San Francisco apparel brand saves 16 hours a month with Inventory Planner
With plans to grow Culk four times over in the next few years, Brian is glad he trusted his intuition to choose Inventory Planner
“Inventory Planner has made huge changes to our day-to-day. It used to take me around 30 minutes just to mentally psych myself up to begin the process of making purchase orders. Now I don’t procrastinate anymore trying to put off this huge task – I know I can just press a button and leave it alone.”
–Brian Lance, COO of Culk
It was 2010 when Sam Culkins, Founder of urban-inspired, custom apparel brand Culk, started designing and printing t-shirts in his garage in San Francisco. His business partner Brian Lance joined him as COO six years later, and together they took the brand mainstream. With the pair’s combined business ambition and experience in the tech industry, Culk is growing rapidly with the help of a powerful tech stack that includes Shopify Plus, ShipHero, Klaviyo and Inventory Planner by Sage.
NEW PRINT ON THE BLOCK
As Sam started out vending his graphic-printed t-shirts on the streets in San Francisco, Culk saw early success with the locality – not just with passing customers but with wholesalers, who scoured local boutiques and markets looking for fresh, eye-catching apparel.
“It was common for wholesalers to look around, scouting the street sellers for great tees,” Brian explains. “That’s how Culk got a local sporting goods chain on board early on, who quickly started putting in quite large orders – from three to nine separate locations over three months.
“At this point, Sam was still printing everything himself – big wholesale orders as well as small – and soon started to buckle under the pressure.”
Serendipitously, Sam crossed paths with Brian, a former college friend, at a time when he happened to be re-evaluating his own career. Brian came on-board and the pair made moves to scale the business.
“With a very modest income we were able to keep the business growing,” Brian says. “We started screen-printing to scale up the manufacture of the tees, and tried to get wholesale business in other markets.
“This was hard at first. We weren’t known outside of San Francisco, and we’re not natural sales people – but soon we branched out into craft shows and other events, which boosted our wholesale orders.
“By 2018 we’d started Facebook Advertising. This brought our direct sales up on a level with wholesale, too.”
With a steady scaling trajectory that brought in increased order volume, Brian acknowledged that their inventory planning processes also needed to evolve.
At the time, Culk used a complicated Google sheet, weaved with meticulous calculations Brian had created for analysis and sales forecasting. He also manually exported the data each day to inform their similarly time-intensive purchase orders.
“I had learned to automate some things in the sheet due to my economics training, and could break them up into groups to send to our suppliers,” he said. “I spent a lot of time tinkering in the spreadsheet to keep streamlining what was a very time-intensive workflow.
“I was aware of Inventory Planner at the time, but never gave it a test drive – but at some point I realised, this would negate the need for this spreadsheet and completely sync up our purchasing processes.
When we implemented it, it streamlined the whole process and completely eliminated this bottleneck of time we were dealing with.”
LIGHTER LOAD, LIGHTER MIND
Though Brian was apprehensive about implementing a new system, the Culk team found that Inventory Planner seamlessly filled the gaps in their previous process – and immediately the ability to tag products became a game-changer.
“The IP tag column is instrumental,” said Brian. “The way our POs are organised is that we need to hit a minimum for our supplier – which used to mean a lot of manual work.
“With the tagging function any product that shares the same print can be sent together, so it allowed us to group items via the sales data and use it to hit a minimum order requirement.
“This is just one of the ways that Inventory Planner fit with what we already did, yet improved it. We had time issues with our previous process which was nice to get rid of, yet we didn’t have to make any sacrifices as it adapted to our existing workflows so well.”
Culk has also yielded big results with Inventory Planner’s in-depth inventory insights. While honing right down to variant level, such as size, style and colour, it also offers over 200 custom metrics, allowing extensive analysis and more informed purchasing decisions. Brian was relieved that the mental burden of manual analysis was lifted.
“Inventory Planner not only frees up time but makes data readily available, rather than having to dive into trends and metrics in an additional spreadsheet and work things out manually,” he says.
“With access to a bunch of new metrics, I could avoid doing a ton of new calculations, like I did before. It’s huge to be able to see through the weeds that were inherent in our old system and have the ability to think further into how to improve our inventory.”
Being able to ditch the complicated spreadsheet has resulted in significant time savings for Culk – Brian estimates around 16 hours a month – have been saved in making purchase orders alone, and that in parallel, his head is a lot clearer.
“I’ve gotten better at decision making and workflow in parallel to how I use Inventory Planner. Reordering items used to be a day-long process – just me, clicking ‘Load data’, spitting out a new sheet, filtering the sheet, cross referencing the data, double checking for data loss, then downloading a PDF, sending it to suppliers, etc., etc….
“Now, I click the button, and come back to it later. The physical labor is less, the cognitive load is way less and so much time is saved. I have the mental space to direct elsewhere.”
What started as a street stall is now on the path to glowing success, with Culk’s carefully chosen tech stack firing up all departments and allowing the team to make smarter choices for the business. With plans to grow Culk four times over in the next few years, Brian is glad he trusted his intuition to choose Inventory Planner to help them reach their growth goals.
“If you’re a retail brand and not sure whether Inventory Planner can meet your needs, there’s a very good chance it can,” he explains. “The whole mission for them is to provide useful inventory planning tools which you likely hadn’t even considered.
“As soon as you’ve implemented it, you’ll have an array of these tools available to you. Having the agility to knock out these time-intensive processes without going through the mental somersaults that we used to – it’s hugely helpful.”
To see what Inventory Planner’s data-led forecasting and insights can do for your inventory planning processes, book a demo today.