By Jill Mazur, June 6, 2016
I had lunch with a friend recently. I mentioned I was planning to attend a number of seminars at Sourcing at MAGIC in Las Vegas. When she asked me what sourcing was, I had to think long and hard about how to describe sourcing in general. It seems easy enough to describe: the supply of resources as required by a business process. I’m sure that’s not what she wanted to hear, so I thought about it for a while. She is a screenwriter with no experience in any sort of manufacturing or service industry. I realized, however, that sourcing can be applied to almost any business process. In her case I related it to her wedding, I asked her to think of her wedding planning as sourcing. Think of the logistics, planning, purchasing, deliveries, setup, payments and tastings as sourcing.
Unless you’re doing everything yourself, including sewing your own dress, baking your own cake, growing your own flowers and playing all of the instruments in the band, you’re sourcing. Many brides hire a wedding planner – let’s call that the agent. The agent’s job is to facilitate the sourcing process. They smooth out the bumps, they help ensure shipments are on time, they deal with customs and suppliers and manufacturers to make sure everyone has what they need to get the merchandise manufactured and delivered on time. In the case of a bride, however, late shipments, extensions, customs holdups and shortages aren’t acceptable at all, so the wedding planner has his or her hands full just as much as an agent. Throughout the wedding planning or sourcing process there are a number of vendors supplying goods and services. A bride might have a caterer supplying food, a photographer, a DJ or band, florist, clergyperson, venue and more. A manufacturer might have fabric or trim suppliers, cutting and sewing services, shippers or freight forwarders and more. Retailers can be as demanding as a bride, so keep in mind your retailers requirements throughout the sourcing process.
That’s not the half of it, however. You don’t just start sourcing, just like you don’t just start planning a wedding. First, you need to think of your budget. How much do you have to spend to bring your products to market or to get yourself and your spouse-to-be to “I do?” Second, what should the end result look like? Third, what is the timeframe to get to the deliverable? How long do you have to plan this? In the wedding world, it may be months or years, in the retail world weeks are better than months and rarely can anyone get away with years. Fourth, how do you find a reliable, high quality agent or wedding planner that fits your requirements - budget, personality, location, contacts, etc.? Do you work off of recommendations, advertising, Angie’s List? How do you know that the person you entrust with your business will provide the services you need? Fifth, how do you begin to execute your plan? Where do you find your suppliers? How do you know the designs and fabric swatches you sent months ago will be delivered to your specifications and quantities? Can you get TOP samples? A bride can’t. But she can have her gown custom altered and, chances are good, you can’t do that with your production run. Sixth, what about logistics? What are you doing to track your purchase orders, customs clearing, quota numbers and containers? Let’s hope you have a good system in place to provide visibility to all of that information. If the bride is savvy, she’s tracking her information in an organizer or spreadsheet. Last, but not least, how are you tracking your finances? Letters of credit? Payments to your agent or vendors? Due dates and payment terms? Hopefully the bride is tracking her deposits and payments by check or credit card.
By the time I finished explaining the sourcing process with my bridal analogy, my friend actually understood sourcing better than many of my clients. Then I hit her with “Hopefully, this is the only wedding you’ll ever have to plan. Apparel manufacturers source year round for millions of products to be delivered to thousands of retailers. It’s like planning hundreds of wedding a year, without the cake tasting or big parties at the end.” And, if you do it right, make your deliveries and even make your margins, you’ll keep on doing it year after year.