A lab dip is a sample of fabric dyed by a manufacturer or supplier to a specific color ordered by the designer, in this case, Wal-Mart. Using traditional methods, achieving the right color has been a time-consuming ordeal in the product development process. Wal-Mart’s suppliers are the principal beneficiaries in terms of cost savings. Although it is still too early to measure dollars saved, a process that once involved as many as six lab-dip submissions has been streamlined to two or three. That adds up quickly, as a single lab dip alone costs about $100. Furthermore, samples produced from lab dips have to be ferried back and forth between the designers and manufacturers, incurring expensive courier charges.
The benefit to Wal-Mart is in the time savings: the process now takes only about three weeks, compared with four to six weeks a year ago, meaning the retailer can respond to market demands more quickly. Momentum to roll out the solution came from Claire Watts, Wal-Mart’s vice president, divisional merchandise manager and product development manager, who wanted to find a way to streamline the color approval process.
Watts told Consumer Testing Laboratories, Canton, Mass., an independent quality auditor to whom Wal-Mart has outsourced quality control, to research digital color systems for some options.
According to Denise Wilson, the lab’s director of color quality, “We spent a year researching technology to take the subjectivity out of color approval and to help our suppliers streamline this cumbersome process.” The system, consisting of eight spectrophotometers, accompanying software and two color-comparison applications, all from Datacolor International, Lawrenceville, N.J., was installed at the lab in March 2000.
Wal-Mart is now introducing the system to suppliers, many of whom have also begun using this equipment to communicate color specifications with Wal-Mart. “We don’t require that they use it. We recommend that it will be beneficial if they choose it,” Wilson said. “A lot of them already had pieces of the system and found they would only have to update their software.”
In Living Color by Andree Conrad (originally printed in the December 00 “Executive Technology”; also seen in Women’s Wear Daily, December 27, 2000, page 10); Reprinted with Permission of Executive Technology, Fairchild Publications, Inc.