Few things would be more luxurious than a truly custom-made product that is tailored to your every desire. That, of course, is expensive but there is a medium ground between a truly custom product and something that is merely off the rack. Mass customization promises customers a sort of unique offering. I say “sort of unique” because mass customization programs usually are built off a modular product architecture so they inherently constrained customers to not mess with the interfaces between modules. On the other hand, they usually offer a wide range of choice for each module. The wonders of combinatorics then quick in and the customer can choose from possibly millions of alternatives. Another customer may be able to make the exact same choices, but the chances of that happening are ultimately very slim.
And that gets us to Burberry Bespoke, the mass customization program that the British trench coat maker recently launched. Here is how the Wall Street Journal (Mink or Fox? The Trench Gets Complicated, Nov 3) described the program.
Called Burberry Bespoke, the program is a full-scale attempt at “mass customization,” a long-time goal of retailers and unusual for a designer fashion house. Customers select the cut of their trench coat, the fabric, the color, and then navigate through options such as bronze-studded sleeves, bridle leather cuff straps, mink linings and shearling collars.
Bit by bit, the screen assembles the virtual trench coat as specified. The real-life version arrives in four to eight weeks, in a box the size of a human torso, from Burberry’s factory in Yorkshire, England (leather trenches are dispatched from Italy). The tag displays a special limited-edition number, plus a clear designation in block letters: “Bespoke.”
The company estimates that there are about 12 million different combinations that can be ordered. The graphic above shows one possibility and the video below includes some screen shots of the web site.
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There are a couple of interesting points here. First, this is really mass customization and not a truly customized product. Importantly, you cannot custom order sizes. If you have arms like an orangutang, this does not solve your sartorial problems. From a production point of view, this is really important. If everyone is ordering standard sizes, all the material can be cut from standard patterns and none of the assembly tasks have really changed. All the action is going to be on buttons, trim and other ancillary items that don’t really change the flow of work.
Second, there is some brand risk in this program. Potentially, someone could put together a hideous combination of colors and walk around London advertising just how bad a Burberry coat can look. The company has taken the Big Brother approach on this one and prevents customers from selecting certain options. The article claims that you put a fuchsia-check lining inside an olive coat.
Third, this is supported by a revised operations structure (something we have written about before).
Ms. Ahrendts, since taking over the top job in 2006, has overseen an overhaul of Burberry’s behind-the-scenes operations, consolidating manufacturing of traditional trench coats at the main factory in Castleford, England. Burberry Bespoke would have been impossible to execute before the cleanup, she says.
Consolidating production in the UK is an important part of things. It is a relatively expensive place to sew, but it also allows Burberry to have a skilled workforce and relatively short delivery times to customers (assuming that the bulk of Bespoke customers are in Europe or the US).
Finally, there is another firm following a similar strategy although at a much different price point. Timbuk2 offers customized messenger bags. Like Burberry, one is forced to pick from pre-set sizes and standard patterns (all bags have three color panels). However, customers have a lot of flexibility in picking among options in this standard framework. Timbuk2 also does their custom work in a relatively expensive location (San Francisco). For more on their operations look here.