Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Freight savings

Gasoline has gone up. Yes, it's the mantra these days. So has the cost of packaging, processing and shipping of just about everything. As a goods processor (can't honestly say that we are a manufacturer because we decorate just finished goods for the most part), we are caught in the middle of all of the trouble.

As a decorator, we are pushed by in-bound freight charges. We are squeezed by the outbound ones and our customers certainly don't want to be paying several times over. We need every size job and so many of them are smaller than the minimums that many of the apparel distributors use as a 'free freight' cut-off. Distributors don't want to cut their margins either. After all, why should they? And customers really don't want to be paying an extra ten or fifteen dollars in freight charges for a shirt that they probably could buy at Penney's for the same price as the distributor is selling it.

It is becoming frustrating!

Solutions abound. Some apparel suppliers have begun offering their own embroidery. It works in a few cases as long as the suppliers are stocked and as long as the customer doesn't want something that the suppliers don't carry. Then, there is no justice, I'm afraid. The customer gets stuck with either a huge bill for digitizing, doing one piece and extra freight (there's that word again) or they do without. Or they go somewhere else and the distributor loses out.

The other solution is to make some sort of arrangement with suppliers.

We've started doing just that. It is amazing how cooperative a supplier becomes when a contractor comes to them to offer some sort of order consolidation and/or pickup that is provided by the decorator. Yes, there is an expense when it is done and unfortunately it has to be passed onto the end-users but the fact is, it is saving our customers money. Freight rates are again going down because we can consolidate deliveries. We sort the goods, we are working with suppliers to simplify the pickup system and we have seen some very good results.

This work will continue. Really, it's kind of fun and no, it is not a new idea, although the concept of spreading the pickups to include some clothing suppliers who may not be local is taking off as well. The hope we have is that we'll entice more customers to come to us. We do, after all, have a bunch of mouths to feed and our employees want to work. It's kind of refreshing!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Small changes

Making small changes seems to make bigger things happen. That is what apparently creates a climate for adaptation and for new ideas about how we manage.

This year, the small changes included efficiency. We have started on an improved operations manual and decided to do a few little things to make operations go better. I see the differences in the way we handle work now and also see where we have to go in order to stay current and continue to be competitive in the embroidery industry.

Funny thing about the business these days is that we have to focus more on speed and fast turnaround and less on bidding for large jobs.

Business in the U.S. these days has to remain competitive but price doesn't seem to be as big an issue as speed, quality and quality delivery. We do have to be reasonable with price, of course, and certainly want to stay within the range of charges that other embroiderers charge but our primary desire is to do each job perfectly and send it out on time. One of the primary statements we have made to our operators is that we do a hundred thirty thousand pieces a year... one at a time.

The change, though, has been a progression to steadily smaller jobs. A recent statistical summary of work for one of our customers revealed that out of 583 purchase orders, the largest single job was for 240 pieces. Fully 75% of all of the jobs entailed less than six pieces. What a realization!

Retooling is not always an option but we have changed our direction as a result of the statistics. Our staff has taken to them readily and one might think that we've always been doing this sort of work.

More about that later. For now, a pleasant week and Happy Easter holiday to all.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ever changing business

I have always been convinced that business is a game just to keep us busy for the twelve or so hours we aren't eating or sleeping during our lives. For those who practice it independently, it is one that we always want to win, at least in varying degrees. Being independent carries with it, at least if one is to survive, the responsibility and eagerness to continue learning, especially if the particular type of business is to provide enough income to allow for us to live appropriately and to retire at some point prior to the end of our short lives. We must always adapt, after all.

Each year, toward the end, I go through the final phase of a cycle. The beginning of this annual learning curve is the realization that so much of what we did last year did not work. Things must change if we are to continue.

The middle is, of course, the implementation. The end is the realization that we still made some customers unhappy, that we did not have a very positive income and at this rate, I'll be working the local variety store greeting circuit before long.

The ending of the cycle becomes the new beginning. I look back, am frightened by what I see and vow to move ahead, to do some more research, to pull up my currently sagging britches and wade through another approach as soon as it is identified.

That, plus a little bit of much-appreciated advice, was how I happened across E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. No, this is not an advertisement. This was, though, a very eye-opening experience for me and for Team Mates. It is also one that I'll share over the next few, hmm... days/weeks/months. I don't think that Mr. Gerber will be all that unhappy if I do. He's in business as well.

I have a burning question for people. So if you happen to read this (well, you would be reading it if you're here, right?), have you ever hired a consultant? We did, once. Okay, twice. The experiences were mildly positive.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

First comments

Okay, so why a blog? 

I think that we all have something to say.  Whether it is important or not remains to be seen.  In this particular blog, I want to chronicle our efforts as Team Mates, Inc. and how we are constantly changing and adapting to what we perceive to be 'modern' business needs and requirements.

I also have certain opinions. While they often will reflect certain moral values (hopefully), they are simply non-political, business-oriented thoughts regarding how we should, as an embroidery contractor, conduct ourselves. 

If you have read our history, you see how we've grown from a small retail store into the, um, giant contractor... okay, moderately sized but very willing decorator, that we are.  You probably also have seen that most of our growth has come through trial and error and through acquisition, sometimes at slightly overpriced payments. 

These days, though, we intend on growing through the addition of customers.  This is our hope and our desire.  We want to add more customers who believe in the values of service, reliability and trust that a job will be done when we agree that it will be done and delivered to you or your clients with pleasure and pride.  We want all of our work to be perfect. Well, okay, it IS embroidery.  We want it to be as good as you can get.  And we want you and your customers to be happy with the results. 

To this end, we have worked to improve our services, our order processing systems and the expertise of our staff.  That is what we offer.  Whether it makes a difference, whether it makes us better than our competitors can only be shown in your satisfaction. 

And yes, this part sounds like an advertisement. Mainly, that is because I believe in what we do. I believe thoroughly in our staff and most of all, I believe in the fact that we can be an outstanding, world class company. 

Hopefully you'll enjoy the writing as well.  It reflects the approach I have to our business and to life in general.

Thanks for reading.