Sunday, April 20, 2008

Design difficulty

I spend a ton of time writing letters to customers and to potential customers that all basically say the same thing. "Sorry, but that design just won't work." I try, of course, to say it nicely since the first rule is to treat people with respect and the second rule in contract embroidery is not to send someone running off to another embroiderer who will make the claim that it CAN be done.

Our business involves machines with one or more sewing heads that attach thread to material. The items required (apart from the sewing heads) are thread, needles, something to sew on and a design that has certain parameters.

We charge, at the most basic level, by the amount of time that it takes to sew a piece. The charges drop for higher quantities, although the reason behind the dropping charges is that the first piece, as in printing, takes the longest to set up and each additional piece cuts the average set up time down. Thousands of pieces at a time reduce the setup time to nil and also create a situation where we can be the very most efficient. This allows us to charge a very small amount per (measured rate) 1,000 stitches, which is the standard used to measure price in the industry.

Back to basics, though. It amazes me at the number of new designs that are thought up each day. I keep wondering if we'll ever run out of fresh, new ideas that signify someone's idea of their company business. At the same time, I keep wondering if artists will ever learn to ask for advice before arting up designs. They really should.

Here are some logical reasons for needing to work with an embroiderer if a design is made specifically to decorate apparel.

Fades are darned near impossible when doing embroidery. Those small, crest-sized logos with imaginative and cool fades and color transitions will never look the same. You're using thread and multiple colors of thread just don't blend the way the art program makes them look. Thread is linear. It needs to go in and out of other linear items in order to stay attached. Laying one color on top of another just simply doesn't work the same.

Stitch count is a big factor in doing designs. Big solid boxes and colored backgrounds and complex, highly detailed two- and three-color drawings are going to be expensive to do, probably far larger than one might wish for them to be and they do very very bad things to material. A nice polo shirt looks like it has a hole in the crest, for instance, when one adds a whole bunch of stitches to a design.

Design significance really tells the tale, I think. Does the design that will be applied actually impart the meaning of the company or event? Does it just contain lettering? Artists in general tend to go to great lengths to make something fascinating. I have great respect for that. But really, does it impart meaning to the logo, which is representative and should remind those who see the logo what the company actually does? Or is it just something cool? How clear is the company's function when printed out? Yes, we have been going through that very same concern lately. Team Mates has been around for nearly sixteen years and we still work on creating a logo that actually tells potential customers what we do.

Anyway, those are a few of the challenges I face daily. And the nice letters give me a chance to practice written communication. I even get to do humor once in awhile.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Times are changing

I've had a lot of time to review and reflect on the corporate apparel industry during the past sixteen years that we have actively participated in it. Things have changed dramatically during that time, especially in our embroidery side. One of the big changes has been the consistent decrease in order size and the increase in number of orders processed. The other aspect that has changed is the speed of output required.

It is interesting to see how this affects the way we approach both marketing and production as well as how we compete.

A whole lot of things have conspired to create a very dramatic change in the way we do our own business at
Team Mates
. First, the larger jobs are actually becoming smaller and more of them are sent overseas. The first example of that was the cap industry, which has migrated overseas during the past few years to the point where there are very few (and very expensive) U.S. manufacturers. I'm not going to spend a lot of time belaboring the ability of our overseas competitors who can produce caps and clothing for far less than we can. The fact is, they do it well. The quality is high and the import cost is very low. The end result is that we, at the decorator end, do very few caps compared to the quantities we did in the last decade. The decoration is usually done on the caps during manufacture and this sort of eliminates our participation in the actual market.

The manufactured clothing industry has also gone overseas. All of the major factories have migrated to either the Orient or to the NAFTA countries and again, there are no hard feelings. Adaptation for the locals is what is needed. We just have to learn some new tricks.

In our case, for instance, we have encouraged smaller runs. We eliminated any thought of minimums and have worked on programs that allow us to reduce pricing in order to be competitive. All in all, the change has been good and we find ourselves involved in the performance of fulfillment work which requires the addition of services like drop shipping and consolidating orders. In some cases, we have carried inventory in order to help distributors reduce their own carrying costs and improve turnaround to customers.

The key, for us, is to continue to improve our production and turnaround. It always will be. And I'm sure that I'll have more thoughts later.