Zara Thrives by Ignoring Conventional Wisdom

Zara Thrives by Breaking All the Rules

Many U.S. apparel retailers are choking on slow-moving inventories as consumers hold back on spending. But Spain’s Inditex, whose Zara chain pioneered cheap chic, is zipping ahead. The $13.8 billion company, which is closing in on Gap (GPS) for the title of world’s biggest clothing retailer, has nearly quadrupled sales, profits, and locations since 2000

Wages are higher at Inditex—its factory workers in Spain make an average of $1,650 a month, vs. $206 in China’s Guandong Province. But the company saves time and money on shipping. Also, Inditex’s plants use just-in-time systems developed in cooperation with logistics experts from Toyota Motor (TM), which gives the company a level of control that would be impossible if it were entirely dependent on outsiders.

In addition, Inditex supplies every market from warehouses in Spain. Even so, it manages to get new merchandise to European stores within 24 hours, and, by flying goods via commercial airliners, to stores in the Americas and Asia in 48 hours or less.

As a result, the chain doesn’t have to slash prices by 50%, as rivals often do, to move mass quantities of out-of-season stock. Since the chain is more attuned to the most current looks, it also can get away with charging more than, say, Gap. “If you produce what the street is already wearing, you minimize fashion risk,”

For rivals hoping to mimic Inditex’s results, analyst Luca Solca of Sanford C. Bernstein has a bit of advice: Don’t follow the Zara pattern halfheartedly. “The Inditex way is an all-or-nothing proposition that has to be fully embraced to yield results.”

Very true. Processes work well within a system. You can’t copy from one system to another. You can learn about what has been successful and figure out how you can adapt to take advantage of the ideas within your systems.

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