NEW YORK — Officials at Louis Vuitton say last month’s move to computerize its company-owned outlets is already paying off in markedly improved inventory control.

The upscale French leather goods manufacturer installed personal computers at checkouts and in the backrooms of all 60 of its U.S. retail locations last month. Laurent Potevin, director of logistics at Vuitton, said the new AST Research PCs were necessary to support inventory-management and point-of-sale software that is proving extremely popular with store managers.

“Store managers love the system,” Potevin said. “Since real-time inventory at all our retail stores is up on the system, store managers can look into each other’s inventory and we can shift inventory from store to store at their request. Any item is one day away because we have access to daily information.”

Potevin said the software, Retail Pro from Carmichael, Calif.-based Retail Technologies International, also lets retailers view seasonal sales data on desktop and portable PCs. He said the function is helping store managers more accurately forecast store-specific sales and better plan their orders.

“In the past, store managers would have to request printed sales reports from us covering three-month periods,” he said. “Now, we’ve already input a year’s worth of back movement information into the system, and store managers can tap into it at any time.”

Potevin said store managers can access past sales data relative to their own stores or any other Vuitton store in the United States. He said Vuitton will add another year of past sales data. In the future, the company will keep three year’s worth of data on-line. Store managers can run reports that tell them how many items moved, right down to color and size.

Potevin said the system also saves labor. Before the system was installed, store managers wrote weekly sales reports by hand. These were then input at headquarters.

“They were hand-writing everything,” he said, “and there were a lot of inaccuracies. Everything had to be rekeyed, so there were manual errors like double entries.”

Potevin said both company headquarters and managers of individual stores have more faith in the data now that the new system is on-line. The result has been reduced out-of-stocks.

“The system can tell us where we have some excess and where we are short,” he said. “Our goal isn’t to have a tight inventory — it’s to make sure we aren’t running out of stock on our best sellers.”

Though the system was installed in all Vuitton’s U.S. locations, Potevin called it “a test.” If the system continues to receive high marks from store managers and Vuitton officials, he said the company would roll it out worldwide.

“We are using the U.S. as a test zone,” he said.

Potevin said Vuitton bought both the hardware and software off the shelf. Each store was equipped with a PC or laptop in the backroom and a PC with a 9-inch monitor and detached keyboard with integrated “mag-stripe” reader at the checkout. Checkouts were also equipped with a small printer to print receipts and a hand-held scanner. The cost was between $7,000 and $15,000 per store, depending on store size.

Potevin said Vuitton opted for the Retail Pro software because it could function with hardware from many different vendors.

“It was totally open,” he said. “We could have picked any hardware.”

In addition to helping store managers, the system is also making it easier for Vuitton headquarters to pool orders to factories.

“We can consolidate retail and wholesale inventory, and that helps us place orders to our factories,” Potevin said.

Vuitton has one factory in the United States. The bulk of Vuitton’s manufacturing is done in France. Of the 60 locations using the new system, 28 are freestanding stores. The remainder are retail locations Vuitton leases inside department stores I. Magnin, Neiman Marcus and others.

Though Potevin said only about half the Vuitton store managers were computer literate, he said all learned the new system quickly.

“It took only three four-hour sessions to train the store managers on the system,” he said. “It’s really easy to use, and it gives us accurate, real-time, flexible information.”

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