Planning and forecasting best practices from a leading personal-care brand

Larra Haftevani, Director of Retail Partnerships @ Billie

Even the best-laid plans rarely match reality. And yet, planning is an essential part of any business, especially one looking to grow its retail footprint. The real objective for consumer brands is to close the gap between planning and execution in the real world, and that means using all of the data at your disposal to plan smarter and execute your plans better.

As Billie’s Director of Retail Partnerships Larra Haftevani is leading the brand’s launch into new retail partners. Before Billie, Larra spent a year and a half at quip — so she understands the essential interplay between smart planning and sales execution.

In a recent webinar we sat down with Larra to understand how she thinks about planning for a retail launch, and the value of retailer-provided forecasts and doing your own forecasting as well.

Alloy:
Can you talk just a little bit more about how you leverage real time demand data to inform your planning kind of going forward as you get more mature in the launch?

Haftevani:
After you’ve launched into your first retailer and you’re starting to look at data, I think that leveraging real-time data to tell your story and to really show how you’re interacting with the consumer at the current retailer (or retailers) you’re in is so important. It’s something that we’re definitely using as we’re speaking to new retailers about what’s happening and crafting that story.

Thinking about how I’ve leveraged Alloy specifically, I think it’s about pulling together product-level data, of things are working — what’s working and what’s not? What’s strong? How are we serving that customer? And then, how we continue to serve that customer across various channels and experiences.

Alloy:
How do you currently forecast POS sales to work with your supply chain?

Haftevani:
We have an internal forecast and we also have a forecast that was given to us by our retailers. Every retailer hopefully is providing you with sales expectations. And then how we’re thinking about our supply chain … actually, this is something that we’re working through right now. So we’ve purchased the Alloy Planning and we’re setting it up now.

That’s going to really help us in figuring out, based on our lead times, how long it takes us to get products, to our 3PL to ship to Walmart. And also other pieces like how quickly is our 3PL sending product to Walmart? How quickly is Walmart sending products to stores? So that lead time is really important to consider. And then with Alloy Planning, it’s going to take all that into consideration and tell us how quickly we should be ordering. It’s taking into consideration the supply forecast that we also get from the retailer. So it’s kind of like working backwards because obviously lead times can be weeks to months long. And so, that’s how we plan on doing it.

"If you ask any retailer, especially over the last two years, being in stock is the most important measurement of success. And so a huge part of it is having safety stock, being really healthy with your inventory, with your supply chain pipeline."
-Larra Haftevani, Director of Retail Partnerships @ Billie

Alloy:
As you think about those retailer-provided forecasts that you’ve mentioned, in your past experience. How much do you lean on those? How reliable do you find those? Does it vary between retailers? I’m curious how you use that or don’t use that.

Haftevani:
Yeah, it definitely varies between retailers because all of them have their own methodology of their plan. The ideal world is that their plan leads up to the dollar demand plan that you’ve both agreed on or you communicated.

The thing about a supply plan is that it changes and it should change. It should change based on the sales trends that they’re seeing in stores. And so usually you are only getting a supply plan a few weeks to months out from your current date. But we know that for the most part, our supply chain takes a lot longer than that. Historicals, whether you have last year or your DTC business. And then it’s taking the supply plan, that’s coming from the retailer. And then it’s also, adding a cushion on top of that because it’s important that we are able to react to positive trends.

And so if all of a sudden something goes viral and we’re seeing a SKU start to sell out, we always want to have enough back-stock so that customers are getting served. Because at the end of the day, I think we all do this to serve our customers. And I never want someone walking into a store and not being able to buy the thing that they came or that they want.

Alloy:
So is it fair to say, Larra, that retailer forecast is a data point that you’re leveraging. But it sounds like it’s still important to have your own perspective on what you need to be ready to ship. Is that fair?

Haftevani:
Absolutely.

Alloy:
Let’s talk about executing your plan — reacting to changes. Internally, are there things you put in place that allow you to be more nimble? I mean, is it about how you communicate internally with operations teams? Is it about having more safety stock? Is it just being willing to flex your plan?

Haftevani:
I feel like it’s like all of that. It’s being close to the business. For us, we monitor the business on a daily basis. And again, we’re not reacting on a daily basis, but you’re seeing a trend. We’re not looking at our sales week-over-week, we’re looking at it day-by-day. And so if something starts to look off, one day, two days, three days, by the fourth day, you’re like, “Okay, well, like I’ve been thinking about this for four days and here are my thoughts on how we can fix this.”

I think it’s definitely operations. Like inventory, if you ask any retailer, especially over the last two years, being in stock is the most important measurement of success. And so a huge part of it is having safety stock, being really healthy with your inventory, with your supply chain pipeline — as healthy as we can be right now. And thinking out of the box and doing things that kind of make you uncomfortable because these are unprecedented times.

To learn more about how Billie successfully launched into 4500+ Walmart doors, watch the full webinar replay on-demand.

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