“When you get to a certain size, the way you manage a business needs to change. You start to outgrow Word and PowerPoint and spreadsheets with the level of rigor required to track every detail.”
Chris (Rocky) Finlay, Chief Growth Officer of Otabo, explains the company’s growing pains before implementing Centric PLM. Otabo needed to manage their growth, communications, product ideation, development iterations and client partnerships more efficiently.
Today, Otabo has established more efficient product development workflows, improved transparency to both their customers and vendors, a way to bring all their product data together and a stronger infrastructure. Just how did they arrive in this place?
Sabrina Finlay, CEO of Otabo, learned the ins and outs of the industry from her family’s business in China, an OEM footwear manufacturer for brands such as adidas, Nike and Timberland. Sabrina launched her own business, Otabo in 2016.
The company fills a need for full-service manufacturing that allows smaller startups to compete with big brands, and big brands to become more agile and efficient. Her husband Rocky, also holds a leadership role. Today, Otabo has a network of 50+ factories at its disposal. It is relationship forward, transparent and quality focused.
Otabo embraces the idea that supply chains can be works of art. They’d always had strong Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place, but the company was growing rapidly and serving their customers the best way they could required many moving parts. The need for digital transformation became more apparent. Sabrina says about searching for a PLM, “Some people in the company started going to Rocky with complaints about what they needed and what we weren’t giving them in terms of technology. That was really the start of it.”
Says Rocky, “When you get to a certain size, the way you manage a business needs to change. You have to scale your management strategies, the way you teach, the way you distribute decisions, the way you move information, the way you protect information. All of these things need to be scaled.”
He continues, “I could see how powerful the habits of work are and how adding a PLM would amplify that work; reduce the time wasted, enable more transparency, more agility. We discussed that as a team, went through the demos. We understood that it would be worth the effort to make the switch… it’s an amplifying and accelerating infrastructure addition.”
Otabo based their search for a PLM solution on features, price and, in a departure from the usual, Glassdoor reviews. “There were so many employees who said they loved working at Centric,” says Rocky.
“The commitment to the success of our business sealed the deal.” He continues, “And being able to pivot and be agile, that’s been transformative for us and for the team. The teams really bonded well through that collaboration and that trust and transparency.
After a completely remote implementation in 2020, during a difficult year to begin with, Sabrina says, “One of the things that was really surprising to us and was not something we expected—Centric PLM has significantly changed the way we’re approaching the work and how our team works together. It really made us rethink what some of the roles in our business should be.”
With the single source of the truth provided by Centric PLM, Otabo reorganized their workflows. “Centric is so heavily integrated into everything. We actually discovered a lot more opportunities for organization, more SOPs, more and greater efficiencies—that’s been the most exciting part of all of this,” Sabrina says.
The pandemic forced the hand of companies all over the world. Strain on the supply chain and wildly varying consumer demand made for uncertain conditions. The lessons learned from Otabo are extremely valuable for any circumstance.
Sabrina explains that the pandemic didn’t necessarily bring anything new in terms of disruption, it was just more extreme. “The problems have always been the same; there’s an issue with the supply chain falling apart someplace or timelines or launch plans. Like deliveries not being able to make it on time because of shipping issues, a typhoon wiping out our materials inventory, one season. We’ve lost our power grid multiple times and had to shut down factories, relocate to other production lines, and so when I think about problems like that we just expect them to always be there.”
Sabrina says, “We’ve always put in a lot of contingency planning, and with 2020, the first thing we did was look at where we needed more transparency, and that was across the supply chain, but also on the client side. Understanding where everyone was in terms of their challenges. Really taking a step back and looking at the reality of our problems. We re-evaluated what to do with the supply chain and how to work with clients.”
“For example, provinces in China were quarantined. We definitely prioritize safety. If people couldn’t work in a safe environment or they couldn’t travel safely, we eliminated that as an option. We looked at, if our normal resources aren’t there where else do we go?” In a bold business move, Otabo reached out to competitors. Sabrina says, “We sought out factories hurting because their orders were cancelled by large brands. These are factories that were up and running with workers ready to go but no orders coming in. We ended up sharing workforces, partnering with competitors to make sure all of our businesses survive.”
On the supplier front, Otabo asked multiple vendors to develop the same material, letting them know that only one business would get the order. But the initial request still contributed to the overhead of starting the project, doing the development work, keeping people working.
This remarkable stance required open thinking and solid relationships. It was challenging because it extended to their clients, too. Sabrina says, “We had to go to the brands and tell them that we’re in a really hard place where we might not be able to deliver on this one thing but we can deliver a version of it. But it’s going to cost you more or it’s going to require you to deliver five shoe designs instead of one, so that we can alter it as needed.”
The lessons learned from all this are to develop strong, deep relationships with your vendors and clients, be flexible and agile, and always have a contingency plan.
Some of the same lessons can be applied to scaling. Before even thinking about scaling, Sabrina suggests you establish:
• Deep and trusting supplier relationships
• Good communication between client teams, vendors and internal teams
• Transparency about challenges, plans and risks
• Processes that are aligned to improve effectiveness
Taking a collection from 10,000 to 300,000 pairs of shoes can involve everything from changing manufacturing facilities to new suppliers to changing logistics and other details–it’s important that brands build the foundation to scale ahead of time.
Transparency, a key part of Otabo’s successful navigation of disruptions, is further enabled by Centric PLM. Sabrina says, “Having that one source of truth, and being able to dissect all of the information in terms of materials, vendor costing, and then tying all that together for design, gives the brands an understanding of the impact of their designs. You have transparency into the decisions and the compromises that the brands are making in terms of costing and timeline. This is what PLM is enabling us to do. It’s changing a lot of things in regards to how fast we are, but also how we think about our business.”