Podcast: Technology and Globalization at The Gap

Today’s discussion

In this episode of Globally Speaking, we invited Dede Szykier, IT Program Manager at Gap, Inc., to discuss how language issues are only one part of global retail, how important global inventory teams are to global retail and how none of it is possible without (loads of) technology. You can also hear about how Gap is a ‘sizing democracy’ and what sizing has to do with localization.

Dede Szykier is an IT Program Manager at Gap, Inc. In this role, she works with the sourcing, finance, legal and operations departments to deploy technology that drives the global business. Previously, she managed a multi-million-dollar division at Gap through forecasting, allocation tuning and pricing optimization. Her first full-time job at Gap, Inc., was to build and manage inventory plans. Dede has a BA in English from UC Berkeley and a certificate in Business Administration and General Management from UC Berkeley Extension.

Where to listen

The full podcast can be downloaded and listened to on all major podcast platforms, or from the Globally Speaking website. If you prefer to read the full transcript, we have provided that below, as well!

About Globally Speaking

Globally Speaking Radio isn’t just about how we as language professionals can improve our skills. It’s also about building awareness of how important translation and localization services are in helping global brands succeed in foreign markets—no matter where their business takes them. Globally Speaking is an independent podcast that does not necessarily represent the views of Nimdzi Insights or any other sponsors.

Host: Renato Beninatto

Renato is the co-founder and CEO of Nimdzi Insights, one of the language industry’s leading analyst and consulting firms. He has over 28 years of executive-level experience in the localization industry. He has served on executive teams for some of the industry’s most prominent companies, and he co-founded the industry’s first research analyst firm. A dynamic speaker and communicator, Renato is a highly regarded thought leader in the language industry, and is known for creating innovative strategies that drive growth on a global scale. He has also served on the advisory board for Translators Without Borders.

Host: Michael Stevens

Michael has 10 years of experience in the localization and IT industries. He is the Growth Director for Moravia, where his primary role is to assist companies who are inspired to create global software that changes the world. A well-networked entrepreneur, Michael’s main interest is in connecting and bringing people together. He not only enjoys learning about a company’s exciting ideas and developments, he also has a keen ability to add value—and fire—to new and innovative thinking.

This is an episode of the Globally Speaking Radio Podcast. Globally Speaking Radio is sponsored by RWS Moravia and Nimdzi.

The Transcript

Michael I’m Michael Stevens.
Renato I am Renato Beninatto.
Michael And tonight, we have a Globally Speaking Live Event.
Dede I am Dede Szykier and I am happy to be a part of this.
Renato Thank you for being here Dede.
Dede Thank you for having me.
Michael We generally ask our guests to introduce themselves in one or two sentences the way they would at a professional cocktail party…or something like that. So, what are you about?
Dede I am a truth-teller to a fault, and I am not long for a corporate career because of it.
Renato And what is that corporation that has the displeasure of having you as part of it?
Dede Yeah, so, I’m a program manager for The Gap tech division of Gap, Inc. So, we own Gap brand and Banana Republic, Old Navy, so…
Renato Can I make a complaint?
Dede …I’m the IT side of our jeans.
Renato Okay, are you involved with sizing and things like that? Because they used to sell XXL and now they stopped, and they only do XL, so I can’t buy my shirts there anymore.
Dede Once upon a time, I was a part of the sizing. Late-breaking news: all those sizes are coming back.
Renato Oh, thank you.
Michael You heard it first.
Renato I’ll be back to buying at Banana Republic.
Dede We’re a sizing democracy now.
Renato Thank you.
Michael And so, Dede, while you work in the IT side of The Gap at this moment, you actually have a long professional career at The Gap. You didn’t just start in IT there. What was your first job at The Gap?
Dede I used to clean out the fitting rooms.
Dede Yeah no, it was my first high school job. I was like 15 years old, working at The Gap on Lakeshore, literally Seasonal Sales Associate, and used to clean out the piles and piles of clothes from holiday shoppers.
Michael And for some of our listeners, Lakeshore Avenue is a street in Oakland, California?
Dede Yes.
Michael How did you get into managing IT? And what does that even mean?
Dede I am still figuring that out.
Michael Okay, okay. All right. So, languages. We’re getting to origin story here.
Renato I think there’s a mother involved in this story.
Dede There is a mother involved in this story. Yeah, so, my parents immigrated here to the United States after the war. I’m also the youngest of five, so if everybody’s trying to figure out after which war. So, my parents immigrated after World War II from war-torn Poland. And so, my grandparents are fluent native Polish speakers. My parents are native Polish speakers and when we were growing up, we basically learned Polish when our grandparents were displeased with us. We figured out when our grandparents were talking trash about us.
Renato I am sure they didn’t call you Dede then.
Dede No. Actually, my brother gave me my nickname. My full name is Dariana.
Michael And so, one of the interesting things about your career path is you have this background in retail, you have a story within your family of origin related to languages, and then you said early on at The Gap, you actually came into contact with some of the technology that’s used in our industry, for a very, very brief time.
Dede Oh, the translation services, yeah. So, if I actually, like, jump back to the family sort of aspect of it, I was telling you my mom actually did a lot of translation work before, I think, most people in the translation services even thought that there was a career opportunity in it. So as a kid, I remember my mom receiving, like, faxes, and it seems like most people in the room knows what a fax machine is, so that’s good. So, we’d just receive faxes and faxes and faxes of Polish documents, and she’d translate them all by hand and then put it into a manila envelope and take it to the post office and mail it, Certified Mail, just to make sure it would get there. So, it’s been quite an evolution from the days of fax machines to what you guys have going on now in the translation services.
Michael It’s, it’s advanced a little bit…
Dede A little bit.
Michael … since then.
Dede Yeah, a little bit. So now with Gap, we’re a global company and it requires us to offer our ecommerce site and corporate communications and everything under the sun in a multitude of languages. And so now, our company leverages translation services for us to be able to operate globally. And it’s, it’s something that I’m very peripherally involved in, but it’s really fascinating to see how necessary it is for folks to feel a part of a company. And for a company to operate globally.
Michael And what do you mean, that language of, “feel a part of a company”?
Dede So, we’ve got teams in China, we have teams in Japan, we have teams in France, we have teams in Italy now, we were in Germany at one point in time. So it’s easy to, I think, feel like you’re just in a remote office versus you’re a part of a major global company, and every time your CEO sends an email, it’s not just an email in English that gets translated by somebody in the office, but it’s actually translated and the sentiment comes across and you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than your 150-person local office.
Renato  One of the topics that you brought up is the ecommerce dimension of it. So, ecommerce doesn’t deal only with language, but it deals with currency, deals with shipping, it deals with fulfillment.
Dede So, what I do on a day-to-day basis is the IT architecture of what makes everything work together. So, it’s basically, “How do we make sure that we don’t blow everything up?“ [Laughter]
There’s a lot that goes into our ecommerce services across the globe. And the translation piece that’s involved in that is just a small sort of like fraction of keeping the lights on of all the points and clicks of people buying jeans and t-shirts. I mean at the end of the day, we’re selling jeans and t-shirts. How hard can it possibly be?
Renato Well, we were talking about sizing earlier.
Michael It can be pretty hard depending on your size.
Renato Well, it’s funny because recently I was working on a project and the challenge was, how do you communicate? So, you think Hong Kong and Philippines both in Asia, but Hong Kong buys British English, Philippines is American English; Hong Kong uses British sizing, Philippines uses American sizing. So, all of this involves huge logistic challenges, and the infrastructure needs to address that too.
Dede So, the infrastructure, the data analysis, it’s all there, right? So, what do you do with it and how do you make decisions? Prior to joining our Gap tech division, I actually was a financial planner for our inventory planning team for Gap Brand. And so, that was actually something that we addressed all the time was, you know, ”What does your sizing look like for China compared to what it looks like for North America?” And it’s vastly different, and so, your supply chain needs to support that in the capacity of, you might size for XXL in the US, but you’re definitely going to size for XS, small, in China and Japan and, you know, how does your supply chain support that? And we’re [an] incredibly data-driven company and we’re constantly evaluating our supply chain to be more responsive so that when China is selling more of the smalls, then how do we flex our reorders into that market to support those sales?
Renato The question is, from a business perspective, what drives this decision-making? Are you supporting some of these decisions with information that you gather or are you driving these decisions? Who is at the end of the day responsible for defining your global supply strategy?
Dede So, I like to consider myself an enabler. So, how can I support the tools and systems that ingest the data and make recommendations with the data so that I can enable the teams that are going to use that data to essentially pull the trigger. And at the center of it all, it’s the tools, right, and how you interpret what’s in front of you. So, we just turned 50 this year. So, we do a tremendous amount of data ingestion, data cycling, cleaning it up and then informing our inventory planning teams on the supply chain side of things.
So, we have a merchandising team that figures out, you know, do you sell yellow in China versus red versus blue and green. But at the end of the day, it’s the inventory teams that are sort of, in my opinion, making the magic happen, and it’s entirely data-driven based on sales data, based on forecast trends, and they’re looking at things, you know, six weeks ahead of time. So, when you see that white sneakers are a fashion trend, well, they’ve already known about that for the last six months.
Renato Oh. Yes, well they establish that trend.
Michael So, Dede, when you think about other companies that are doing global retail outside of the one that you work for, who are the leaders who you look at and why? What are the companies you say, ‘these guys seem to have it nailed globally and maybe we’re benchmarking ourselves against them?’
Dede My personal opinion is that we are all making this up as we go along.
Michael Yeah. Yeah. Yep!
Dede I think that everybody is a unique consumer and every retailer out there is doing their best to satisfy the consumer needs and do their best to forecast trends and put things out there that they think customers are going to buy. There are way more flops than there are successes, and most people just don’t know about it.
Renato Our audience loves stories. Tell us a success story or a horror story, your choice, something that you were involved with that we can learn from.
Dede I’m particularly proud of when I was the planner for the men’s North America business for Gap Brand. Three years ago, almost four years ago now, there was an opportunity for our men’s woven business—so, these button-down shirts that you guys have on, that’s a woven; in case you didn’t know, it’s a woven—and we were crushing it in the US market where we were literally running out of inventory on a daily basis. And we were trying to figure out how do we take inventory from stores where it’s not selling—even just sizes, right, like, your size medium down the street is definitely going to sell, you know, across town. And then we had this whole wovens business in the Asian market that was actually not doing…it wasn’t as strong, not for a lack of trying, but it was just that knits were very strong in our Asian markets and wovens were very strong in the US market.
So, we were able to essentially forecast out:  if we could take all of our inventory out of our Asian market and transfer it into the US market, how much gross margin could we drive out of that? And what’s it really going to cost us for us to ship it essentially overnight? How many store labor hours to actually take all of those units out of our distribution centers, out of our stores, put them into boxes and get them into our US stores within essentially 72 hours?
And this was all work that I was driving. I had no experience and it was totally going on a hunch, and I had a manager who was incredibly supportive [of] this idea. And we ended up driving an additional million dollars in marginal profit within the first 30 days.
Michael Wow!
Dede So, to me it was kind of like, “That was it. Let me use the numbers and let me drive the business.” And the company got behind it, which, you know, we’re a big company and there’s no reason that they had to trust somebody who is sitting in a cubicle in San Francisco, but they got behind me and it paid off.
Renato Fantastic story.
Michael That’s a fabulous story. [Applause]
And I think for our listeners, one of the takeaways for that is, we often so focus on language, the language that’s being used. And there are people and products in countries and in regions that business people are thinking about. So, while language is a dynamic, there’s so many other dynamics that are running the business that need to be considered.
Dede Do you know how much time we spent reticketing shirts?
Michael How many? 15 minutes?
Dede 50,000 units with Chinese tickets on them.
Michael Oh my goodness. Roughly how long?
Dede It took a team of like 50 people to reticket that within a day. I mean, like—
Michael Oh my goodness, that is fabulous.
Renato This is what I was going to ask. Because you have labeling and ticketing and pricing and all this information that is already embedded in it, and you had to adapt all that stuff. It’s not just the merchandise; it’s everything that goes with it.
Dede I think that’s like the other thing is, we have an incredible team that handles our localization, so whether it’s ticketing on clothes or marketing promotions in stores, the team that handles all of our localization, like, they’re so ready to adapt and move on a dime without even thinking about it. You basically are like, “Here’s what we need,” and they’re like, “Oh it’s already done five minutes ago.“
But none of that is possible, honestly, without the technology that’s in play. Again, we’re not doing things by fax machine anymore, so if we didn’t, if we didn’t have localization technology, I don’t think that we could have pulled off the inventory transfer. I don’t think that we could pull off effectively communications to our regional offices and I don’t think that we could effectively operate globally if we didn’t have the localization technology at our fingertips.
Renato So, from an IT perspective, one of the conversations that I have with my clients is this, “What is content?” Right? And we, as an industry, we tend to think of content as words and content management, marketing and labeling and things like that, but content is also pricing. Content is also the materials that are involved, descriptions, and payroll is content. Shipping information is content. Addresses are content. At the end of the day, these are localization tasks that the IT group needs to deal with, right?
The way that you write an address for a company in Vietnam is totally different than the way that you write an address for a company in Indiana. The postal code is in a different position, the states, the geographic distribution. Is that something that is in your purview?
Dede Yeah, so, we have a team that, from a supply chain perspective, manages all that, and we try to automate as much as we can. So, whether you’re going from Indiana or Vietnam, we do use technology that allows us to basically take one address and transpose it to another so that it moves through our supply chain [as] seamlessly as possible. And that’s sort of like what we’re up against is time, right? Anybody who is in the retail space knows time is your worst enemy. So, anything that we can use from an IT perspective that allows our product to move faster, that’s what we’re going after.
Michael Dede, when you consider the tooling and the automation around these types of tasks, we focus on translation management systems. Do you see perhaps a greater value that could be offered than just the linguistic dynamic to tools to IT departments?
Dede I don’t know if this is a thing, so you’ll have to tell me, but I think that there’s a big opportunity for visual translation outside of language. So, even if it’s proof of concept imaging to say, “How is this going to translate in another market?” We know that we want to use this ad, or we know that we want to use this print marketing in our stores here in the US. Is that going to translate in China? Is that going to translate in France? I don’t know, and I think that a lot of that sort of decision-making is based on professional expertise over time versus data-driven analysis.
So, I think that, in my mind, there’s an opportunity for, “How do you digitally translate an image into another market that’s going to be successful?“
Renato Well, I think that this is a wonderful story, a wonderful experience. I’ve learned a lot and the most important information for me is that XXL is coming back at Banana Republic.
Michael Ignore the whole part about, like, retail changing…
Renato Yeah, it’s, it’s easier…
Michael …major global opportunities…
Renato …to buy a bigger shirt than to go on a diet.
Michael You get a bigger shirt. It’s beautiful.
Dede Have I told you that we’ve introduced stretch into our clothing? Stretch is also democratic.
[Laughter and applause]
11 December 2019
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