VF Outlines Its RFID Deployment Plans

It will be ready to comply with Wal-Mart's January 2005 deadline but doesn't expect real benefits until the industry moves to tagging individual items with RFID chips.
The world's largest apparel manufacturer says it will be ready for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s January 2005 radio-frequency identification deadline. VF Corp., a $5 billion-a-year company with brands that include Lee and Wrangler jeans, North Face outdoor gear, and Vanity Fair lingerie, plans to kick off RFID tests by September, and will roll out RFID technology to all seven of its distribution centers by early December.

Though VF expects to gain only minimal benefit to its own operations by complying with Wal-Mart's RFID mandate, the company does see the technology as a strategic investment.

"Wal-Mart is our No. 1 customer, so there is no way we will put at risk that partnership,'' says Eric Anthony, VP of IT services at VF. "And we do believe RFID is a strategic technology for the apparel industry. In the long term, there is tremendous value, particularly in the individual tagging of items.'' Wal-Mart and other retailers such as Target Corp. and Albertsons Inc. are currently only asking suppliers to tag pallets and cases of goods shipped to them.

Shortly after Wal-Mart issued its mandate, VF hired Accenture to help it design and facilitate its RFID implementation. Currently, the IT consulting firm is helping a team of VF business managers, IS managers, and engineers select RFID scanners, readers, tag encoders, and printers, as well as middleware; once the equipment and software is selected, Accenture will help VF field- and stress-test all the products in VF's environment.

All told, Anthony says, the RFID implementation will cost VF several million dollars.