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FORMER JONES GROUP COO CINDY DIPIETRANTONIO WINS MILLIKEN ACHIEVEMENT AWARD; REFLECTS ON RFID’S ROLE IN RETAIL

Last week Cindy DiPietrantonio, former chief operating officer of The Jones Group, was honored with the prestigious 2014 GS1 US Apparel and General Merchandise Roger Milliken Achievement Award.

DiPietrantonio received the award to recognize her more than 30 years of contributions to the apparel and footwear industry, which included working the trenches to push RFID forward.

Cindy DiPietrantonio, former COO of The Jones Group, says some retailers use the cost of RFID as an excuse not to deploy.

DiPietrantonio took some time out last week to chat with RFID 24-7 about the initial challenges RFID faced, how she recognized that RFID was a major win for apparel, and her advice for retailers and vendors that have yet to deploy.

Talk about your feelings when you learned you had won the award.

“It’s quite an honor and very humbling. When I look at the past recipients, I’ve collaborated with many of them in some capacity. The only other woman to receive the award, Gay Whitney, had an endless passion for setting standards and pushing the opportunity that RFID presents. When they called to tell me I was being honored it was a pleasant surprise.”

Do you recall a specific moment that sold you on the use of RFID within Jones Group?

“Jones produced an easy-care, button-down shirt for women that the stores couldn’t keep in stock. It was a fabulous shirt, but in visiting our stores, one store couldn’t keep a size 12 in stock, and another was always out of size 8. It was like this at all of our stores.

“It would drive me crazy each time I went to a store and there were sizes missing. I’d talk to store associates and they said they couldn’t get them into the store quick enough. It’s a basic replenished item, and I wondered how much more we could sell if we had the stock in the store at all times.

“I followed the entire supply chain to see what needed to be done to keep these shirts in stock. Around that time I was invited to an industry meeting about RFID. I listened to some of the pilots and the thought process behind it, that’s where my interest started to peak. From a pure replenishment standpoint, I knew this could be a really big home run. At that point I joined in with Peter Longo (president of logistics and operations for Macy’s) in the VICS group. Peter and Macy’s were great partners to move this forward.”

Now that Jones Group has been sold to private equity firm Sycamore Partners, do you anticipate a new focus on RFID within their holdings?

“I think so, yes. Sycamore owns Talbots, they own Hot Topic, and I think they will really focus on sort of being the progressive leader out there. They have a huge footwear component with the Nine West umbrella, and with footwear there is so much opportunity when you think about samples on the floor. I can’t speak on their behalf but I do believe RFID will be a strong component going forward.”

What excites you about RFID, other than the inventory accuracy gains?

“Thinking back, I originally thought that loss prevention might have been the biggest upside from RFID until I saw some of the other components like inventory accuracy. And the whole consumer engagement aspect is exciting.”

After apparel, what sweet spots do you see for RFID in retail?

“I’m not as involved in the cosmetics world as I am with apparel, but I absolutely believe that cosmetics is a great win when it comes to RFID. From a consumer standpoint, we are creatures of habit. When I go to the store and look for lipstick in a certain color, there is nothing more frustrating than to watch the sales clerk go through all these small items, only to be told they are out of stock.

“Cosmetics are almost a basic item. Whether it’s a blush or eye shadow, it all comes down to color and the consumer wants their color. If you are out of stock on their color, then you risk losing that customer. So yes, I absolutely think there is a whole positive win on the cosmetics side.”

What do you think of the promise of RFID in other industries?

“I was recently speaking with a CEO of a company in another industry, and he was talking about some of the issues they continue to have with their equipment. One of the biggest problems for this company is locating the small equipment that they use in their own facilities. I told him about RFID. Why wouldn’t you use RFID for inventory and keeping track of your equipment? It was an interesting conversation of how RFID can impact something outside retail industry. In this case, it could be a huge win.”

What is your advice for companies, in retail or other industries, that have not adopted RFID?

“It’s interesting because there are industries in other segments out there that could really benefit but have not even been exposed to RFID yet. It’s a challenge because every day you are trying to keep your company moving forward and keep the wheels on the bus, and it can be tough to think outside the box and be innovative. You really need to have a strategic group to look at where you need to go in the future. Forget about today. You need a group that only focuses on the future and can look at emerging technologies and how you can leapfrog into the future. RFID is clearly one of those components.”

Is pricing still an issue that hinders deployment?

“I think pricing is an excuse. I think it’s an excuse not to have to engage in this.”

What has been your biggest frustration along the road to adopting RFID?

“The frustrating thing has been seeing a lot of the meetings with retailers and vendors starting out with questions about cost of RFID. People are always worried about the bottom line, and I understand that. But being concerned only with how much will this cost me is a showstopper.

“You need to take that component off the table and have discussions around the wins of RFID. You need to take the bottom line piece off the table and you need to have a supplier and retailer conversation about why this is really a win for us, and what can we accomplish. How can we deploy it and what are the issues of deploying? Obviously you’ve got to do it at the source at the factory level. Well, how can you make that happen? You need a collaborative meeting between retailers and vendors to see how this can truly be a win-win.”

Any other last words for retailers and apparel manufacturers?

“Only that if you are not engaged in these conversations and engaged in RFID technology today, then your company is standing still. At some point it will really impact your bottom line. You need to be innovative and look at future technology, and I really believe this is future technology that retailers truly need. It’s all about having product in the store when people want it. Some companies think that if they ignore this it will go away, and that’s just not going to happen.”

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