Consulting Solutions for Fashion Industry Volatility


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture. I'm Emily lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:12 

I'm Bret Schnitker. 

Emily Lane 00:13 

We speak with experts where we explore the global dynamics that shape trends in the fashion industry, 

Bret Schnitker 00:20 

brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global production and design house with over 30 years of industry experience. 

Emily Lane 00:36 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today, we're going to be talking about the volatility in the apparel industry, and the power of consulting. So Bret, welcome back. 

Bret Schnitker 00:48 

Thank you. It'll be a short episode, because we know there's no volatility in the garment industry. 

Emily Lane 00:53 

Well, let's talk about that a little bit. You know, we've, we've in the last year have seen a lot of volatility is this is this new? 

Bret Schnitker 01:03 

Yeah, I've heard lately, a lot of people say, you know, we live in the craziest time ever. And I suspect that's not necessarily true. I think the world's always been crazy from its inception, I think, you know, technology and communication is really bought brought that crazy front and center for a lot of people, we see it and experience it in real time. You know, I think that when situations in the world occur like that, you know, human kind does kind of one or two things, right? We talked about, you know, fight or flight. And I think they, you know, part of its kind of reaction in fear, or there's this intuition, adaptability and creativity that comes out of, you know, trying to find your way through a new solution. You know, I'm excited about what we're going to be seeing from the evolution of these times. And, and I think that, you know, in our business, I'm, I'm never bored by the constant challenge in the apparel business. And so I think, you know, in a lot of times in the context of the episode that we're talking about today, you know, there are a number of people and me at times even that have been faced with situations that you're kind of in the middle line, like, I don't I don't have the answers, I need some. I need some support and help. And I think there's a lot of wisdom in our industry. And for those times that that we need, reassurance to make a good decision, or we need more information to make a good decision. There are there are certainly opportunities for consultancy, to, to help out. 

Emily Lane 02:42 

Yes, so let's talk about that a little bit. You know, and you've commonly have talked about in the past, having some skepticism around consulting, I'd love to learn a little bit about where that came from. And then how did that shift for you? 

Bret Schnitker 02:56 

Yeah, I think a lot of people have skeptic skepticism and consulting. I mean, there's a lot of, hey, if you can't, you know, do teach kind of theories. And, you know, when you, when you bring in a consultant, they don't have all the burden of a good or bad decision, because you're gonna pay him they give you your opinion, they walk away. And I think, you know, that that older age of consulting was riddled with challenges. And I certainly, early in my career, I experienced some pretty crazy ones, actually. And I think that, that, that, for my opinion, for a lot of years on consultancy, but I think, over the years, when I really came up against a wall, I really, internally, we talked as a team, we tried to find solutions, and, and, you know, every team has wonderful skill sets, you know, things that you're really good at, and then there's always things that, you know, in many cases teams need, need some help on and, and when we've brought in consultants in those cases, and I think consultants need to be well vetted. You know, you always must, you must have a combination of kind of internal wisdom and external wisdom and kind of bet them as they go along. But I think in the times that we've done those things, right, yeah, then consultancy has been a benefit. I can also say that even with you know, our evolution and the knowledge that we've had, we've brought in some consultancies and they're liking right, 

Emily Lane 04:26 

you know, even myself included, right? We've we've kind of met as a as a part of that process. 

Bret Schnitker 04:33 

And I think, you know, I had my baggage when we first started talking. 

Emily Lane 04:37 

You were a skeptic. 

Bret Schnitker 04:38 

And I think, you know, sometimes playing a little bit of a skeptic at the outset helps really that the tenacity and skill set of the the possible consultant didn't give up you. You continue to find ways to engage the conversation, break down some of the walls of concern I had and bring value. And I think, you know, a good consultant will show that they can bring value and they can they have the patience to overcome the objection of the concern, you know, of the potential client. 

Emily Lane 05:12 

Yeah. You having intuition on that side from a consultancy side is absolutely important, you have to really understand what are the dynamics that you're working with? How do you know when it's really time that you need more than your, the strength of your internal team, it's time to engage outside help, 

Bret Schnitker 05:33 

When your first senior executive lights himself on fire, then you probably have a clue that you're going no, I, I think that it happens at different stages for different people. I think people that are, you know, we've talked about in previous episodes, you know, that if you are constantly evolving, you're still making mistakes and the evolution, right, you know, if you're reaching, you're always making mistakes, there's always risk and innovation. But I think along the way, if you're, if you're evolving, you can be a little bit more keenly aware to things that aren't really lining up the way that you would hope them to. And you can make small minor changes with consultancies along that path. And then, of course, you know, the worst scenario where you're going along a path, it's, we've done it this way, forever, we're going to continue to do it this way, the world changes around you, and you wake up one day and the house is burning down. And you know, those consultancies can be very, very difficult. I think that in my experience, in the past, when the house has been burning down in previous organizations, where they did have that kind of mentality, you know, the expectation for a consultant is in many times unrealistic, you know, they're brought on for a certain period of time, generally a shorter period of time. And if the house is on fire, you might be putting out a few fires, you might be addressing how to avoid future fires in your house. But, you know, it takes time to affect change, especially at a point where there's, there's some damage going well, 

Emily Lane 07:03 

It takes time to devolve, and it will take time to evolve. So and I would like to talk about that, for sure. But let's circle back to a previous couple previous statements where you talked about, you know, making sure that a consultant So, you know, how do you go about what are the considerations that you make when finding the right fit? 

Bret Schnitker 07:24 

Yeah, that's a good question. I think, you know, looking at experiences, one thing, a good consultant will have a very strong, you know, experience sheet, I think to what's important is that you, you vet them with previous clients, and not always the pre selected ones, but you really try to look through and get an extensive list and figure out and ask the consultant, good consultants will be open with Hey, this one went, right, this one didn't go so right. So you can kind of that where the experience lies within the consultants. strengths and weaknesses, right. 

Emily Lane 08:01 

I think you're seeing there too. If they give you the examples of when it didn't work, right, you get to understand what were the dynamics that didn't marry well together. 

Bret Schnitker 08:08 

Well, apparently, right. And then I think a lot of companies don't do this. They don't vet it with their team, they don't sit down, have conversations with a consultant with the team that's existing, you know, many times when when difficulty happens in an organization, it isn't the wholesale, the team is just bad, right? You don't wake up one day, and you're just bad. You haven't gone from being geniuses, to idiots. And so I think, you know, we have to be cognizant that there's still value and a lot of the existing team, there might be some changes that need to happen for people that don't want to evolve. But when you start to vet that consultant through the team, you've got a lot of eyes looking at the consultant to sit down and have dialogue and, you're never going to get this 100% consistency, but you certainly get to get some good feedback. So it gives you an opportunity on where and how to engage that possible consultant for your benefit. I would think too, by engaging your team to be a part of it, you're going to get a better rate of adoption, because they've been a part of the process as opposed to left on the outside. Now it's time to implement all these new ideas. Yeah, well, it's important because change is tough, right? Well hate to change and consultants, especially when a house is burning down. They're burdened with creating, you know, they're the change maker, the ones Hey, I have to bring you to reality on where these things are happening. If they're good at what they do. And you're right, I you know, if we consultants just kind of dropped in the middle of the mass and said, hey, go do your thing. There can be a lot more resistance and change can take longer. 

Emily Lane 09:49 

Yeah, I would imagine too that it's also important in kind of building that team rapport with your consultant really gauging is this a fit from a personality standpoint, 

Bret Schnitker 10:03 

Yeah, that's a tough one because sometimes, you know, personality fits are important. I think most skilled consultants understand that they wouldn't be successful if they didn't say they understand they're stepping into difficult dynamics to begin with. So there has to be some interpersonal skills to begin with. I think that there's always, I think, coming with the territory, delivering difficult news, personalities can receive that information in different ways. And so you've got to be prepared as a leader to know that I've engaged my team as best I can, I'm going to value my team's opinion. But that consultant may say things that might not be received super well, by different people, you will always find in those dynamics that certain people are kind of like, man, I see the problem, I'm ready to address it. And I mean, I'm engaged and excited about what this person has to say. And then you will find the other half, you know, the other side of the spectrum where they're like, you know, look, it's their fault. And I'm doing my job. And, you know, I don't want to hear that. And I think, as a senior executive, the management of the consultancy relationship, and, you know, the internal team is critical. And a lot of that occurs through a lot of communication upfront. 

Emily Lane 11:25 

I'm also hearing that it's important to kind of respect the opinions of the consultants like you've hired them. Yeah, you know, now all of a sudden, those opinions aren't agreeing with everybody, you know, what do you how do you, as a leader, determine what feels right for your organization versus, you know, what, I've hired this consultant for a reason, I'm going to trust what they're telling me. Yeah, how do you balance that 

Bret Schnitker 11:50 

I try to think of it as a global respect kind of machine. I think that as long as you're kind of respecting the internal people's decisions, and you're respecting the skill set of the consultant, I think, marrying the two working through those dynamics, having detailed conversations to vet things. I have seen organizations that wholesale, just follow the consultants decision, because look, I'm paying him, so we're going to do this. And they've gone down some pretty difficult routes, because, you know, consultants are human beings too. And they can make mistakes. And I think, you know, a very good hat for a consultant to put on is, look, this is what my experience tells me to do. I'm providing the information. But ultimately, it's up to senior management of the organization that you're consulting with to make those ultimate decisions, it should not be a situation that's kind of pushed down your throat. And I think that was evident when you started, you know, discussing consultancy with us. And I think, initially, it was probably a pretty solid wall. I think you knew how to kind of dismantle brick at a time and develop a rapport and a relationship and had a few wins in there that started building trust. And I think, again, built into that dynamic with consultancy, that makes that challenging is typically when you're hiring a consultant, it's within a compressed timeline. So how do you build that some of those thoughts and expectations as you bring in a consultant, is that depending on the severity of the problem, you need to be prepared about the length of that relationship, because you need to do a lot of this soul searching and, and change, especially large change takes time. 

Emily Lane 13:39 

Right? I've noticed it, you know, in the industry right now, a common trend is this downsizing and reaction to the volatility, you know, and so a lot of people are coming in and they're 

Bret Schnitker 13:50 

Reaction and over reaction right? That's a challenging position to be in it's not exactly an exact correlation to the Peter Principle, but it's, you know, you're taking on a lot. And so in taking on a lot and some of it not being your skill set, you open yourself up to some negative consequences, because you've accepted that responsibility. I think, again, it comes to communication as people downsize, I think it's very important that teams within organizations are very clear to communicate that this is within my skill set. I can do this well, and this is not within my scope. If you give me that responsibility, there could be some issues and I think there ends starts to develop an opportunity for an outside consultant to have individual conversations with, you know, a downsized organization or, you know, a management base that's been consolidated a little bit and figure out strengths and weaknesses through the organization and make suggestions recommendations on avoiding issues where you're giving that burden to people that may not be prepared for it. 

Emily Lane 13:52 

Absolutely. And so, you know, a lot of people are coming into positions where now they need to lean on maybe expertise that they don't have, they're having to wear more hats than usual. You know, how would you advise people in these positions that are, you know, all of a sudden straddled with, you know, I don't necessarily have time to engage outside help I have all these jobs I need to do. But, you know, I still need to keep things moving forward, you have any thoughts and advice and how to manage that situation? 

Bret Schnitker 14:23 

In our industry. Are there other areas where you see opportunity for organizations who are evolving, that, you know, where outside make sense? Oh, my gosh, I think in our industry in general. You know, let's look at trend and fashion. For instance, I think trend and fashion. within any brand, there's this blend between understanding what works for your clients and looking at historical information, turn, sell offs, opportunities, percentage, you know, growth opportunities to fill in, there's this numerical equation and having some consistency of your brand DNA. And there's also an opportunity to, to look at what's going on in the world around and then have these opportunities to stay fresh and current. And within I think our business specifically as it relates to fashion, having outside consultants or having outside designers, given projects to be able to bring freshness into the organization would be a really good you know, place for designers. Yeah, invigoration, a little bit of, hey, let's think outside the box, when it comes to that, I think, you know, as we move into an online space, oh, my god that is evolving. so incredibly rapidly, all of that technology. So having having people that are focused on on the latest newest technology is going to be super important. Things change overnight. You know, we talked about the new iOS update and how it radically changed the ability to retarget Yeah, retarget, manage customer base. And there's a lot of concern about, you know, what was a, a successful organized business managing it through these different channels. Now that that new iOS came in? It's kind of like darkness, you don't have that information? And how are you going to pivot in a situation like that and remain, you know, viable? And so outside consultants could be really important in that area. 

Emily Lane 17:34 

So here we are, you know, that this latest example, is, is a really good one, you know, we've we've seen, we've seen clients that have had, you know, overnight reduction in sales due to evolution in online technology. At what point like, how are you. We've talked about how to find the right consultant, but we haven't really talked about how are you measuring the success of the advice that they provide? And so, you know, obviously, sales might be one measure of success. But do you have other thoughts on how you measure the the impact of the information, especially given what you talked about? Where not, not all changes can happen overnight, right? 

Bret Schnitker 18:19 

I think, you know, there's a ton of examples, that you point out that while the consultant is positioned there, the reality of change could be much further down the road than the time that you've got for that consultant. And so that, to me, is the most difficult dynamic of all, because you're, you're hiring a consultant for a month or two, you realize that the fact that he may bring might not happen for a year or two. And so, you know, I think that vetting it is an ongoing process of team meets consultant. And I think, you know, walking through those different steps along the way, understanding and vetting, the timing that the consultants going to tell you that it's going to take, and then looking at industry statistics to figure out if that's kind of an accurate statement, you know, for different steps along the way, I think, even if you're doing radical shifts to, you know, brand DNA, and design and styling Look, the average delivery time from concept to delivery of product, sure, you know, in our industry, you know, unless your real fast turn very fast fashion driven like that is usually you're planning a year and a half, two years out. So, you know, to see those changes happen, and then see the customer adopted, and then making decisions on the positive parts of those changes can be three five year process. 

Emily Lane 19:55 

You really are investing in the future. 

Bret Schnitker 19:57 

You're investing in the future. Yeah. And so that's why I think making sure that consultant has had a lot of skill, a long track record of success. You know, if the consultant has been around for a while, it's important to look at scenarios or, or case examples that he's worked at years ago. And then dialogue about the teams today of things that he might have implemented, you know, years ago and see, oh, man, that change really helped us as an organization years down the road. Yeah, you know, not always looking at the latest last six months worth of consultancies, is really going to give you a good answer. 

Emily Lane 20:38 

So knowing that it's really the impact is often so far in the future. How do you know when it's not working? And then, you know, it's time to maybe cut the losses and not, you know, maybe go a different direction? 

Bret Schnitker 20:54 

Yeah, that's, again, a little bit challenging, I think there's some, some simple red flags and consistency of path and process is something that should send up a red flag. You know, there is such a thing as pivoting when you have more information, which can happen, but a good consultant should come in and really try to get a very strong lay of the land from interviewing people, looking at numbers internally looking at dynamics, doing a wholesale historical study. First, we had a situation with a large client, there's about a year and a half ago, and they were going from a half a billion, and their investment group wanted to go to over a billion or a billion and a half. And they came to us because they were like, well, you know, where can we grow? How, where is our opportunity? And they had a number of a number of categories and a lot of detailed information, I don't think we realized how detailed. I think when we accepted the task, we were downloaded with I think, a million and a half lines of information. So we had to distill all of that, but through that process, I think numbers tell the stories, if you can understand how to distill them correctly. And there's some specific metrics to do that. A good consultant will be able to walk through those metrics uses a basis for, hey, here's what's working, here's what's not, you know, it is a typical of an organization that's struggling or stuck in a place that everything is wrong. Usually there are things that are going right, and there are things that are going wrong, and the good consultant recognize those two and kind of put, hey, here's the good, here's the bad. And here's the ugly call. And so being able to address all those things, and using some statistics at the base to be able to support that, and then creating a streamlined plan to execute the next steps with clarity will help you know the good consultant. If those things aren't occurring, those will be red flags to me for sure. You know, if you, you know that I can't tell you the number of times I have seen organizations that will hire on a new CEO or a new manager and it is wholesale change at the beginning. They feel that it is I have to make my mark on the organization, I'm going to just wholesale change everything. 

Emily Lane 23:12 

Yeah, slash the staff. 

Bret Schnitker 23:14 

Yeah, that makes sense to do it incrementally too because you can, again, kind of track the evolution of the impact of those changes as opposed to everything's changed. It's radically different. Yeah, it's like the change happens almost instantaneously. And whenever I see a situation like that, that tells me a lack of experience, it tells me that it's more of an ego stroke, honestly, because a very good new CEO, a very good senior consultant is not going to make wholesale changes like that, you're going to take time to discover the details of the organization, to really drill down on numbers to have a dialogue with a ton of people, and then start to make a plan, vet plan with the team that's there, address any elephants in the room in terms of problems quickly and decisively, with a team again, and be able to construct a roadmap going forward. And those that just go in and slash and burn or consultants that walk in and just say we're gonna do this immediately and do it. You know, do it quickly. I think I think anything within organizations is is incremental, sometimes those increments can move at a faster pace or slower pace. But you've got to realize that large organizations, even medium sized organizations, change takes time. And to vet the change that the decisions no one has a crystal ball. So there's going to be some well based decisions, but it's going to take time to get that done and you can't just go in and make wholesale changes. And that goes to the timing that you're talking about bringing in consultants. I think the pressure on the revolutionary organizations that the house is burning down, they don't generally have time for incremental change, therefore it become it can become quite difficult to make those changes for both the consultant and the internal teams, it's much better to try to address little things as you go along, saying, hey, this particular thing isn't working exactly right. Let's go attack that with, with some outside advice. 

Emily Lane 25:24 

Yeah. Well, those are all really great thoughts. I have one final question for you, especially know that you've been in the industry a long time, you've been, the person running the organizations and running a company for so many years now, not to make you feel old, but you've made the transition into consulting. What has been your favorite part of being the person that is brought in to help? 

Bret Schnitker 26:00 

I've spent years doing a lot of things wrong. You know, I've learned the hard way, as most human beings do over these years and I think that, you know, at my stage in life, what's nice is that I hopefully, I sound like a dad now to a kid, let me tell you what to do. So you don't make those mistakes. I think that that brings me really great joy to be able to sit down and take my experience and be able to sit down and have just straightforward dialogues with people in hopes that we can, you know, we can guide them in the right direction, we can give them some some advice on how to avoid the pitfalls. Yeah. And I think that that's, that's an exciting thing. And to see that, look, some of the ideas, work and blossom and grow, some of the ideas that you suggest are, are taken into heart, and some of them are, hey, we'll think about that, you know, it's it's not our job to really drive that change. It's our job as a consultant to suggest opportunities for change or suggest, you know, better ways to do things if we have an idea on that. And then it's up to the organization itself and the current leadership to make those adjustments. 

Emily Lane 27:12 

That's all really great. Bret, thank you so much for sharing, we do have some good resources on this topic on our website at Stars Design Group, you will find a blog that Bret recently published that really helps kind of spell out a lot of what we talked about today, but in further detail of how to go about finding the right consultant and vetted and so forth 

Bret Schnitker 27:35 

Some old history of bad consultants 

Emily Lane 27:36 

That's true, some of those red flags that we talked about. And of course, if you have any questions on this topic, please, by all means, reach out, you can find us you know, again on our website at Stars Design Group, you can find us on our social media both for at Stars Design Group and Clothing Coulture, and certainly make sure to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes of our podcast Clothing Coulture. Thanks for joining us. 

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Consulting Solutions for Fashion Industry Volatility