ago when it all started there were no computers, no fancy communication tools except a telephone and fax, but that never stopped Creative Casuals from exploring everything they needed to become a multi functional promotional company.
Mari-Lou knew she would need to diversify with percentages of accounts in corporate sales, team and school sales, and also contract wholesale embroidery and screen-printing. Mari-Lou was aware to not to put all her eggs in one basket in case the market trends changed. As we all know one of the first things to disappear off a tight business budget is promotional marketing products.
Creative Casuals realized they needed to look at the supply chain management carefully to succeed.
One of today’s challenges is finding companies that are trustworthy and reliable. 101 on how to screw up your company; deal with suppliers that don’t care about service, timelines and quality. Are there many like this in the marketplace – OH yes – too many. So you must do your research, which is made much easier via social media and online search abilities.
You have to make sure the suppliers you use match your policies on quality and service. Creative Casuals carry a 100% Customer Satisfaction Guarantee so therefore their suppliers must be reliable and offer similar guarantees to their distributors. The goal is to work with a “Preferred Supplier” list and keep the number of suppliers down which means increased purchases at each and therefore better buying power and better end profits. With better buying power comes the ability to be competitive in the industry and compete for large accounts.
Mari-Lou Lowry, Owner, Creative Casauls, Listowel Ontario
Once you are able to establish trust and reliability in the supplier, you must be able to track your products from start to finish. Being 2018 that is a much easier and productive project to do. Most have some very up to date programming on their websites that give you the ability to check inventory, cost, shipping timelines and production timelines. This is a demand needed in the supply chain to make your ability to move forward in the promotional marketing business. Without the ability to be able to do this on a supplier’s website you would second guess using them as one of your trusted marketing companies.
When Creative Casuals have made an established connection with their suppliers they are able to have the capabilities to communicate with them via chat lines, where they can ask questions about quality, quantity, material used, what sort of boundaries they may have re; minimum orders. Creative Casuals is able to order what they need online quickly and know without a doubt if the product is there or not by the inventory counts that are updated everyday. They can place orders via online platforms and then have them shipped to their warehouse in Listowel On. within days of ordering. It is important that all of these steps are done in a timely manner with no errors or delays because that is one crucial part of the supply chain that needs to work.
Many of the orders at Creative Casuals are time sensitive due to event dates and any breakdown in communication means that a customer may not have their product needed for their particular event. It would only take this happening a few times to greatly damage the company’s reputation.
Now we will look at the other side of the chain and understand how all of these procedures must work together to end up with a perfect product.
Let’s for a moment create a day in the life of Creative Casuals.
Morning starts at 7:30am, computer on and ready to start the day. There are many emails waiting to be answered regarding products, either ordering or inquiries. The phones starts to ring at 8:30 and do not stop until late in the day. Customers come in and are looking for products that they would like to have. Let’s say this person wants a sweatshirt. You proceed to ask, questions like:
- What is your budget?
- What colours do you want?
- Would you like a logo on it?
- Where is that logo being placed?
- What are the colours in your logo?
- Do you want it screen-printed or embroidered?
- What sizes do you require?
- What material are you looking for?
- When are the items needed by?
I’m sure you get the picture by now how this all goes. We then start the search online. We are looking for who has the best quality, who has the best price, who has the best inventory, who is most reliable and can meet our deadlines. Thankfully all of this can be preformed online, in real time. Quite often the sales department puts together a quote using a GOOD, BETTER, BEST scenario. This aids the customer in making a suitable, knowledgeable, and quicker choice. The shear volume of clothing and promotional product options available can very quickly overwhelm customers. This is then sent off online -via whichever platform the customer uses. They choose the option they prefer, send it back to us and we order the product. We are ensured via chat lines that products are in inventory and ready to be shipped via carrier. The shipment is tracked online to be assured timelines are met and there is no traffic or weather conflicts that could delay shipment. In the meantime the team at Creative Casuals tracks down any artwork the customer may have. Most have to be recreated and made into files that are suitable for embroidery or screen-printing. Once approval of artwork is done through online correspondence the production manager goes online to their live calendar, looks for an appropriate time to schedule the order to be created. The sales team can now look on the live calendar to see when their customers order will be completed. The sales rep proceeds to let the customer know the timelines
So you can imagine what would happen if any one of these supply chain scenarios gets delayed?
The system begins to break down quickly and your very well thought-out plan begins to fall apart. This is why your supply chain needs to be solid from start to finish.
The production team at Creative Casuals depends on the suppliers to stick to timelines so their schedule is met and to keep all machines running efficiently. The hard goods suppliers, i.e. pens, coffee mugs etc, continue to modify their timelines and many offer limited products that they can turn around in 24 – 36 hours. With the current changes in online shopping customers are quick to believe that they can get product virtually overnight. Ten years ago the average order timeline was 3-4 weeks; now the average is around 5-6 days. The customers play a large role in the timeline with being efficient with approvals and feedback.
Mari-Lou Lowry, Owner, Creative Casuals, Listowel Ontario
The supply chain continues long after the product is out the door, you continue to monitor the customer and what their needs are. They are set up in your database where you can continue to send them information about special products, discounts and cool new ideas. They are all reached by Creative Casuals social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, E-newsletter, surveys. The customer is always being engaged with Creative Casuals products and services. The sales team continues to follow up and record any special events the customer has going on or any needs they may require. All of this is done through social media following and social listening.
The supply chain is one of the most important parts of a multilevel production company like Creative Casuals. From the supplier, through decoration and to the end user the supply chain should be accurate and easy to engage in. Proper communication tools are needed to make sure all the processes are in place and followed.
What steps to take to succeed in the proper Supply Chain for Creative Casuals:
- Research and investigate suppliers and “Qualify” them as a Preferred Supplier
- Purchasing from other countries (Price is better but timelines increase due to shipping)
- Develop a working relationship with the supplier and longevity.
- Start of product to end of product tracking ability
- Checking ability in real time for cost, quality, service, inventory
- Arrival at wholesaler on time
- Chat lines / social media communication ability at wholesale company
- Design artwork/ customer artwork
- Proof and approval
- Wholesale products arrival at Creative Casuals on time via carriers
- E screen printing schedule
- Proofing products via online platforms
- Finished product to customer
- Social media engagement with customers- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, E-Newsletter , E-commerces website development, surveys
- Track and inventory special events and need requirements of customers
Creative Casuals was built by Mari-Lou Lowry who had a vision for an artistic company that could supply product to many different people in many different walks of life. When she started out she noticed that almost every company or organization bought a printed garment or promotional item at some point. This meant a broad customer base was possible and made sense to pursue. Creative Casuals understands the need for proper supply chains in their business. The efficiency of the company will be even more enhanced once their new e-commerce website is complete in May and customers can create and order their own products. Once this starts to happen the supply chain will become even more important, with proper communications tools, tracking ability and inventory control. Mari-Lou realizes that continual adaptation is the prime target to move into the next 10 years of business.
Lessons for Others
Could Creative Casuals have stayed where they are in the marketplace and continued on as a midsize company – of course, but according to Mari-Lou, what’s the fun in that? Let’s build and grow and prosper. With confidence Mari-Lou knows that her supply chain is solid and that she has all the right building blocks in place to turn into a higher and more vibrant company, which will continue to service, produce and create amazing promotional products on time.
- Supply Chain Management is important for all businesses
- Online interaction with suppliers is needed to be efficient and profitable
- Creating good communication tools will benefit business-to-business conversation
- Use of social media in the supply chain increases credibility with other businesses
Industry: Promotional Marketing Company
Name of Organization Contact: Mari-Lou Lowry
Authored by: Cathy Bieman
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.