Byline: Dick Silverman

NEW YORK — A group of apparel manufacturers is about to find out just how well they handle the truth.
The Apparel Monitor, developed by Fairchild Publications’ Strategic Information Services (SIS) division and the Advantage Group, establishes benchmarking measurements for vendors based on retail evaluations of their suppliers, providing specific performance guidelines.
For the new scorecard program, leading retailers evaluate the performance of their top branded apparel suppliers by category, reported Doug Rossiter, president of the Advantage Group Inc., its parent company. The project already has produced detailed ratings of over 40 leading vendors by more than 700 retail executives, senior merchandise managers, buyers and key customer personnel.
Sponsoring companies include Bali, Sag Harbor, Savane, Vanity Fair, Levi Strauss, Hanes, Lee Apparel, Polo, Playtex, and many others. Among the retail executives supporting the program are Federated Department Stores’ Terry Lundgren; Saks Inc.’s Brad Martin; Dillard’s Bill Dillard 3rd; Belk Stores’ McKay Belk; Vanessa Castagna of J.C. Penney; Mark Cohen of Sears, Roebuck; Bob Connolly of Wal-Mart and numerous others.
Top retailers cooperating in the studies also benefited from companion mirror surveys, where their own retail operations are graded by major vendors.
Hal J. Upbin, chairman, president and chief executive of Kellwood, said, “We found the Apparel Monitor informative and instructive. Through third-party interviews, we were able to hear candidly what retailers think about our brand properties. The feedback was useful and very helpful. It allows us to evaluate what we are doing and how we need to change to address retailers’ perceptions and issues.”
After the survey results were compiled and analyzed by the Apparel Monitor, sponsoring manufacturers received customized reports giving detailed findings on key performance issues within categories and at the account level, showing how they compared with their competitors.
Critical vendor performance factors evaluated by the retailers included top management planning and interaction; sales force effectiveness; product development and innovation; marketing programs and support; consumer information and applications; quality of in-store services; effectiveness of order execution, delivery and customer service; distribution and logistics; technology development and deployment, and productivity and financial results.
Through the mirror studies, retailers also were able to glean areas in which there was room for improvement. Tom Wyatt, executive vice president of long range planning for Saks Inc., said his firm picked up “some business processes we need to change and improve and some basic fundamental business practices we also feel we wanted to improve. It was a very good report card with a lot of actionable points for us and our vendors.”
The survey will be conducted every 18 months, with results geared to improving the supply chain’s overall efficiency. Next scheduled to be conducted in the U.S. in the spring, the monitor may be adapted for international use in the future, Rossiter added.