When it comes to sportswear, every customer has unique needs and preferences around style, size, and price. To empower customers across China to find their perfect fit, ANTA Group is working with IBM® Services™ to shape personalized, high-quality retail experiences in store, online and on mobile, supported by lean merchandising from SAP S/4HANA®.
To continue its substantial growth, ANTA aimed to capitalize on complex seasonal trends. How could the company build a smarter business with optimized merchandising, manufacturing, and logistics?
ANTA Group worked with IBM Services to integrate its operations from end to end with SAP S/4HANA, enabling predictive analytics to pinpoint opportunities at every moment in the retail cycle.
Fashion retail is one of the most complex and unpredictable industries when it comes to consumer trends. Multiple factors interact to influence which items will sell out fast and which will be left on the shelves. Sportswear is no exception, and everything from an unusually hot summer to a major sporting tournament can trigger massive fluctuations in demand.
Since 1991, sportswear specialist ANTA Group has been right in the heart of the action. Based in China, the company designs, markets and distributes many high-profile global brands, including ANTA, FILA, DESCENTE, KOLON SPORT and SPRANDI, from its own stores and through B2B and B2C retail partners.
With hundreds of product series and thousands of stock-keeping units, forward planning is critical for ANTA Group. Chen Dong Hai, IT Senior Director at ANTA Group, explains, “Because we support multiple brands and more than 10,000 retail stores, we need to drive effective merchandising to ensure we can produce and deliver the optimal quantity of each product series to capture every sales opportunity.”
Chen Dong Hai continues, “Every customer has unique needs and preferences around style, color, size, and price, which are also strongly influenced by the season. Since trends move so quickly, we need to plan at multiple points throughout the retail year. For example, we would typically run four separate merchandising planning exercises per year for our ANTA and ANTA KIDS brands alone, and use the insights to adjust our financial, supply chain, manufacturing, and logistics plans.”
ANTA Group is driving fast-paced growth. In 2019, the company recorded a 40 percent year-on-year increase in annual revenues. Keen to capitalize on the trend, ANTA Group aimed to drive up operational efficiency, enabling it to optimize its supply chain and capture incremental sales.
“Our finance, manufacturing, supply chain and logistics organizations were already functioning well, but we knew there was the potential to unlock new efficiencies in our approach to merchandising,” comments Chen Dong Hai. “In particular, we saw the possibility to improve collaboration between the different lines of our business. By re-engineering our business processes at each of our brands with a single, integrated, and automated ERP system, we were confident we could cut down the time required to complete the process dramatically.”
Chen Dong Hai adds, “As well as enabling us to complete more planning cycles each year, tighter front-to-back integration had the potential to enable lean, real-time merchandise management. By connecting real-time data from our point-of-sales [POS] systems and online systems with our merchandising process, there was the potential to dynamically replenish inventory in our retail stores based on the latest consumer trends. For ANTA Group, these capabilities would help to drive sales significantly. And for customers, this approach promised a higher quality and more personalized shopping experience.”
To realize its goals, ANTA Group embarked on a far-reaching digital transformation initiative, encompassing all its operations across China. As a first step, the company looked for an enterprise-wide ERP platform to support the new way of working.
After thoroughly reviewing a number of leading ERP platforms, ANTA Group chose to build its integrated operations on SAP S/4HANA. Powered by cutting-edge in-memory technology, SAP S/4HANA enables organizations to create highly complex forecasts at lightning speed, and disseminate the insights throughout the value chain with ease.
“SAP S/4HANA is truly a next-generation digital platform, and offered all the advanced analytics capabilities we were looking for to support our fast-growing business,” recalls Chen Dong Hai. “SAP also has a considerable footprint in the fashion retail space, which gave us confidence that the solution could support our industry-specific workflow requirements.”
Next, ANTA Group looked for an expert partner to guide it through its transformation journey. Following careful evaluation of several vendors, ANTA Group selected IBM Services to streamline and accelerate the move to SAP S/4HANA.
“Not only do IBM and SAP have a close strategic alliance, IBM Services also has a rich and impressive experience in SAP industry solutions for footwear and apparel,” comments Chen Dong Hai. “From the very start, the IBM team brought valuable insights, accelerators and best practices to the table, which helped us to get our transformation project off to a flying start. With IBM Services at our side, we knew we were in safe hands.”
Through a series of IBM Design Thinking workshops, ANTA Group and IBM analyzed the existing workflows and mapped out changes required to achieve the company’s target state. By combining on-site consultations with pre-packaged implementation templates, the IBM team helped ANTA Group to accelerate the process dramatically.
The SAP Integrated Delivery Framework helped to promote successful collaboration throughout the project by coordinating delivery roles, methodologies, and services—contributing to a low-risk, cost-effective and on-time deployment.
“Within a short span of just nine months, IBM Services helped us to go from planning to full production with SAP S/4HANA,” says Chen Dong Hai. “The new solution integrates every aspect of our business: including our back office, factories and retail operations. By supporting multiple brands and business models on a single digital planning engine, we’re in a strong position to realize our transformation objectives.”
Today, ANTA Group uses SAP S/4HANA to gain a single, accurate view of the performance of all its brands, channels, suppliers and profit centers. By consolidating the monitoring and management of group-wide key performance indicators, the company can gain insight into emerging retail trends more quickly, and cut the time required to close its books at the end of each month.
Since moving to SAP S/4HANA, ANTA Group has transformed its ability to detect and interpret changes in consumer demand. By accelerating its merchandising process, the company can now perform more frequent and granular analytics along dimensions such as inventory consumption, product category, geographical region, target age group, and more.
“In the past, we’d only have time to perform around four planning cycles for each of our brands per year, but thanks to SAP S/4HANA we can dive even deeper,” explains Chen Dong Hai. “For example, this year we plan to run 12 separate planning cycles for our ANTA KIDS brand. This three-fold increase in analysis will improve the accuracy of our predictions substantially, helping us to produce the optimal quality of each product line, capitalize on every sales opportunity, and capture incremental sales. Crucially, increasing the frequency of our planning will lead to a more relevant and personalized shopping experience for our customers, which will help us to strengthen engagement with our brands.”
The new way of working is also delivering powerful benefits for ANTA Group’s business operations. By improving the flow of information across the value chain, the company can automatically create, schedule and optimize its financial, manufacturing, logistics and supply chain processes.
Chen Dong Hai adds: “We estimate that we’ve boosted overall operational efficiency of our supply chain by more than 80 percent. This improvement is dramatically reducing the risk of production delays, helping us to increase throughput and continue our fast-paced business growth.”
Stephen Laughlin, General Manager, Global Consumer Industry at IBM says, "The creation of the new digital platform has helped improve efficiency in product distribution and can shorten decision time for product replenishment across the ANTA Group. It can also lay a solid foundation for ANTA’s next phase of digital transformation on their path to become a cognitive enterprise and to further support multi-brand, omni-channel and global development.”
ANTA Group has already had an opportunity to put its agile digital operations to the ultimate test. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, the company was able to pivot rapidly to a digital-first retail model to reduce the negative financial impact of a nationwide lockdown.
“Without question, our SAP S/4HANA platform delivered by IBM Services played a key role in helping us to scale up our ability to drive and processes customer orders through our e-commerce stores,” explains Chen Dong Hai. “Retailers can be especially vulnerable to sudden economic shocks like COVID-19, and our success in dealing with this challenging period illustrates why digital transformation is so important. Despite the crisis, we were able to harness the digital channel to deliver seamless retail journeys for all our customers.”
Based on the many positive results of its collaboration with IBM and SAP, ANTA Group is now looking to the future.
Chen Dong Hai says, "In the digital age, the best way to win and gain customer loyalty is to establish the most trustworthy and best quality in the market. ANTA has always been committed to using technology to promote the core change of management. As we look to the future to drive more direct-to-consumer interactions, we’re using data insights and will use artificial intelligence and automation to make our workflows more intelligent to meet and even exceed consumer expectations as they continue to evolve.”
Chen Dong Hai concludes, “Our next goal is to apply the digital strategy we’ve pioneered in China to our other business units around the world. By using our SAP S/4HANA deployment as a template, we are confident that we will accelerate our growth in international markets, and we plan to continue our close collaboration with IBM Services as we continue on that journey.”
Founded in 1991 and headquartered in Jinjiang, China, ANTA Group (link resides outside ibm.com)is a leading sportswear company specializing in the design, production and marketing of sportswear, accessories and other sports equipment. A publicly listed company, ANTA Group is one of the largest sportswear conglomerates in China, with brands including ANTA, FILA, DESCENTE, KOLON SPORT and SPRANDI. In China alone, ANTA sold more than 70 million pairs of shoes in 2018.
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