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Scovill Finds Green in Brown

NEW YORK — The migration of apparel production out of the U.S. to countries around the world has grown steadily in recent years, as sourcing executives chase lower wages, better logistics and special trade perks in developing nations.<br><br>But...

NEW YORK — The migration of apparel production out of the U.S. to countries around the world has grown steadily in recent years, as sourcing executives chase lower wages, better logistics and special trade perks in developing nations.

This story first appeared in the November 19, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But where apparel buyers see bargains, suppliers of textiles — trim and other products that go into apparel — see headaches. That’s because the developing nations that tend to be attractive locations for factories often lack the large body of commercial laws that governs businesses in the U.S., European Union and other parts of the Western world.

Credit — the grease that lubes the wheels of capitalism — can be a particular problem for suppliers shipping goods to developing nations. Limited disclosure rules in many nations, particularly in Latin America, coupled with a reluctance of industrialists in some of those countries to reveal much about their finances out of concern for their personal safety, often leaves banks unwilling to extend credit as freely as they do in the U.S.

Scovill Fasteners of Clarksville, Ga., a maker of snaps, rivets and other closures, faced just such a problem with its warehouses in Mexico and China, where banks were unwilling to accept its foreign inventories as collateral because the laws in those countries make it difficult to secure.

“An increasing portion of both our receivables and inventory are in addresses that are outside of the U.S.,” said Jack Champagne, president and chief executive officer of Scovill, which has revenues of about $100 million. “They were ineligible for collateralization and it’s hard to finance any kind of growth when you can’t finance the inventory and the receivables.”

When his staff began sniffing around for a solution to this problem, they found one in an unexpected area: the United Parcel Service. Executives at UPS Capital Corp., the financing division of the Atlanta-based delivery company, approached Scovill and said they could work out a deal to treat the inventory as collateral by moving it into UPS warehouses.

“We see it quite often,” said Charlie Johnson, managing director for distribution finance at UPS Capital. “Certain industries like textiles, apparel and furniture that have gone offshore for the benefits of lower costs have sort of created for themselves a little bit of a working-capital problem, in that some of their inventory has to go offshore.”

The problem arises, he said, because developing countries offer “the benefit of relatively inexpensive labor, but they have at the same time very undeveloped laws with regard to perfection of security interest and collateral, and unstable court systems.”

To accept any given asset as collateral, a lender has to know that he will be able to seize that asset in the event of a default and that the asset will not be used again as collateral — it’s the same principle that prevents homeowners from carrying multiple mortgages for the full value of their houses. That’s a protection that Mexican and Chinese laws did not offer, Johnson explained.

The carriers’ solution was to move the inventories to UPS-owned warehouses, where the company could vouch for their whereabouts. UPS moved the Mexican inventories back into the U.S. to a Laredo, Tex., warehouse and shifted the Chinese inventories to a facility in Hong Kong.

According to Scovill’s Champagne, “The beauty of this is, as long as the goods stay under control of UPS in one of their warehouses or in their supply chain, they are eligible to borrow against.”

Still, Johnson cautioned that UPS may not be able to lend against goods kept in its warehouses in all countries because it needs to have some assurance that it will legally be able to take possession of the goods in the event of default. That’s part of the reason the company chose to move the inventories in the initial Scovill deal to sites in the U.S. and Hong Kong, which also has highly developed commercial regulations.

The companies in April finalized the deal for two credit facilities secured against the inventories, a revolving line of credit and a long-term loan. They did not disclose the exact value of the credit facilities, though a UPS spokesman said they came to more than $1 million.

Champagne said shifting the inventories to UPS facilities is also allowing the company to rethink where it can keep goods. Scovill is getting ready to set up a stocking operation at a UPS warehouse in Chennai, India, to serve apparel manufacturers in that country.

“You don’t have to worry about building or leasing a warehouse and whether you may not have enough business to justify it,” he said. “This is basically a pay-as-you-go situation.”

He continued, “We can take this same model and move it to Eastern Europe, Turkey, Romania, sub-Saharan Africa.”

Johnson of UPS said his firm has employed the foreign-inventory-as-collateral model in a couple of other cases and is interested in pursuing that strategy in the apparel industry.