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Near the corner of Broadway and 39th St in New York City stands an impressive bronze statue of a man toiling over a sewing machine. This representation of the heritage of the garment industry epitomizes a business sector that reminds us of the fact that most of our clothing once bore Made in USA labels.

Modern day apparel manufacturing and retailing has undergone major transformations, not only in the associated technologies that bring garments to market, but the skills required among its human capital. This industry has its nuances like any other. The typical apparel company is characterized by a variety of factors that impact its Human Resources profile – learned skills co-mingled with taste level, relatively high levels of turnover, job classifications that are often undefined or ill-defined, compensation practices that are sometimes quite random and recruitment strategies that do not necessarily keep pace with the “race for talent.”

Historically, little attention has been paid to the integration of Human Resources factors into business planning and execution. New York’s multi-billion dollar fashion industry runs the gamut from luxury houses represented on 57th St, to the large mainstream brands that sell at the likes of Macy’s to the small private label makers that bring product to the Wal-Mart shopper.

Over the years, larger and more successful apparel companies have set a course of developing sophisticated Human Resources strategies. Companies such as Polo Ralph Lauren, American Eagle, Ann Taylor and numerous others have developed structures for job classifications, salary ranges and contemporary benefit plans that are designed to recruit, motivate and retain best-in-class associates. Their Human Resources teams have grown to unprecedented levels. As a result, their associates feel less inclined to move down the block for an extra $3,000/year. That’s the good news. On the other hand, it also impacts the staffing supply/demand equation and the competitive nature of recruitment.

The reality is that there are countless “middle market” companies in this sector that compete in the same geographic regions for the same skills, the same experience factors and lack Human Resources systems that embrace best practices in areas such as recruitment, compensation, employee relations, training and performance management. Such companies, frequently led by entrepreneurs that are inspired by fashion trends and “white space” in the retail environment spend most of their resources developing brands, but not the infrastructure of their workforces. It’s hardly feasible to expect a one-person Human Resources department to develop and sustain sound policies and practices that meet the human capital demands of growing businesses. Ironically, highly-paid talent in design, sales, supply chain and marketing can make or break a fashion brand.

That is precisely why such companies might call upon a consulting group that brings a team of experienced professionals to partner with its leaders to develop these systems and practices that enhance the development and retention of good performers, among other things. We provide these services on a consulting basis, making the improvements to the Human Resources management profile cost effective.

As a practitioner assisting apparel industry executives, I have taken my human resources generalist experience, coupled with my extensive recruitment experience focused on the apparel industry, and developed an acute understanding of the challenges that face smaller companies in this dynamic business sector. During this time, I have seen the evolution of new job families that support the changing ways in which their products come to market in various retail channels, most recently in the e-commerce zone. I have been able to navigate the various subcultures within the industry, usually described by price point levels – luxury/couture, better, moderate, budget.

Once upon a time, I was invited to a meeting at a company that is today one of the largest apparel giants in the industry. At a mere $500 million in revenue, they were just beginning to establish salary grades and associated compensation ranges. I sat opposite professionals from a major compensation consulting firm; they clearly understood the steps to follow in this undertaking – so did I, but I didn’t operate under their esteemed banner. The challenge was benchmarking the jobs at this company with industry counterparts in order to establish competitive ranges. What followed was yours truly teaching these folks (and the small HR staff) what jobs at the company aligned with the benchmark jobs in the industry….and further, how absolutely futile it would be to conduct proper salary surveys in the industry at that time.

On that day, a new HR consulting professional emerged – I was able to give the compensation consultants salary parameters for each and every job for which they were tasked to construct a salary grade structure. The VP of Human Resources and I joined together and made a formidable team on this subject matter. My previous Human Resources generalist experience, coupled with intense interviewing of apparel industry professionals at virtually all levels, from a wide variety of organizations, gave me the tools to merge into a somewhat specialized consultant. It was a great day and for years that followed, executives at that company sought my advice on a variety of HR issues. That organization today is an $8 billion internationally known industry leader.

Taking experiences like that to the middle market companies provides meaningful expertise to businesses that are unable to afford larger HR staffs – or any in many cases. The Lindenberger Group brings a wealth of Human Resources experience that reflects contemporary best practices, current legal requirements and all that with hands-on experience in the apparel sector. We can discuss issues in this industry with an inherent knowledge of how to move companies to the next steps in their growth plans while keeping pace with the human capital dynamics of their operations. We can bring solutions to apparel clients that reflect best practices while also enhancing the company culture – not trying to change it. Best of all, we’re passionate about what we do.

Current human resources practices can help our apparel industry partners be more successful and competitive. Call the Lindenberger Group to learn more.