Rolling hills and hushed woods might not be the first images that come to mind when software and machinery warehouses are mentioned. That, however, is the exact environment of Lectra, the product life cycle management, or PLM, and cutting machinery company headquartered in Bordeaux, France.
Its operations may be based in the center of France’s most famous wine country, but from there Lectra reaches around the global, working with some of the biggest players in fashion, from Burberry to H&M to Speedo.
Long an industry leader, Lectra offers solutions to fashion houses and wholesalers with its end-to-end model. The company provides a robust suite of services to its 23,000 global customers beginning with the initial product development and design process. What’s perhaps most integral about its entire program is the transparency allotted to once siloed departments, resulting in streamlined workflow. Various departments are allowed to share ideas and feedback within its software before textiles even hit the cutting board. Once finalized, these patterns are optimized to strategically fit onto textiles that are then cut with millimeter-focused precision.
And it takes a village — quite literally. The company’s Bordeaux campus houses its International Advanced Technology Center. Here, warehouses provide a venue for constant innovation for its cutting machines, the Vector. Experts work on the next generation of predictive software to alert users of any rumblings of an issue within the machine before it hits full throttle — which would render it unusable and hold up production. The IATC is also the space where present and future clients are able to put Lectra’s services to the test. During a recent grounds tour, customers were observed experimenting new techniques with Lectra engineers.
It’s this type of hands-on treatment that has long been a hallmark of Lectra. For example, machines are specifically dedicated to individual markets. When Louis Vuitton aimed to produce a higher volume of its small leather goods — due to an influx of counterfeits and consumer demand — Lectra went as far as to collaborate on a machine that would achieve its high-level of craftsmanship at scale.
In markets dictated by fickle shoppers, Lectra flattens hurdles that retailers and brands are encountering at a dizzying rate. “Consumers are becoming impatient. They want to have access to everything at the snap of a finger. And they want more choices. They’re not specifically loyal to a brand anymore,” said Céline Choussy, the company’s chief marketing officer. From shrinking time to market to coping with the staggering competition from young and nimbler companies, Lectra can help solve issues for many firms battling the market’s headwinds and, perhaps worse, being ridiculed for outdated designs.
In Lectra, customers find an extension to their team that straddles customer service and a multifaceted IT department in order to tag-team troubleshooting. “You need to have new collections, new models, new ideas all the time. The supply chain follows you and that the time to market is correct — not too long. It has a dramatic effect on our customers. At Lectra, we totally understand and that’s why we are very close to our customers. We are very close to them, and truly understand how they work and how we can help them meet these challenges,” Choussy said.
It was this strategy that kept Lectra rooted in its French tradition and operations rather than jumping ship and heading to China when many competitors made the move in the early Aughts. Given the apparent lower costs and faster turnarounds, this seemed foolish. Little known to the critics, the joke was on them.
“Most of our competitors, if not all, moved their manufacturing to China. For three years, we did a study on what would happen if we had a factory in China, and we came to the conclusion that it would save about 28 percent of our costs, which was tremendous,” said Daniel Harari, chief executive officer and director of Lectra. Three years is about a lifetime in the industry, but the risk paid off. It wasn’t simply about their customers, but about loyalty to their employees.
This decision proved to be the factor that helped Lectra become one of the frontrunners in the sector. “We went back to the team in Boudreaux and told them that now we have another plan. We need to create a visionary revelation of machines. It was a breakthrough, which will be our way to be ahead of our competitors. And it was a bet because 28 percent difference was a huge difference. We issued the generation of what we call the Vector generation, which was the first cutting machine connected to the Internet. That was 10 years ago, no one knew what the Internet of Things was,” Harari said. Lectra now has additional tech centers in Atlanta — and China, but not for obvious reasons.
That was then, this is now. Technology has democratized not just the retail landscape, it’s flattened the manufacturing segment. Competitors remain, namely Gerber Technology and PTC. But the best players rise to the level of their competition — Lectra is no exception. “When we issue a new product, the amount of R&D behind the product is something like five or 10 times the amount of our competitors,” Harari said. “That’s not something you see at glance when you have a demonstration or you see the machine or software at first. You need to use the software for a certain period of time to understand the differences.”
These investments have paid off. After a drop in sales and profits following the Great Recession, Lectra reversed the trend. In its most recent annual report, the company posted a year-over-year sales gain of 8.5 percent to 253 million euros, or $271 million, with net income rising 10.3 percent to 26.1 million euros, or $28 million. Earnings per share showed a gain of 22 percent for the year.
Initially daunting, its PLM system is immense. Endless options can frequently lead to endless confusion. Lectra’s system at first glance might appear overwhelming to a regular designer or perhaps not the most tech-savvy of user. What Lectra’s software carries in size, it makes up for in options that allow designers to do what they do best: visualize new looks in a plethora of fabrics, colors and cuts.
Lectra has set high expectations for itself. Installed in almost 1,000 fashion design programs, the company continues to invest heavily in order to keep ahead of the competition. But always with a hands-on approach to its customers.