By  on April 12, 1994

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The mounting demand for Quick Response -- including the delivery of floor-ready merchandise from manufacturer to retailer -- held the spotlight at the SEAMS spring conference and trade show here last week.

For the first time, the two-day event, which ended Friday at the Palmetto International Exposition Center, offered educational seminars conducted by major retailers.

Executives of J.C. Penney Co. and Mercantile Stores outlined existing partnership programs with suppliers for Quick Response, programs that are shaping the future of the industry.

Al Howell, executive director of SEAMS -- an acronym for the Southeastern Apparel Manufacturers & Suppliers Association -- pointed out in an interview that association members had expressed a desire to learn about retailers' needs first-hand at the show.

"Five years from now, there will be direct contact from point of sale to the contractor," said Al Howell, executive director of SEAMS. "Contractors will have to be able to make and send floor-ready merchandise directly to the store. That includes the ability to do smaller cuts, direct shipment, and constantly improving quality." Mercantile's Michael Tenny, logistics liaison, stressed the importance of floor-ready merchandise -- goods that require little or no processing in a distribution center before they are ready to be sent to the stores.

"Retailers want to sell merchandise, not play with it," said Tenny. "Time we spend processing merchandise is time lost on the selling floor."

This year, Mercantile has increased its partnerships with vendors capable of delivering floor-ready merchandise to 221 suppliers, up from 56 in 1993. The programs, which include such technology as electronic advance shipment notices, have cut two to three days out of the pipeline, said Tenny.

Anton C. Haake, Penney's director of quality assurance, said the chain's ASAP (accelerated supply and purchasing) program, initiated in 1990, had improved customer service, increased sales, decreased markdowns and balanced inventory positions. Quick Response partnerships with key suppliers and extensive merchandise quality testing has resulted in vastly improved profits, said Haake.

The ASAP program extends to all categories of merchandise, including fashion as well as basics. Today, partnership programs are limited to bigger domestic suppliers, although overseas programs and smaller vendors will be implemented in the near future, he said.

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