How Fruit of the Loom uses weather data to better market fleece

At what temperature change inflection point does interest in fleece spike? Fruit of the Loom is using weather data to crunch the numbers and save on marketing.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Fruit of the Loom is betting that it can use weather data to do its marketing. The company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, launched a project in the Spring to partner with a large retailer, combine data on inventory and weather and ultimately anticipate when consumers would be enticed to buy fleece and at what temperature.

"The goal was to let weather be your promotion and marketing," said Bobby Berry, senior vice president of business solutions at Fruit of the Loom. If Fruit of the Loom can manage its inventory well with retailers and pinpoint how temperature changes drive sales of either cold or warm weather clothing, it can save on marketing spend by curtailing efforts that don't have an impact on sales.

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Fruit of the Loom's approach highlights how weather data is increasingly important in business as well as technology. IBM bought The Weather Company for its data and to integrate it throughout its portfolio including analytics, cloud and other tools. Weather is also a key data set for multiple industries ranging from real estate to transportation to insurance. Meanwhile, climate change and global warming are also adding volatility to the economy, according to recent reports.

For instance, the UN recently issued a report on global warming. And the U.S. government released The National Climate Assessment (NCA) on Black Friday and concluded that climate change will lead to turmoil for the U.S. economy. That weather volatility means that more enterprises will have to use weather data to run their businesses more efficiently.

Fruit of the Loom is a Microsoft 365 customer and is using PowerBI and Azure to put together data and dashboards to better manage products in the retail chain. "We needed more specific details on how a change of temperature impacts sales. The question we wanted to answer is 'how cold is cold?'" explained Berry. "We wanted to capitalize on cold snaps."

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The initial phase of the project took about six months. Fruit of the Loom worked with Microsoft's digital teams, partnered with its retail customer and took about 3 months cleaning data, said Berry. Depending on the maturity of the retailer, data comes in multiple forms -- most often a scheduled report or feed that's downloaded.

Data was operationalized via Azure ML Studio. Berry said that the data science behind the effort isn't complicated, but wrangling the data can be. Fruit of the Loom has its inventory data but retailers may have different formats. The weather data, procured via Accuweather, is a straight feed.

The Fruit of the Loom environment goes like this, said Berry:

We use Oracle EBS (E-Business Suite) as our ERP. We combine data from Accuweather and our retail partners into a consolidated Azure database. On top of that data, we leverage PowerBI and ESRI mapping tools to present a dashboard to our internal team members. From that dashboard, they make decisions about retail locations with inventory positions that will be impacted by cold weather events.

The full solution is Oracle EBS, Accuweather, Azure, and PowerBI.

Ultimately, Berry said the company's work found that a 12 degree inflection point in cold weather leads to demand for warm clothes. Fruit of the Loom is looking to be able to project inventory and sales for a 10-day outlook. The project focused on Fruit of the Loom, which also owns other brands such as Jerzees, Vanity Fair, Spalding and Russell Athletic.

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What's next? Fruit of the Loom is planning to look at how to take advantage of warming trends and that inflection point in temperatures. The company is also looking to expand with other retailers. "We want to get data that's rolled up in a way that's actionable," said Berry.

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