Whether you sell casual wear for fashionistas or occupational gear for workers in hazardous environments, there’s no shortage of challenges facing the apparel or footwear warehouse manager. It takes the right mix of organizational skills, people skills and work ethic to manage a warehouse successfully, and the rapidly changing nature of fashion keeps even the steeliest managers on their toes.

If you manage a warehouse for a fashion, footwear or sewn products business, chances are you may have stressed about one or more of these common apparel industry headaches.

1. Your customers are ordering what’s big right now — and what will be big next year — right now.

Back to the Future

One of the unique challenges of the apparel and footwear industries is the speed at which fashion moves. You know next year’s must-have spring and summer styles by autumn of this year, and customers are already ordering ahead. That means your inventory includes stock that will fly off the shelves, as well as stock that will remain parked for the next several months. Keeping track of what goes where, and when, isn’t always easy.

Successful warehouse managers don’t need time machines to keep their inventory organized, but warehouse management software goes a long way. Allocation is an especially important tool, as not all customer orders need to be fulfilled immediately. You can prioritize your orders based on when they need to ship, as well as by customer.

2. Duties and tariffs are determined by some sort of sorcery.

Octopus playing piano

Picture a single shoe, maybe a work boot. Think of all the materials that come together to make that boot. There might be leather, rubber for the soles, synthetic fiber for the laces and maybe a fleece or faux-fur lining. Each of these materials has its own specific tariff, which may also change periodically. Each of these tariffs comes together to contribute to the overall cost of manufacturing that single, seemingly simple boot.

To get a better idea of how granular and complex these tariffs get, take a look at the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States. There are separate chapters for “articles of apparel and clothing accessories, knitted or crocheted” and “articles of apparel and clothing accessories, not knitted or crocheted.” (There is also a separate chapter for “knitted or crocheted fabrics,” not to be confused with “special woven fabrics.”)

Keeping up with all of these different individual tariffs is difficult if you don’t have a solid organizational method. Fortunately, today’s warehouse management software solutions include modules for keeping track of fabric tariffs and other variables that affect costing.

3. Your success hinges on clear communication between several spread-out parties.

There are many players involved in a single garment transaction, and they can span departments, businesses and continents. By the time a dress or a pair of pants lands in your warehouse, it has already passed through multiple hands, from the textile manufacturer to the quality assurance officer. Just in your warehouse, you have to manage packaging associates, stockers, truck loaders and material operating handlers. Plus, you’re responsible for making sure that the information your company gives to retailers and customers about your inventory is accurate.

Communication is essential to make sure the apparel manufacturing process goes smoothly, and having centralized warehouse management software to bring all aspects of the business together is key to keeping everyone on the same page.

4. And spreadsheets can only go so far.

Parks Recreation

If your company is still using spreadsheets to manage what’s in your warehouse, you may need to brew your coffee a bit stronger. Without WMS integration for real-time inventory updates or software optimized for collaboration, keeping track of your inventory is a labor-intensive process that’s prone to human error. You know there is warehouse management software on the market to make your business more efficient, but your company might be set in its ways, or hesitant to invest the time and money needed to update technology and processes.

5. A messy, disorganized warehouse is the stuff of nightmares.

Futurama

A customer or retailer places an order. It’s time to pick the items for shipment but — wait, where are the items? A disorganized warehouse can cause errors in inventory and slow down the fulfillment process, leading to a poor customer experience. Besides the lost sales, a messy warehouse is just a pain to manage. It’s crucial to put thought into a streamlined, efficient warehouse design, and to ensure that all warehouse staff are working together to keep all of your apparel in order.

6. Unrealistic shipping and return policies require actual wizardry.

Wizard

Again, time travel would be a huge competitive advantage, but most apparel companies don’t have that sort of technology. Customers are expecting faster, less expensive shipping, in addition to quick turnaround rates on product returns, but sometimes it’s just not possible to make it happen. If marketing and sales don’t have access to accurate information about order processing and shipping, they might be making promises you can’t fulfill.

7. Outdated business systems make everything more difficult.

Mad Panda

A slow network connection or a server on its last legs could mean weeks of frustration on the warehouse floor. Additionally, outdated, end-of-support software can lead to security vulnerabilities that leave your systems wide open to hacking, including your warehouse and inventory data. To keep your productivity high and your processes efficient, you know you’ll need to convince your company to update its outdated business systems. Until then, you’ll keep rebooting your computer and hope things run a bit faster.

8. Fashions may change quickly, but the industry is even more in flux.

New York

Apparel manufacturing is often a global enterprise, and variables that affect the speed and cost of order fulfillment are constantly changing. If keeping track of domestic tariffs isn’t difficult enough, you also have to consider foreign tariffs and duties, as well as port disruptions, changes in labor costs and the price of fuel, just for starters. Consumer demand is also unpredictable, and the most successful apparel companies are able to adapt to industry changes — for example, the reshoring of apparel manufacturing.

9. You can’t look at a simple garment without thinking about the work that goes into it.

Cat Sewing

Clothing shopping is never a mindless activity for the apparel warehouse manager. Just as many composers and conductors can’t hear a symphony without analyzing it, you can’t look a dress or a pair of pants without considering the process that created it. And by the time a customer unfolds a t-shirt to try it on or pulls a pair of sneakers out of a box, the amount of work that went into the apparel or footwear is pretty incredible to think about.

Managing an apparel or footwear warehouse is no simple task, but the right warehouse management software can help ease the burden. With over 30 years of experience in the apparel and footwear industries, Apparel Business Systems understands the issues facing today’s warehouse managers. ABS’ enterprise resource planning and warehouse management software solutions are purpose-built for the unique needs of the sewn products industries, and give you the features you need to keep your business efficient.

Interested in learning more about how the right software can help you run your apparel or footwear business? Contact ABS today.