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2011 RFID Journal Award Winner: Best RFID Implementation—Gerry Weber's Pain-Free RFID Revolution

The clothing designer and retailer tracks garments from manufacturing sites to warehouses and retail stores, to improve inventory management and deter theft.
By Jennifer Zaino
Jul 25, 2011—Change is tough, and Gerry Weber International, a German-based women's clothing designer and retailer, had big changes in mind—using radio frequency identification technology to track items throughout its supply chain and in its retail stores. The idea was to incorporate RFID tags with electronic article surveillance (EAS) functionality for loss prevention into each garment's product-care label. So when the company set out on its ambitious plan, it adopted a conservative strategy. "We revolutionize business processes where it doesn't hurt," says Gerry Weber CIO Christian von Grone.

Gerry Weber's philosophy dates back to summer 2009, when the company first piloted RFID technology in four stores. von Grone says that's when he discovered that to many store employees, "RFID is voodoo." The company decided to minimize confusion regarding RFID by leaving some of its most important processes—including checkout—unchanged. Similarly, the implementation of RFID at the point of manufacture didn't require suppliers to adjust any of their procedures.

Marrying its ambitious RFID plans with a managed approach has allowed Gerry Weber to realize its goals. Today, the company is RFID-tracking approximately 20 percent of the 25 million items it produces annually, under brand names including Gerry Weber, Gerry Weber Edition and G.W., as well as Samoon and Taifun by Gerry Weber. This involves working with some 240 outsourced manufacturing partners in China, Turkey and other countries, as well as the company-owned plant in Romania, a handful of third-party transport and warehouse logistics partners, and roughly 200 House of Gerry Weber stores in Germany.

The Revolution Begins
While change starts at the point of manufacture, don't ask the suppliers about it. Gerry Weber orders RFID-EAS labels from Avery Dennison, which has worldwide printing facilities, at the same time it places an order with a supplier. Avery Dennison transmits the order, which includes an XML file dictating garment care data and assigned Electronic Product Code numbers, to the printing center nearest to the manufacturing site. There, the labels are printed and the EPCs are programmed. Avery Dennison delivers the RFID-EAS care labels to the suppliers' doorsteps, and the workers follow standard procedures for sewing the labels onto items or attaching them to hangtags.

"There's nothing installed on the manufacturing site," von Grone says. "There are no extra steps in the process, and it's not more expensive for them to manufacture the garments than before." As a result, Gerry Weber was able to roll out RFID to all its manufacturers in just three months.

Where the company needed to adapt processes to benefit from RFID, it did. Now, the designer/retailer acts on information that comes from its third-party logistics providers, DHL Solutions and Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, which pick up the orders from the manufacturers. Both logistics firms have installed tunnel readers in their Far East warehouses; the interrogators read the RFID tags on garments, which are packed in boxes, before each shipment leaves the warehouse. The EPC numbers from each box are transmitted automatically to Gerry Weber's supply-chain management system, so any concerns can be addressed immediately. "If 500 items are missing, we can call the supplier and ask if there's a second shipment coming or find out what is the matter with the delivery," von Grone says.
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