Evolving Sourcing Strategies of U.S. Apparel Companies

The full article is available HERE

To better understand companies’ latest sourcing practices, we recently examined the detailed sourcing portfolios of the 50 largest U.S.-based apparel companies ranked by the Apparel Magazine. Specifically, we conducted a content analysis of each company’s publicly released annual reports and their financial statements from 2014 to 2017 (the latest information available), with a focus on the following two research questions: 1) How have the sourcing strategies of U.S. apparel companies evolved? 2) How have the evolving sourcing strategies affected companies’ financial performance? Here are the key findings:

First, U.S. apparel companies overall adopt a diverse sourcing base. Among the 50 companies we examined, on average they sourced from over 20 different countries or regions using more than 200 vendors in 2017. These results echo the findings of the 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) in July. Based on a survey of nearly 30 executives from leading U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers, the study also found companies with more than 1,000 employees typically source from more than ten different countries and regions. Also, larger companies, in general, adopt a more diverse sourcing base than smaller ones.

Second, while U.S. apparel companies are actively seeking new sourcing bases, many of them are reducing either the number of countries they source from or the number of vendors they work with. Specifically, among the top 50 U.S. apparel companies examined, around 28 percent increased the number of countries or regions they use as sourcing bases between 2014 and 2017. However, over the same period, 52 percent chose to consolidate their existing sources base, but on a small scale. Likewise, among the top 50 U.S. apparel companies examined, approximately half reduced the number of vendors they use between 2014 and 2017, compared with 33 percent that chose to source from more vendors.

Third, for risk control purposes, most U.S. apparel companies avoid relying too much on any single vendor; however, some companies have begun to allocate more sourcing orders to its largest vendors. The top 50 U.S. apparel companies we examined on average assigned no more than 10 percent of their total sourcing value or volumes to any single vendor in 2017. This practice suggests that minimizing supply chain risks is a critical consideration of U.S. apparel companies’ sourcing strategy. Nevertheless, between 2014 and 2017, around 45 percent of apparel companies we examined raised the cap slightly.

Fourth, regarding the financial implications of the adjustment of sourcing strategies, companies that diversified their sourcing bases between 2014 and 2017, in general, were able to reduce sourcing cost and improve gross margin. In comparison, U.S. apparel companies we examined that consolidated their sourcing base between 2014 and 2017 suffered a slight decline in their gross margin percentage.

On the other hand, however, there was no clear pattern between a company’s choice of sourcing strategy and their net profit margin. While multiple factors could come into play, one possible explanation for the results is that that either diversifying or considering the sourcing base would incur additional management cost for the company.

Recommended citation: Luetje, J., & Lu, S. (2018).How do apparel sourcing shifts impact the bottom line?. Just-Style. Retrieved from https://www.just-style.com/analysis/how-do-apparel-sourcing-shifts-impact-the-bottom-line_id134604.aspx

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

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