Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Despite being known as a sector that’s been somewhat reluctant to change, the hosiery industry aims to alter that reputation by using advancements in technology to build sales and reduce expenses.
With more legwear firms looking to spend less time on the production side of the business to focus more on marketing, they’re counting on new computer programs to make their production and inventory control more efficient. Software packages that track inventory levels and sales in individual stores or ones that verify the accuracy of shipments are some of the tools being utilized in the effort.
“The better the information about the manufacturing process, the better the decisions you can make about how to use your inventory,” said Cliff Leath, president and chief executive officer of Leath, McCarthy & Maynard, who is also president of the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers. “As retailers become more compressed to order at the last minute, the replenishment cycle quickens and that puts more pressure on the whole system.”
In February, Moretz Inc. adopted two software programs to help reduce its turnaround time and double-check orders prior to shipment, said John Moretz, president and ceo. With the first program, once an item is scanned it immediately registers as inventory. This helps Moretz to ship goods within 48 to 72 hours instead of five days, Moretz said.
The second program verifies orders prior to shipping by scanning bar codes.
“These information systems have helped us reduce chargebacks and allowed us to ship on time,” Moretz said. “It’s made us more efficient in getting things to retailers quicker.” Great American Knitting Mills, the maker of Gold Toe legwear, has invested $1 million in two software packages — DS Stores and Vendor Management Inventory, according to Dean Norman, executive vice president. The company plans to begin testing VMI with a major retailer, which he declined to identify, by the end of next month. When a store sells out of a specific style, VMI automatically sends a reverse purchase order electronically to the store for its approval. Traditionally, it’s been the retailer’s responsibility to initiate reorders, Norman said.
On another front, DS Stores enables Great American executives to look at sales of specific styles in individual stores. The firm began using the program at the beginning of this year, Norman said. It has been particularly helpful in managing key accounts such as the May Co., he added.
“We can go in and analyze selling at the sku level, as opposed to using reports run by retailers that give us a look at broad-brush selling,” Norman said. “It’s an efficient way to do what was done in the past somewhat by guesswork.”
To reduce the expense of using outside agencies for catalog production and photography, Great American invested “several hundred thousand dollars” in a new CAD computer equipped with digital photography, he said. The investment was made at the end of last year to allow designers to develop styles that show knitted patterns and loop definition for prelining.
Within the past eight months, The Hot Sox Co. has upgraded e-mail technology to allow the company to provide its factories with digital photographs and more accurate information, said Susan Marchand, vice president of design. Now, the company can get into production of a new style within seconds as opposed to sending the design via an overnight carrier, she said.
American Essentials, the maker of its own brand of socks as well as licensed Calvin Klein socks and Guess legwear, uses computers to design 80 percent of its offerings compared with 50 percent last year, said Jordan Lipson, president and chief executive officer. Images of the company’s collections can easily be downloaded by retailers to use them for their catalogs, he noted.
The company is also handling 80 percent of its billing electronically compared with 50 percent a year ago, Lipson said. American Essentials plans to post its informational web site by the middle of next month. The company aims to set up an online catalog for specialty store accounts by the end of the year. Retail users will have passwords to make the site secure, Lipson said.
American Essentials employees are checking inventory levels and sales in a specific store on a more regular basis. Sales register on the company’s computer system within an hour of the actual purchase.
“We’ve empowered our senior managers,” Lipson said. “They can now look at information in ways that would take a week to compile two years ago. Now they can bring that data together within five or 10 minutes.”
Using a program to monitor the efficiency of its sock knitting machines has helped Auburn Hosiery Mills, a division of Gerber’s Children’s wear, to improve production and reduce expenses, said Kevin Angliss, president. The program keeps track of how many units are produced by individual machines, as well as how often the unit pauses, stops or makes mistakes during a production run.
The company started using the process, which has been employed by sheer manufacturers for years, a few years ago in its factory in Ireland. Auburn spent about $250,000 in its mill in Adaireville, Ky., to incorporate the system there, Angliss said.
Machines in the company’s domestic mill are also set up to allow executives to change knitting styles from a control panel. That move now takes minutes, provided the creels are loaded with the appropriate yarns. In the past, it took up to seven hours, Angliss noted.