SNEWS began fielding emails and a few phone messages from retailers several weeks ago, wondering about the Snap-T and what we thought of Patagonia still selling it online, but telling retailers it was discontinued and not available to them. Some of these retailers even told us the Snap-T represented a large chunk of their Patagonia sales.
To be fair, demand for the Snap-T is coming from a very small, but apparently very vocal group of Patagonia retailers -- likely the same folks still asking for 5-inch inseams on the venerable Stand Up Shorts.
Still, if these retailers were being told the Snap-T was discontinued, and yet it was still for sale through Patagonia.com and Patagonia stores, something didn't smell right. So, we contacted Rich Hill, vice president of sales at Patagonia, who told us the company was already working to correct what he termed "an oversight."
According to Hill, "Through the FLOW program, we have brought the style back in small quantities to satisfy those retailers, and help us out of some excess fabric. Our error was that we didn't get the first small quantities up on the Dealer Net quick enough."
Of course, that left us wondering what the heck FLOW was.
In short, we have learned that FLOW is Patagonia's answer (still a work in progress) of how to solve the retail limitations created by our industry's early-buy timelines, front-loaded competitive sales programs, limited in-season open-to-buy, and the lack of an obvious sell-in window.
"What we know is that the consumer is demanding newness and is begging us to give them a reason to visit our stores more then twice a year," Hill told SNEWS.
Here is what Patagonia hopes FLOW will do:
>> React to customer demand by reinterpreting best-selling silhouettes for ASAP delivery.
>> React to customer demand by offering new styles in best-selling fabrics for ASAP delivery.
>> Make new technology available to the customer faster by launching styles that have missed the core line fabric and sales samples deadlines.
>> Deliver new product collections for summer and holiday.
"Bottom line, this new way of working creates great opportunities for us to better service our dealers, probably our most important work," Hill said. "We want to be able to provide them with a line that's fresh and responsive, and quickly takes advantage of market opportunities.
"It doesn't mean we're overlooking our 'normal' product development process; it just creates an environment that turns on a dime and significantly enhances what we're able to offer up in-between seasons," added Hill. "Additionally, it means we can respond to a call for 'old favorites' when appropriate."
As he did with the Snap-T.
SNEWS View: We've long bemoaned the limitation of our traditional product development cycles, which concentrates on product delivery that occurs twice a year and has 18-month lead times driven by a sales sample calendar. That approach requires intense planning, and certainly does not address the marketplace as a dynamic, changing environment. From what we can see, FLOW offers a nifty solution -- in theory. FLOW product development is intended to create a sense of urgency about getting new product to market in order to meet the needs of the consumer as fast as possible. And that's a good thing. Now, how to implement that idea into outdoor specialty retailers who are used to a traditional buy-sell cycle is another thing altogether. Traditional early-buy timelines, competitive sales programs focused on getting retailers to commit open-to-buy dollars early, limited in-season open-to-buy dollars for many retailers, and the lack of an obvious sell-in window are all legitimate challenges Patagonia will have to find an answer for if FLOW is truly going to, err, flow.