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Bonpoint is a specialty retailer of luxury childrenswear, with stores in many of the worlds designer shopping destinations. After opening its first boutique in Paris about thirty years ago, the brand has grown to become the childrens clothing equivalent of other prestige labels such as Dior, offering everything from pants, perfume and poupes. Today, the retailer has around 50 stores, in select locations across Europe, the US, and Arab Emirates. The French retailer acknowledges that a large chunk of its 30 million annual revenue comes from the dominant French, UK and US markets, where the childrenswear market is estimated by Mintel at a staggering $28 billion. Further expansion is anticipated next in Asia, and notably Japan, where the retailer is currently only present through concessions in department stores and independent retailers.

The company designs all its clothes from its Paris head office, working with suppliers from all over the world for production and distribution. But because of the challenges of operating a growing retail business in such far-flung parts of the globe, and so that it can support its international markets, the company decided to invest in technology which would give the retailer greater foresight in both planning and communication.

Improving Communication Links and Customer Service
Bonpoint selected an integrated head office solution from European retail software vendor, VcsTimeless. The IT solution, Colombus Entreprise Suite, helps the retailer collectively manage the movement of stock between stores; as well as to and from its 8,000 m central warehouse in Ivry sur Seine in France. The software offers various analytical tools which can be used to allocate specific merchandise to certain stores, based on how sales have been performing across the estate. It also gives a simple means of communication, so that if, for instance, one store wants to know if another has an outfit it has sold-out of, then store staff can easily check and so avoid a lost sale.

The luxury childrenswear market is very much about offering excellent customer service, so if a customer asks for a certain size or style, we like to be able to satisfy them quickly and efficiently, commented Andr Huitorel, IT Director at Bonpoint. We needed an elaborate retail system able to cope with managing an expanding international business. In addition, for our stores, we needed a simple-to-use solution which looks slick enough for a top-end fashion retailer.

Managing an International Business
Huitorel also acknowledged the importance of a multi-lingual and multi-currency system when running an international retail business. He added that it plans to install a new IT module from next year, Colombus Regional, to give greater autonomy to stores outside of France, where currently everything is centrally controlled. This next phase of development is due for completion by the end of this year, with particular emphasis on the US, where longer distances for shipping make regional autonomy more of a priority.

Colombus Regional will eventually give all overseas stores, exclusive online access to a sophisticated mix of integrated retail technology. It will provide instant links for own-label stores, concessions, or independent retailers to the Bonpoint head office system, giving up-to-the-minute information on available merchandise, suggested pricing, or even the time it will take to replenish a store. It effectively offers a scaled-down version of the head office system, but based on the specific needs of a particular market.

Increased Profitabilty and Time Savings
Streamlining the retail operations is something Huitorel sees as saving the company thousands of pounds, as well as bringing it up-to-speed with other retailers systems. He said that stock taking is also massively simplified, with around a million articles recorded in the system, and only about one per cent ever lost.

Markdowns and discounting have been minimised as a result of better planning, said Huitorel. Its partly down to the technology that we havent had a bad year for such a long time, as weve been able to manage both distribution and production so much more efficiently. Buyers can react to sales regionally and make sure that we dont get left with too much stock at the end of a season in one place, and too little in another.

Another benefit of the system is in its ability to make sense out of very complex fiscal arrangements, which vary from country to country (or in the US, from state to state), which also have an important bearing on price. This means that store staff dont have to get too involved in the peculiarities of tax exemptions in certain locations, because the technology does it all for them. For example, there is no tax on childrenswear up to a certain age in the UK; or tax is only added above specific levels of spending in parts of the US.

Weve expanded fairly rapidly on an international scale, and as soon as were properly organised in all our new outlets, we can expand even more, said Huitorel. With everything controlled from Paris at the moment, distribution and communication is just too complicated. Colombus Regional will allow us to overcome this, and then we expect to be opening more boutiques.

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