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)


BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart here is encouraging its suppliers to implement color-matching technology to streamline the color approval process that precedes production runs for new product, thus resulting in time and cost savings.Wal-Mart also expects this process to generate better overall quality and consistency, encouraging consumers to buy more private-label product and may at some point even result in the end of the dreaded lab dip.


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. »


For more information, call Datacolor’s marketing department at 1-800-982-6497 e-mail: marketingdontlike@spamdatacolorcom.spam.


Reprinted with Permission of Executive Technology, Fairchild Publications, Inc.