Page 3 of 24

The Best Time

the-best-time-marshall-atkinson

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.”

Think about that for a moment.

Without even meeting you or having a conversation with any employees in your company, I know there is something that you have been thinking about implementing…but you just haven’t gotten around to it for whatever reason.

I get it.  You’ve got a full day today.  Tomorrow too.  How are you going to squeeze in anything new?  Who needs that “tree” anyway?

Let me be clearer.

Maybe you have wanted to experiment with waterbase ink.  Or DTG printing.  Or laser-bridge embroidery.  Or writing that employee handbook.  Or adopting a new automatic timeclock system.  Or finally having the guts to call that account you have been dreaming about.  Or redesigning your company brand.  Or fixing your production schedule so jobs ship on time.  Or learning how to mix PMS colors easily.  Or hiring some help.  Or doing more with social media.  Or updating your tired, boring and nonproductive website.  Or…

Unless you plant that seed, those trees will never sprout.  You will just be looking back a few years from now wondering why you don’t have any shade.  Boy, that sun is blistering hot.

Do you want to know what’s worse?

Your competition.  They have a shovel and are now turning over some dirt.  Looks like a new sapling is going in their orchard.

Are you happy about that?  Your customers might be.

So how do you find the time?  Simple.  Just block it off like it was something for your top client.  You wouldn’t let them down would you?  If something was due for them, you work through lunch, stay late or come in thirty minutes early.  Right?  This is the same aspect, but your company is the client.

You do what it takes.

There’s one more thing that wasn’t included in that sage advice I led this article with, and that is you have to nurture and care for that “tree”.  You can’t just plant it and walk away.  Doing something new?  There is going to be a ton of failure and dumb mistakes along the way.  But you can’t give up.  The learning occurs in the doing.  Every time you work on the new, you are tending to your sprouting tree.

What if you need some help?  There’s that too.  In the decorated apparel industry there are plenty of resources that can help you along the way to make the job easier, including me.  Go to a trade show.  Watch a video or listen in on a webinar.  Read an article in one of the trade magazines.  Participate and interact with industry friends online.  Talk to your supply chain.  Discuss the situation with your staff.

So what are you waiting for?  Get that tree in the dirt today.  Twenty years from now, you’ll thank me.

.

“You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run.  If you have the timing, it’ll go.” – Yogi Berra

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” – Pat Riley

Stressless Distressed

stressless-distressed-marshall-atkinson

This week’s blog article is all about creating easy to use distressed pattern files that you can use to add some pizzazz to your graphic files.  Nothing fancy, just solid technique.  If you have ever bought a distressed pattern you are going to wonder why you wasted your money after you read this.  Creating your own gives you the control, but also puts your creative spin on the design aesthetic.

I’ve been creating distressed patterns for years, and have found some great ways to build new and interesting distressed graphics just from my surroundings.  What makes it even easier is that you can get started with just using your camera phone.

Ready?  Here we go!

First Step

Grab your camera phone.  If you are one of the six people on the planet that doesn’t have one, just use a digital camera.  The benefit of using digital photography is the immediacy of the image.  You can tell right away if the shot you took is what you wanted.  Don’t like it?  Take another.  Or twenty.  Get what you can use.

For our purposes, we are looking for interesting patterns, textures and contrasting elements that can be the basis for creating Photoshop textures that we can apply to graphics.  The best are those that have strong light and dark juxtapositions, interesting positive and negative shapes, forms, and even some direction in their patterns.  You want to look for something “different”.  If you are trying to choose the right thing to take a picture, think about how you might use the image or how it might form the foundation for something else.

In about five minutes of walking around outside I found a few textures that I think might make some good candidates.  For the sake of simplicity for this article, I’m going to apply the same technique in Photoshop to each of these so you can see how the patterns might differ.  If this wasn’t for the article I might play with these some to create different effects, but I’ll just keep it simple today.

The six photos chosen will be Asphalt, Bush, Carpet, Concrete Aggregate, Grass, and Shrub Shadows.  Here they are.  These are all taken with my camera phone, and not altered in any way.  After I opened each in Photoshop, I resaved them at 300 dpi, at 8” x 4.5” file size.

blog-texture-original

As you can see, nothing special.  You can take these.  In fact, you probably can take better shots of more interesting patterns.  But I’m lazy, and went with the first thing I saw when I noticed.

In Photoshop you can spend a lot of time messing around with each of these to get the perfect balance of dark vs light, edge definition and all sorts of image improvements.  I’m not going to do any of that.  What we want here is quick and dirty, and ultimately, some unique patterns.

Second Step

For each of these photos, I converted the photos from RGB mode to Grayscale.  While these patterns are already somewhat interesting, they are going to take on a entirely different feel as we want the randomness of nature and found objects to influence our look.  The Grayscale mode is important as we’ll ultimately be converting each file to a high contrast file we can use.  It will simply be black and white.  If you aren’t happy with the tones in your Grayscale file, here’s your opportunity to change them by applying a quick Curve to them and get it the way you want it.  For me, I didn’t change anything for any of these shots.

Third Step

Now, here’s where the fun begins.  Another mode change.  Go from Grayscale to Bitmap.

This is going to completely remove all gray tones in your file and make everything either black or white.  The trick here is to use the “Method” pulldown in the Bitmap mode command, and each of the selections offered produces a different type of look for your file.  I would suggest trying them all out and seeing what works for you the best.  For our purposes though, we only chose two.

50% Threshold, which just removes all of the gray and midtones completely and leaves a black and white pattern.  There is no ambiguity here.  This is the boldest selection and if you have the right pattern, often the most starkly creative looking in the bunch.

  • Carpet Halftone was created using this method.  I needed to punch up the texture first so I ran an Unsharp Mask on the file before converting to further delineate the shapes in the carpet.
  • Concrete Aggregate Halftone was created, but this time I just went right from Grayscale to Bitmap, without any file adjustments.
  • Shrub Shadows Halftone was created the same way as the concrete texture.

Halftone Screen, which converts your file to a halftone that you can use.  The cool trick here is that you can select different types of halftone shapes, angles, and frequency (the amount of the halftone per inch).  For my selections I chose to show some different patterns so you can see how they look.

  • Asphalt Halftone was created using the Bitmap Halftone at 30 lines/inch, 0 angle degrees and with the Line shape.  This produces a great effect that looks like old fashioned scratchboard, or maybe woodcut if the lines are thick enough.  The 0 angle makes the lines go horizontal.
  • Bush Texture Halftone was created the same way, but the angle was set to 90 instead of 0.  This makes the lines go vertical instead of horizontal.
  • Grass Halftone Texture was created by not using lines, but dots instead.  The number variables where the same.  30 lines/inch, 0 angle, so the pattern is horizontal.

Here are the actual halftones I made.  Compare with the shots above.  Each of these files took maybe twenty or thirty seconds to process.  These are huge time savers if you are looking to create something unique for a creative piece you are working on.

blog-texture-converted

Below are the same textures, but with enlargements so you can see how each was affected by the choices made.  What do you think?  Could you use these for something in your design?

blog-texture-enlarge

Fourth Step

So you are asking yourself, “That’s great Marshall, but how do I use these?”

You know I wouldn’t let you down.  For the purpose of demonstration I created a “Property Of” graphic to test out each of these files and see how it can change the look of the type by clipping it into the file.  At the end of the process I could separate this two ways, and I’ll show you how to do that.

So here’s my graphic.  It’s just a simple file, nothing fancy.  It sorta looks ok already, but once we throw some of our new filters on this, it’s going to look even better.

property-of-demo

For our demonstration I’m just doing this in Photoshop.  It’s easy.  I just copy and paste each of the final textures, and select the dark areas of the graphic.  Invert that selection and choose the texture layer.  Then click delete.

The texture layer is applied to the graphic, and I can choose the opacity of the file until I’m happy with the resulting pattern overlay.

Here are the results.  I’ve zoomed in so you can see the detail.  Which do you like the best?

blog-texture-type

Sport_Grey

So I liked this one the best for my file, Grass.  There are two ways to separate this file for usage.

The first is simply to just flatten the file and save it as a .tif and bring it into your vector program to print.  This will make the Grayscale elements of the file print with the correct halftone dots and patterns you normally use.  This would print as a one color.  All day long.

Another method would be to separate this in Photoshop into two colors.  One gray, one black.  This gives you more control when printing, and you won’t be reinterpreting the halftones in the design.  I like this control, but it’s two colors instead of one so your production costs will increase going this route.  It is a little more work to get this, but in the end, it will be a better print as you have more control of the aesthetic as you can choose the colors you will be printing with in each screen.  By the way, these are exactly the same steps I use when separating a file for simulated process seps.  It’s ridiculously easy.

property-of-plates

Here’s how to do this in ten easy steps:

  1. First, merge the graphic and the texture layer is it is just a single layer.
  2. Then, while still in Channels, click up and select the RGB channels.  You are selecting your art file on the Layers now.  At the top menu selections, choose “Select”, and then pull down to grab “Color Range”.
  3. In Color Range, you can select as much or as little of the area you want to grab.  This is controlled by the “Fuzziness” slider.  For our purposes, we are going to use the eyedropper tool and select the gray area we want to make into a channel.  Make sure you have “Invert” checked so the background in this tool will be white.
  4. Select the gray area and pull the Fuzziness slider until you are happy with your selection.  This grabs everything you want for the channel.  This will have the “Marching Ants” show for your selection.
  5. Click the create a new channel button at the bottom of the palette.  A new channel will be created and it will be automatically names Alpha 1.  It will be a solid black square, but the “Marching Ants” will be visible.  Just invert the art (“Command “I”), and deselect the “Marching Ants” (“Command D”).  This will now show the graphic selection you have chosen on a white background.
  6. Double click the Alpha 1 channel.  The Channel Options palette will open.
  7. Check “Spot Color”.  Double click on the red square, and the Color Picker palette will appear.  Choose Color Libraries, and pick the PMS color you would like this spot color to be.  Back on the Channel Options palette, make the solidity 95%.
  8. Choose the RGB channels again to select your original art.  This will unselect the new spot color channel for viewing automatically.
  9. Repeat steps 2-8, except this time you choose the Black areas of the design, not the Gray.
  10. Review and make sure everything is ok with your files.  Then to split the channels to get them into a format you can use, just delete the RGB files and leave the two new channels.  Choose “Split Channels” in the channel command section and save each as a .tif file.  Each plate will be 100% to size and register with the other.  Make screens with each and print away!

Sport_Grey

Thanks for reading!  If you want to play with these files and try them yourself here are all of the original and final versions of the files for this article.  Enjoy!

Click Here to get the files.

.

“A camel is a horse designed by committee.” – Alec Issigonis

“Good design doesn’t date.  Bad design does.” – Paul Rand

“Anytime you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know he had some help.” – Alex Haley

The Seedy Underbelly

the-seedy-underbelly-marshall-atkinson

Let’s talk about intellectual dishonesty for a minute.  In the decorated apparel industry we are constantly under siege by people who push the envelope with their business practices.

Is it laziness?

For example, you’ve undoubtedly read about how some big box retailers have stolen some creative designer’s work and marketed it as their own.  I guess they didn’t think anyone would notice or care.

Is it self-serving?

For example, a supplier claims something that isn’t quite true or fudges the numbers to make their selling proposition stronger.  You’ve met these salespeople before.  I know I have and not just on the used car lot either.  Ick.

Maybe it’s intentional.

It’s a scam.  It’s the cheapest and shoddiest production effort possible.  You know, such as with the t-shirt that is bought and like a cruel magic trick the image disappears after one wash.  Or the embroidered hat with lettering you can’t even read.  Zero care or effort is put into the production quality.  That sure gives our industry a black eye.

I’d like to think that everyone could be above board with their business practices, but that would be incredibly naive.

So what can we do about this as an industry?  It’s not like there are any barriers to entry.  All we have is each other.

Self-Discipline

Picasso once famously stated, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”  I’m not sure about that, but what’s interesting is the thought of how much “inspiration” creative thinkers inject into their own work.

I won’t sugar coat it, I’ve been inspired by design elements or ideas and used them to create new images, logos or designs.  All creative people have their heroes and muses.  However, what I’m borrowing isn’t the entire visual element as thievery…just the conceptual element or idea that I liked.  Not the design itself.

Maybe it was how they used a certain texture in the type.  Maybe it was how the gradient worked in the background.  Maybe it was the idea of using a thicker outline to illustrate the icon or object.  Maybe it was using an asymmetrical balance of the objects.  Maybe it was using rounded corners like a Steve Jobs flunky.

I then incorporate that idea to interject something new into my own creative process.  Along time ago when I was an art director (before the internet, yes I’m that old) I kept an idea book that was crammed full of stuff I ripped out of magazines.  When I needed to jump start my creativity as I was working on the tenth design (or was it the eleventh) for the day, I would leaf through the book, and go “Oh, yeah…do it inside a circle.”; or whatever.  These days I just collect stuff and have it on a Pinterest board for reference.  You just never know.

It’s like adding a different spice to your favorite recipe.  Throw some cayenne pepper or sea salt onto the same old chocolate and BAM, it’s instantly different.

Another thing, I also like using stock photography as a starting point sometimes.  For example, the illustration for this article. I bought the rights to a photo for a fairly inexpensive amount of money (Fotolia), and then used it as the foundation for the illustration by adding my own elements to the design.  Starting from scratch could be possible, but frankly I don’t want to invest that much time into it.  I’ve got other things to do, and I spent about thirty minutes start to finish on that piece.  It’s easier and cheaper to find a starting point that works for the purpose this way.

seedy-underbelly-original

Here’s the original photo above.  Throw some type together, add a couple tricks in Photoshop and it’s finished.  Bingo.  Onto the next project.

This will always be acceptable, and quite honestly, encouraged with busy art departments everywhere.  There is an entire industry dedicated to helping creatives with this type of challenge.  If you don’t think so, just Google “Stock Photo”.  368,000,000 results.

What isn’t acceptable though is the wholesale stealing of an entire design.  Nothing new is added.  It’s just a blatant rip off and five finger discount.  Here’s the difference:

In 2015 Oregon clothing designer Melissa Lay was shocked to discover that one of her designs from her online web store had been stolen and was for sale at Target.  A friend sent her a picture of the shirt and congratulated her on getting her designs into Target for sale.  Except, that’s not what happened.  Read about her account and watch a short video by Clicking Here.

Has this happened to you?  Outraged? Share your story in the comments section below…

The Parody Question

So where does a parody or mimicry of the brand or design fit in?  You’ve seen these, I’ll bet.  Maybe even produced them.

There are branches on the industry tree devoted to this with Teespring, TeeFury, Threadless and even Woot! to some degree.  Is it ok to take a pop culture idea and twist it to sell a shirt?  What happens when the band, team or movie company wants a chunk of the action or thinks you are out of line?  Yes, I know you’ve seen Star Wars…but does that give you the right to market your own line of Boba Fett shirts?  Mash-ups are big business.  Threadless has a good legal page that defines their viewpoint.  Click Here to read it.

What about more commercial brands?

Some college fraternity appropriates the Jack Daniels logo for their shirt design because they think it’s a good idea to align themselves with the brand aesthetic of that particular bourbon.  Maybe not in their best interests from an insurance liability standpoint, but it’s what they want.

Is this type of shirt design a good idea for a fraternity?  Should you take that print job?  While that’s for your shop to decide, personally I think it’s just a lazy form of creativity.  How many thousands of shirts like this are printed every year?  To me, these types of designs occur because nobody could think of anything better to use as a creative motif for that Fall Hayride.  Is it wrong?  Meh.  It’s just the path of least resistance.  It works because it sells.

Until there is a problem that is…

Just recently the retail store Forever 21 was sued by Harley-Davidson for marketing a motorcycle jacket that incorporated their famous bar and shield design.  Forever 21 developed something similar, and used different text, but it was created to invoke the Harley-ness of the jacket without actually getting permission or licensing from the motorcycle company.  If somehow I got to ask a question to the Forever 21 creative team, it would be “Is that the best you could do?  That’s it?”

What about your shop?  Are you ever worried about Jack Daniels, Harley-Davidson or another brand firing a shot across the bow at your shop?  Be careful.  They are going to protect their brand.  After all, their lawyers need something to do everyday too.

Shout From Social Media

What if someone is stealing your creativity like Melissa Lay?  What should you do?

First, I think it is important to grow the awareness of the problem.  Our fellow businesses in the industry need to be alerted to these problems just from a networking standpoint.  Sure, we’re all competitors in a way, but we’re also a fairly tight knit group.  I’ve always loved the fact that we look out for each other and can band together for a common cause.

Intellectual property theft is a cause as good as any other.

If we can call attention to these instances when we see them, I think the social pressure and embarrassment might push more people to act ethically.  How do you think the top brass at Target or Forever 21 feel about that negative publicity they received from the press?

Silence from us emboldens them.

They think they can get away with it because “nobody says anything”.   Although it is probably a case where someone built the file and nobody with any sense approved it.  Asleep at the wheel I suppose.

Frankly I’m a little shocked that Target or Forever 21 couldn’t think up something more original.  If they are that tapped for ideas, I’m sure there are plenty of people that could assist them in their effort.  Know some?

Next Step – Legal Recourse

If you find your designs have been stolen there are a few ways you can go about protecting yourself.  A warning though, this can get costly so try to do things in small steps at first.  If you can, always seek out the advice of an attorney.

One first step is a simple “Cease and Desist” letter.  If you can’t afford to have a lawyer draft this for you, consider talking to a nearby law school or legal bar association for some pro bono help.  Intellectual property infringement and copyright challenges can be sorted out sometimes with this first step.

Copyright law protects the fixed expression of ideas, which means your design.  If you have produced your design, or published it for sale online, copyright is immediately invoked.  Here’s the thing to remember, although you aren’t legally required to register your work with the Copyright Office to secure the copyright, you will have to register your work before filing a copyright lawsuit.  Registration is always a precondition for bringing an intellectual property infringement lawsuit.

However, going with the infringement lawsuit can be an expensive proposition.  For small business owners or designers a cheaper alternative may be to consider filing a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction if your cease and desist letter doesn’t work.

The temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction are the legal tools that can be used to stop the production, distribution or sale of the infringing design in question.  While this isn’t a lawsuit that will grant you monetary damages if you win, it will stop the sales of your design from the other party.

That big lawsuit you want to file?  Think twice.  Are you ready for a prolonged drama that could take six months to a year?  It’s not a guaranteed slam-dunk win either.  What happens if you lose?  Do you have the bankroll to finance that with your legal team?  Sure you might get awarded some money or even a settlement.  Talk to a lawyer that will give you good advice regarding your best interests.

Quality Production Values – You Either Have Them or You Don’t

Shifting gears here, what do we do about shoddy work?  Personally I love seeing pics online that demonstrate some challenge with the quality of some apparel item for sale in a store.  It always induces that “Ha! Ha!” grin with me, as I know that I would never let that out into world if I was responsible.

But someone did.

Just like there are horrible auto mechanics or restaurants that serve burnt food, there are going to be shops that push out inferior work.  (I know, I know…it’s not you)

It’s up to us though to call these people out.  At least let the folks in charge know there is a problem.  It’s like telling the restaurant manager that your medium rare steak was served as a charcoal briquet.

They can’t fix it if they don’t know about it.

I’ve been in stores before looking at some embroidered logo or screen-printed piece.  The images are off center or out of registration.  Once a clerk in a retail store in Orlando noticed me pulling on the fabric to stretch the print to see if it cracked and asked me what I was doing.  My friend that was with me said, “He’s the t-shirt police and you are under arrest!”.  Funny.

Crappy work happens more than you think.  My son is attending a new school and received his PE uniform the first week.  They were so unbelievably poorly printed I couldn’t believe it.  The print on the t-shirt front was crooked by at least an inch, and the school logo on the shorts was bullet-proof, but the PMS 123 gold still wasn’t opaque on the royal blue polyester fabric, and even had a thread line in it.  Two garments, three problems.  When I said something to the school they didn’t even know there is a recourse for this sort of thing.

There Is Hope

Just remember, you are in control of your shop’s actions.  Discuss ethics with your art staff.  Explain the importance of being intellectually honest with your creativity and difference between stealing and inspiration.

What is the right thing to do?

Talk to your staff about the reason why reputation is important.  What are you known for?  Do you let poor production quality out the door, or do you govern that and have a process?  Some shops will just ship anything and cross their fingers that it won’t come back to haunt them.  Is sticking that misprinted shirt into the pile worth it in the long run when your customer drops you?

What is your shop known for in your circles?  Awesomeness?

Believe it or not, some shop owners aren’t even really aware as to what goes on out back in production, or even what quality looks like in reality.  They just don’t care enough about it until it’s too late.

Do you know what your employees are shipping?  Maybe that customer doesn’t complain to you, they just take their next order somewhere else.

People vote with their wallet.  Keep your staff accountable for their actions.

Sing in your own voice.

…..

Reference: Art Law Journal – great website dedicated to copyright law and infringement issues for artists.  Check it out by Clicking Here.

…..

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” – William Shakespeare

“Ethical decisions ensure that everyone’s best interests are protected.  When in doubt, don’t.” – Harvey Mackay

“Be a yardstick of quality.  Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs

The Pertinent Negative

the-pertinent-negative-marshall-atkinson

In our shops we are always inundated with questions.  How much for this?  What about that?  Can you design me something for my event?  Always with my favorite instruction, “Just do something cool!”

Sometimes, there are challenges from our own staff too.  These often start with a litany of questions.  What are we going to do about that order?  So and so is sick, who is going to fill in?  That art didn’t get approved for that job today, does it still have to ship?

One way to cut through the fluff and get to the real meat of what is needed and solve the puzzle is to borrow a tip from the medical community: The Pertinent Negative.  Unless you are a doctor or a nurse, you may not have heard this term before.

I think it is perfect for our industry.  Let’s take a look.

In the medical community, they use pertinent negatives to narrow down choices to formulate a correct diagnosis.  For example, if the patient’s chief complaint is chest pain, pertinent negatives could be:  No history of trauma to the chest.  No history of fever or productive cough.  No past history of similar symptoms.  No pain to the ribs.  Had a normal lung exam.

Every one of these negative findings gets the physician closer to the real root of the problem.

If we use a similar approach to resolving our challenges, we can get closer to our industry-driven truth quicker.  How many times have you mumbled under your breath just after the forehead slap, “Why didn’t they tell me that?”.  What if instead, you could have pulled that information out much earlier?

Asking your own set of pertinent negatives could set you up for faster success by driving down into the crux of the challenge by eliminating the things that don’t matter.

It’s essentially lopping off branches of the decision tree that aren’t applicable.

How many times has your production team set up a job only to discover that there are youth shirts that need to be printed and the art is too big to fit?  (I know, I know; your shop is perfect.)  At order entry, all the rep would have had to do is ask “Do you want us to make the adult art the same size as the youth so you can use the same set of screens?”  That way, the art staff can create it so it works from the beginning.  This matters as you don’t want to lose the revenue from the screens, but more importantly the lost time on the production floor as everyone is standing around wondering what to do.  Head or butt scratching avoided is generally a good thing.

What about your in-hands date for the order?  Do you know if there is any fluff built in or not?  This matters when you have a jam-packed schedule or some seemingly tight deadlines.  If you are asking up front when you took the order, you already know the answer.  Not all jobs are event driven.  A simple question like, “How firm is this in-hands date?”, can go a long way.

Sometimes just some simple questions can pull out the information you need to make good decisions.  “Will this be shipping on your company’s account number?”.  “For your order you stated you want to use American Apparel, would another brand work for you as well?”.  “Do you have copyright permission to use that logo?”  “Our minimum order is 12, but you get a price break at 24, would you like to increase your order quantity?”

The Pertinent Negative question can also be a huge boon for art directors or creatives.  When designing, these folks often get the short end of the stick when it comes to what I like to call “complete directions”.

If you have a client wanting more than one design, or makes multiple revisions to the same art, you are doing this wrong.  Why work that hard?  Especially when most shops give or greatly reduce their art charges to land the job in the first place.  Your sales staff or customer service reps need to do a better job of collecting information before anyone starts creating anything.  Every time you have to make an art change you should ask how we could have avoided that step from the order entry funnel.  You guessed it, with a question.

Asking simple questions can be a huge time saver and also free up some creative thinking by getting down to what the customer really wants to see.  “Thanks for sending in your logo.  Are there any brand restrictions to modifying it with different colors, textures or styles?”  “Our standard full front design is sized to fit within a 12” x 12” area, will that be ok?”  “Do you care what typestyle we use for this job?”  “Your embroidery order has some very tiny type.  It may look better with just the logo icon, will that be ok?”  “For your rush order, we’ll need the art approval on Tuesday, can you be available at 10:00 am to approve the art?”

Also, The Pertinent Negative is a great management tool for your employees, especially during hiring or performance reviews.  When you ask your employees questions, you are engaging them in the discussion.  Dialog and conversation are good things.  “Our start time is in the morning at 6:30 am, do you have reliable transportation to get here on time?”  “You did a great job these last six months learning the embroidery trimmer position.  Have you ever thought about learning to operate a machine?”  “Do you have any experience with Excel or other office programs?”  “Just curious in your last management role, have you ever hired or fired anyone?”  “Do you feel you have the right amount of training for your job?”

As you can see, The Pertinent Negative can be a great tool to dislodge information from people that might not normally share, or even know to share, things that might be relevant to your company.  It is as simple as asking questions that can end with a Yes or a No, and then following up as to why they answered the question that way if you need to do something with that answer.

All you have to do is ask.  Which is always the tricky part.

“Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust.” – Zig Ziglar

“Rule number 1: Never lose money.  Rule number 2: Never forget rule number 1.” – Warren Buffett

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” -Duke Ellington

 

Drowning Staff Needs a Lifeline

drowning-staff-needs-a-lifeline-marshall-atkinson

I was recently speaking with an owner of a shop that was lamenting about the lack of talent, drive and knowledge in her shop.  She was very frustrated that she couldn’t find good workers to help get her business growing and wanted to know the best way to attract better employees.

During the conversation, I asked her to describe her current workforce, their in-house training program and what they do to help employees move up the ladder.  My thought was maybe her current staff members could rise up and fill the needed positions easily, as they already have a lot of internal workplace knowledge.

Her response shocked me.

“Oh, we don’t have time to train.  I’m not going to do that.  I expect people I hire to know what they are doing.”  She then went on to tell me that they barely get 1,000 impressions from any of their automatic presses a day.  She was 100% adamant that it is the worker’s responsibility to learn how to operate the equipment for production success.

I don’t know about your shop, but if my production crews were only printing 175 pieces an hour, I’d be looking at finding out why, getting them some training and holding them more accountable.

I’m certainly not trying to embarrass anyone here, but I did want to point out that as shop owners or managers it is up to you to ensure your team’s success.  Transferring the responsibility to learn industry knowledge to your work staff is tantamount to disaster.  It’s too complicated and frankly, changes so much, how do you expect them to keep up? Who was decorating Dri-Fit stuff at our current level ten years ago?  Just wait until we have to start decorating 3D printed garments, or apparel that has built in sensors.  Some days just diagnosing why a job won’t register seems impossible.

If your mentality is to just hire people and push them into the deep end of the pool and expect them to swim, who’s fault is it when they drown?

This industry is difficult enough on it’s own without hamstringing your staff by not working with them to master their craft.  Training shouldn’t be a DIY course.

Sadly, this isn’t a rare occurrence.  I’ve read in online forums, met people at trade shows, and even have received emails from people that want to grow and succeed in this industry, but are being held back by their managers or owners from learning something new.  “Sorry, but they won’t teach me how to print, I’m on my own.”, was what one young worker wrote recently.

These employees are reaching out from the deep end of the pool looking for someone to help them.  Who is going to throw them that lifesaver ring?

Where do you stand on this subject?  Are you on the side of the fence that demands your staff acquire their work knowledge on their own?  Or, are you constantly investing in their industry education and training?  Maybe a little of both?  Be honest.

Did you train anyone do do anything new in your shop yesterday?  Today?

This topic has me a little concerned about how shops manage their staff.  While the common outcry has long been “we can’t find any good workers”, I just don’t see many companies that have significant training programs.  Your new printer or embroiderer is already working for you now.  I’ve spoken with some of the best industry thought leaders on this topic over the years, and all agree that the best long term staff members on their teams were “grown” with continual education starting at the entry level.  They all have significant training programs, built on learning different aspects of the business, not just one specific task.

When you meet with your team members during performance reviews, do you ask them where they see themselves in your company in three years or so?  What would they like to do for you?  This is important, as when there’s little hope of advancement or dreams of learning something new, self-motivation and curiosity abate.

It’s no wonder this lady has so many personnel problems in her shop.  Every position there is a dead end job.

Take my poll below!

Also, if you are doing something special with employee training in your shop or would like to enhance this conversation, please leave something in the comments section.  Thanks!

Why Don’t More Decorators Go Green?

why-dont-more-decorators-go-green_-marshall-atkinson

Why don’t more apparel decorators “Go Green”?  …and by “Go Green”, I don’t mean the color of the shirt, thread, or ink.  This isn’t a St. Paddy’s day stunt either.

We live in some interesting times.  Besides the constant product disruption in business, our capitalistic efforts in the last century have put a growing burden on our planet.  In the past few years many corporations have focused their efforts in becoming more environmentally friendly.  Having a strong triple bottom line pays off with shareholders these days.  (social, environmental & financial)

Just plop into any corporate webpage and check out their blog posts, annual reports or sustainability mission statements.  You can see that they are making some valiant efforts in reducing their environmental risk, while building a healthier bottom line.  Not to mention using a sustainable mindset when developing new products for their customers.  Click the links and check these out:

Nike

Gildan 

Hanes 

PolyOne – Wilflex 

Rutland 

Ryonet 

Kornit 

3M 

So if the big boys are interested in this, why doesn’t it trickle down into the smaller company world?  (Meaning – your company to be exact.)  Are people less concerned about the planet?  Are companies less interested in making more money?

Is there any direction for a “sustainable future” for apparel decorators?

I think there is.  However, when I speak to shops about this topic most people either don’t know where to start, or think it is just the domain of larger companies.  “We are too small to make a difference”, they say.

Most companies in our industry segment comprise of firms with less than two hundred people, and under $10 million in sales per year.  In fact, if you attend any trade shows, or discuss customers with the supply chain folks you’ll find that most shops are about twenty or thirty people and about $1 million or less in sales.  Their biggest headaches are all about growth, being eaten alive by the online commerce world, personnel challenges, and for some…just making payroll.

Going green sounds nice, but who needs that extra work?  What’s the payoff anyway?  For a lot of shops just doing anything beyond recycling their soda cans seems like a pipe dream.

Let’s Change That

The benefit of any long term, serious and organized effort with sustainability is always more efficiency (getting more work completed with easier methods), bigger financial rewards (more money at the end of the year), and a competitive advantage (better customers).

Let’s break these down one by one:

More Efficiency

Sustainability is focused on doing more with less.  In the decorated apparel industry what does this actually mean?  More shirts embroidered or printed for less operating costs.  More orders completed per day.  Less downtime.  Better trained staff, using superior tools, producing higher quality work.

That equates to a stronger, more profitable business for you and happier customers in the end.

Picture in your mind your shop floor.  Imagine all the processes needed to produce an order.  Let’s say that a process in a department takes five steps to complete.  If you can figure out how to complete the same process with three steps, then that’s more efficient.  If you remove a consumable, or use less of it, during the process then it becomes cheaper.  If you can handle the same workload, but complete it faster then your efficiency pushes the operating costs even lower.

Less = More

Regardless of the size of your shop, this holds true.  However, most smaller shops are reluctant to start a sustainability program as it seems too daunting, with too little payoff.

The trick is to just get started, and review every step in your business and just simply ask “is there a better way”?  Often, there is a different technique, product, machine, training, method or even employee that can push the limit on the current status quo.  You just have to be comfortable in getting out of your own way and asking “why do we do it this way?”

Why indeed?

For example, let’s look at the new battle that’s going on with film vs computer to screen systems for screen-printing.  I realize these machines are expensive and possibly out of reach for some smaller manual shops…but it is a good topic to review for illustration purposes.  If you are a printer that burns over fifty screens a day, you should seriously consider this equipment, from an efficiency and sustainability point of view.

With film, each separation plate is laboriously printed either on a per sheet or on a roll basis.  The cost just for the film alone is about a dollar a plate on average.  How many screens do you go through a day?  For the sake of argument, let’s say you burn that fifty.  At a dollar each, that’s $250 a week.  That equals $13,000 a year.  Let’s say you add in the labor for the screen room tech to handle and file the films and use them to make the screens with ten minutes per screen at $10 an hour, that’s $1.70 per screen, which equals $85 for the day, $425 for the week, and $22,100 for the year.

$13,000 + $22,100 = $35,100.  That’s a rough guesstimate at what your screen room costs for using film could be.  (You should already know your real cost, but if not simply measure yours to get the exact total: consumables + labor)

If you haven’t been to a trade show or read one of the industry magazines lately, the M&R STE II Computer to Screen system can image and expose a screen in under a minute.  Using LED technology, it is making a tremendous impact on screen rooms all over the world for efficiency.  There are other brands and they are all great too, but none matches this speed and quality.  It’s groundbreaking.  Watch their video of one person coating, imaging,  exposing, and rinsing 400 screens in one eight hour shift – Click Here.

Using CTS, you eliminate the need for films forever.  For our example, that’s $13,000 a year off the top.  For easier math, let’s use 1 minute per screen as our average here, at the same labor rate of $10 per hour.  $0.20 per screen x 50 = $10.  For the week, that’s $50.  Yearly that’s $2,600 for labor.

So if you eliminate the film by going digital, that’s a $13,000 a year on consumable savings, at fifty screens a day.  There is a $19,500 a year labor savings.  Added together that’s $32,500.  Per year.  Which makes the ROI on this about two years.  Then, that money goes to the bottom line forever.

Also, let’s mention that when using a CTS system you can keep a small halftone down to about a 4%-5% range, eliminate moiré completely, avoid that vacuum table step, and set up faster on your presses as each screen is perfectly registered to any others for the design.  With a set up jig like Tri-Loc, you just drop them in and go.

What is your shop production downtime savings worth?  You can add that to the pile of money described above.

This is the cost savings efficiency that sustainable-minded businesses are thinking about when they start their programs and continuously improve them.  Will this be right for your shop?  I don’t know…you’ll have to do the math.  The example above is just in general terms.  And yes, I know that your screen room tech isn’t just going to be working fifty minutes a day with a CTS system…but imagine all the other things they could be doing.  Where could you redeploy that labor and help some other part of the shop?  Think of all the other things that guy could be doing.

Bigger Financial Rewards

So what if you adopted this mindset and pushed it into everything you do?  Sustainability isn’t about just worrying about using an organic cotton blank, but about truly thinking about efficiency and performance.

Companies that comprehend this are experimenting with anything they come across to find out if it might make sense for them.

For example, take a look at a simple product such as masking tape and how it is used in the shop.  How and why are you using it?  Have you ever tried a different brand?  Is one brand easier to apply or take off than another?  Do you even need it in the first place?  What if someone marketed a tape that would dissolve in the reclaiming process, would you buy that instead?  Then, think of the labor your shop could save if you didn’t have to tape screens at all.  There are products on the market now that do that.

Once you start on this journey what you will find is that there is an endless series of questions, that all spawn more questions.  As you are pinballing your way through the discovery for the answers, you’ll unearth some very interesting things about your core operational processes.

Usually “the way we’ve always did it” doesn’t perform as well as “the way it should be done now”.

Want to use a better performing press wash, ink system, thread, equipment, software or other tangible product?  Your supply chain wants you to know that these items are for sale right now.  When was the last time you investigated anything?  I talk to so many shop owners and managers that think that changing anything in their shop won’t make a difference.  They carry a big disbelief about supplier claims.  I get it.  However, you do have the power in your own hands.

Scientifically prove that it is worth it by conducting your own trials.  Most suppliers can give you samples for free.  Benchmark your current state and constantly compare against the new results.  Throw the data on a spreadsheet and graph the results over time if you start using something new.

When costs start dropping and the graph looks like a sinkhole opened up as the line plunges to the bottom of the chart, you’ll soon realize why all the big companies are so interested in sustainability.   It just makes dollars and sense.

Blacken your bottom line not by raising prices on your customers, but by saving money with the tasks you are already doing.

Competitive Advantage

Here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Any shop can recycle their soda cans, or switch out their lighting to LED’s or T8’s.  You can build a program, and just slouch your way through it and say you are “Green”.  Everyone loves a marketing buzzword.  However printing with waterbase inks doesn’t make you green.  Neither does just using a recycled or organic blank.

The strongest printing companies will keep going on their journey and become certified sustainable printers.  The ultimate printing certification is through the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership, or SGP.  Shops that get this certification have to prove that they are doing everything right.  Getting the SGP Certification means you aren’t greenwashing.  It proves you are an expert, and you are seriously committed to your sustainability journey.  Getting certified equates to graduating from college.  You’ve earned the pedigree by doing the work and proving you know your stuff.

It also gives you a tremendous marketing tool and an advantage over your competition.

In your marketplace, go to your customer’s websites and also to your main competition’s.  Do they have a sustainability section?  Go to your “dream” customers websites too…you know that one company that you wish that did business with you.  Check to see if they have their sustainability position posted as well.  If they are touting their interest in this area, don’t you think that getting the SGP Certification will align with their corporate interests?  It’s like dating someone and realizing you both like pistachio ice cream and horror movies.  Bingo!  It’s love at first sight.

On a job quoting level, if all things are equal with your competition, but you have the SGP Certification and they don’t, who do you think they are going to want to partner with for a long term relationship?  SGP wins hands down every time.  Because it is proven leverage and a marketplace differentiator.  It demonstrates professionalism and corporate responsibility.  It is the mark of a leader.

Remember “green” is a color.  Sustainability is a direction.  It’s action.  It’s a money-maker.

Getting Started

Here’s the easy part.  If you want to get going with this, it really doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort or any secret training.  I always advise just getting some key members of your staff together for an hour and discuss the idea.  On a whiteboard, write down all the easy ways your company can do better on the sustainability front.  Score wins with easy victories.

Some examples could be with using energy, such as paying closer attention to the thermostat, installing LED lighting, switching out older appliances for newer energy efficient ones, or even installing motion sensors in common areas like break rooms, bathrooms or supply areas.  Even not just turning on your flash units on press until you need them can save money.  A lot of shop staff members do things from habit, not by need.

You could start a recycling program, and segregate your materials for pick up.  Less items in the dumpster means less pick-ups per week or month.  Some materials that are recyclable can generate money back to you, so that’s a benefit as well.

Also look at your preventative maintenance schedule (uh, you have one, right?) and make sure your equipment is well cared for.  Lots of shops postpone this stuff as they are “too busy”.  However, that hissing noise you are always hearing at your press from the air cylinder leaks is costing you $600 a year in electricity on your air compressor to keep the pressure constant.  It’s even worse when there are multiple leaks.

Sustainability is also about doing things more efficiently.  The products you use in your shop are a good target for research.  Trying to use a better performing ink, maybe a different emulsion EOM, or screen mesh choice so you don’t have to double stroke for opacity is being sustainable.  It’s a results driven, performance focused activity.  Look at the top ten most commonly purchased items in your shop and see if there is a better item available.

The Cost Objection  

One mindset that always comes up is price.  Usually better performing anything costs a little more.  Most of the time it’s worth it.  If you are using the cheapest thread on the market for embroidery for example, and are plagued with constant thread breaks are you really saving any money?  What if you switched to a more expensive, but better made and stronger thread?  How many more runs per day could you get out of your machines?  Don’t let your accounting team control your production decisions.

Performance equals Efficiency which also equals Sustainability.  It’s a golden circle, not green.  That’s what saves you the moola…

For long term success, build the sustainability idea into your staff’s job functions.  After all, performance and saving money should be part of their job descriptions anyway.

If you need help with your program, SGIA has a wonderful work group called the Peer to Peer network that aligns a dozen or so shops together at a time for an hour-long webinar every two weeks.  They delve into one topic a session, and work towards the solution afterwards as homework.  It’s a great way to connect with other shops, and build your sustainability program in a classroom setting.  After completion, you are practically ready for your certification audit.

For more information on the SGIA Peer to Peer Network Click Here.

For more information regarding the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership, Click Here.

“The only thing we know about the future, is that it will be different.” – Peter Drucker

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” – Pat Riley

Don’t Make Me USE ALL CAPS

CAPS-LOCK-SMACKDOWN-Marshall-Atkinson

Frustrated with work challenges that involve people?  Me too.  Don’t you want to just send that jerk-wad a full fledged e-mail rant using all caps to really show them who’s boss?  I know you know where the caps lock key is on the keyboard.  Time for a left pinky smackdown…

KA-BLAM!  UNLEASH THE FREAKING FURY OF THE ALL CAPS RANT!

However, most of our daily work challenges come down to the fact that it’s our own fault.

Huh?

Yes, you.  Me too.  Ok, stop snickering.  I’m serious.  It’s all about how your company insists on accountability, empowerment and expectations.

Think about it.

Look Inward Young Man

Maybe your challenges are all internal?  There’s that manager in your shop that sits in their office and only judges people by black and white numbers, and isn’t interested in the human element of working.  “People smeople”…that attitude just sucks the motivation right out of the room.

What about that sales guy that always dumps some last minute project in your lap with a “Do me a favor!” smile and nervous laugh?  You’ll be working on that turd for hours on end trying to make it smell less.  Thanks.

Let’s not forget the production manager that shoots off an e-mail about sending the crews home early on Friday, even though they haven’t started that big order that has to ship Monday.  That’s when you realize that tuft of hair in your left hand came from your own head.  Personally, I don’t have that much to spare.

Is the Customer Always Right?

Did your customer really just send you a “PO” that was handwritten on a napkin?  That’s the best they can do?

How about an order request via text message at 11:32 pm at night and expect an immediate response?  Those soccer moms can be brutal.

What about “professional” artwork that is created in PowerPoint?  …or worse, it’s on the other side of the napkin PO.

Don’t forget about that rush order you spent the weekend producing that’s now been sitting in your pick-up area for eight days; it’s almost mocking you at this point.

What is the Weakest Link in Our Supply Chain?

Of course let’s not forget our supply chain too.  Four boxes of youth shirts that you didn’t order is mixed in with your just delivered shipment, but all of your mediums are missing.  When you call to get the story they act like it is your fault.

Don’t even get me started about internet providers…

You ordered a part online and the one thing in the box that was shipped is the packing slip.   Good thing that came in overnight priority.

Or maybe the only person that knows how to fix your machine has been out to lunch for two hours…all you need is a simple question answered.  I guess cell phones don’t work at that Subway.

Let’s not forget the drivers from “big brown” that delivered your shipment to the wrong address for that event…and there’s nothing they can do to correct it without authorization.  Ok, you are authorized.  Go fix it.

Schadenfreude

Is your head about to explode and make the shrieking sound of a steam freight whistle like in a cartoon?  There are thousands of other horror stories that I’ve heard about in this industry.  You’ve seen them probably in some Facebook or LinkedIn group.  We all like to share our tales of woe.  

Schadenfreude at its glorious best.

This type of behavior though isn’t tolerated in other industries and businesses, so why does it always seem to happen in ours?  Frankly, I think it’s because to some degree we are scared of our employees.  Scared of our customers too, because we need them even more.  Scared of taking a stand.  Scared of them not coming back.  Scared of what they might say.  Scared of being flamed on a Twitter post or other social media outlet.  Scared that clients are going to take their dollars and spend them with our competition.  Scared that our employees are going to go over there too and take all of our “secrets”.

Nobody wants to be the ship that the rats are fleeing from.  So nothing get said.  This time.  That time.  Another time.  Everything just builds up to the point that there is a hurricane inside that just has to come out.

Unleash the beast!

So before you go full tilt bozo on someone and shoot off that venom laced e-mail, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO GET THIS PROBLEM OFF YOUR CHEST, take a minute and reflect on how these behaviors happen in the first place.

Why the Blaming Finger Points at You

Internally, what rules do you have in place that set the standards for behavior and workplace expectations?  Is it the wild west, where anybody can do anything because there isn’t a written guideline to follow?  If you want a different outcome, what do you think needs to happen?

Set some expectations.

Maybe if you had an easy to use online order form on your website (mobile friendly of course), you could direct your customers to use that instead of getting the handwritten napkin or late night text message.  Will it stop knuckleheads from doing that completely?  Probably not, but it is something you can train these customers to use if they do it the wrong way.  “Here Fred, just click this link and follow the order instructions…using this form for order entry is how we help keep your costs down.”

Artwork too.  I once had a customer send in a photo of a person wearing a t-shirt with their logo printed on the back as their art for an order as we asked for “camera ready t-shirt art”.  My response after the forehead slap?  I politely forwarded our branded company art requirements that specified vector art created in Illustrator or saved as a .pdf.  We received the correctly formatted file the next day.  Sometimes people just don’t comprehend our terminology.

What is second nature to us, is esoteric to everyone else.

One thing to remember is that a good number of our customers don’t understand what we do for a living.  We take it for granted as we’re around it constantly.  To them though, it’s magic.  How many times have you given a guided shop tour and the folks you are walking around are amazed at the wonder of how shirts are decorated?  It’s like you are pulling back the curtain in the Wizard of Oz and exposing the darkest secrets.  For us, it’s just another day getting orders completed to ship.

Simplify

To that end, if you want a process to proceed correctly, then spend the time and energy setting it up so that there’s only one way to do it.  This is our standard.  The right way.  “Our” way.

How many ways can you order from Amazon?  One.  Can you call it in?  No.  Can you send them a PO for ordering?  No.  Do you have to use their website and follow each prompt along the way?  Yes.  It’s the only way.  They don’t even have a phone number to call for help if you get stuck.  They have simplified the process to the point that it is their norm.

Think about your processes in your shop.  What are your standards?  How many different ways do you have to do something?  Having a challenge with a process?  What if you made it easier by eliminating all the ways it could possibly go wrong?  Simplify the steps.  Eliminate the problems by making it impossible to fail.

How can you do that?  Easy.  Let’s chart out the steps necessary to simplify anything.

First describe your current state.  What’s going on?  List the things that are good.  List the things that are bad.  Who is involved and part of the process?  Are there time constraints?  Write all of this out so it describes the challenge.  Be as detailed as you need to be to paint an accurate picture.  Here is one example…try writing yours:

“For XYZ Apparel Company, orders from customers are taken in person at the front desk, over the phone, by e-mail, with a purchase order, through our website, and on hand-written order forms.  A team of customer service representatives inputs all of the order information into our system, and paper work orders are produced and distributed to the appropriate production group.  Most of the orders are entered the same day, but some take a few days to gather all of the information for the order.  On average one rep can enter eighteen orders daily; less if there is work quoting jobs or sourcing apparel to purchase for orders.  Our average turn time is seven to ten business days.  We have a department manager daily production meeting to determine what orders will be worked on each day.  Currently we are four business days behind in our production schedule.”

Then write out how you want the process to work.  Use the same descriptors as your current state, but describe the Utopian point of view for the process.  Write this out so that it describes where you want to go.

“For XYX Apparel Company, orders from customers are downloaded from our website into our production system instantly as they come in.  Nobody touches anything.  All of the information and artwork is loaded by the customer from our website only, and the system is built to check for accuracy on the front end.  Images are handled on the web, and pushed to the appropriate digital production team without the need for human intervention.  Orders are automatically queued by ship date, in-stock inventory pulled via smart tablets, and production is processed without paper work orders.  Jobs are synced by ship dates, produced, and shipped in three business days or less.  The company interacts as a team, and staff is trained to use the system to make decisions.  There never is a production meeting, and everyone is accountable and trained to push their work to implement the speed needed for maximum efficiency. “

While this solution may seem far fetched, the goal is write how you want your future to work and then find or create the tools necessary to get there.  The question you need to ask yourself is how to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be somewhere in the future?

The important work is to determine how to make that happen.

Do you need software?  Different people?  More production equipment?  More automation?  Better training?  A new system?  Maybe even a better functioning website?  New processes and procedures?  Maybe even firing a customer or two or dropping a production method altogether to make another area work better?  Do you need to bring in someone to help that has the experience championing change?

Make your grocery list of what you need to do to solve your own problems and then gather your resources and execute your idea.

Close the gap between your current frustrated state and the perfect future, by building the bridge between them.   Just ask what is wrong now, and what do I need to change?

After all…

IT IS UP TO YOU.

(I can neither confirm nor deny that the title of this blog was inspired by the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles.)

“I rant, therefore I am.” – Dennis Miller

“If you could kick the person in the pants that is responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Instant gratification takes too long.” – Carrie Fisher

Direction vs Speed

SPEED VS DIRECTION - MARSHALL ATKINSON

Let’s pretend you had to choose between “Direction” and “Speed” as the one attribute for your business to obtain success.  Sure, it’s a ridiculous argument, as there are obviously more to making a company successful than one buzzword attribute…but that’s the fun of debate isn’t it?  Pick a crazy premise and argue.

Which do you think will win that battle?

Direction pertains to having your company moving in the right direction for success.  It’s all about alignment.  You have your company built to serve a particular customer base.  The equipment and consumables you use perfectly performs the work.  Your staff has clear expectations about how to serve the customers and make those orders sing.  Like a seasoned captain, you make course corrections to keep the ship traveling towards success.

Speed is all about beating the clock.  If the order was due to ship Thursday, can it ship Wednesday instead?  Can you beat the competition to the finish line and win the race?  In a market with ever decreasing turn times, can you go from a five-to-seven business day turn to two-or-three?  To get that speed, what sacrifices must you make to obtain that goal?  Will you have to invest more money to get that speed?  Faster usually equals technology, different equipment, more automation, less people.  There’s an app for that.  Or at least there could be.

But here’s the thing, Direction and Speed are not mutually exclusive.  If you have the correct direction, but are the slowest to market you lose.  If you are the fastest company around, but headed in the wrong direction, you lose.

How you win is to build your company to serve two masters.  Direction and Speed coupled together.  Tricky.  Think about how your company is doing on those fronts right now.

How does it look?

Alignment  

When working on an order, have you ever had a customer not approve something on the art because you didn’t follow or understand the instructions or had to stop and ask the customer mid-stream in a production run a question such as “Sorry but PMS 7400 doesn’t exist can you pick another color”?  This is the case where the Direction was correcting itself towards success, but sacrificing the Speed.  What can you do to improve on this in your shop?

Have you ever started a job a little early, but opened the box in production and realized the shirts were the wrong color or style?  “Hey, what’s this?”  You’ve got great Speed, but someone in receiving has a caused a course Direction challenge.  Each department in your shop must support the next.  No team is an island.  You are all in this together to make your customer happy.

Process

W. Edwards Deming has a great quote (and you know I like quotes) that goes “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”  Process is where Direction and Speed meet.  

In your shop, everything you do that is critical to the job can be boiled down to a set of core processes.  How you enter an order.  How your creative team develops the art.  How you receive and count or pull the inventory.  How you digitize the file, create the screens, or prep the digital file.  How you stage the order.  How you handle post-production, such as relabeling, hangtagging or polybagging.  How you ship.  Even how you invoice.

These core processes are the necessary steps you make every day to get the order out the door.  That’s your Direction.  How many steps it takes to do each one, and the time constraints you have for each determines your Speed.

Dive Deep

For an example to illustrate a process, let’s take one step and examine it a little more closely.  If we review all of your steps regarding order entry, what would we find?  Smooth and effortless?  A confusing mess?  When was the last time you gathered key stakeholders in the process and discussed the challenges and problems of how you enter an order?

If your shop is like most, I’m sure your production team is always grumbling about something on the order.  Not enough information, wrong ship dates, maybe you’ve even ordered the wrong shirts or the wrong shirt quantity for the order before.  If you equate your work order to baseball, are you hitting a home run every time you are at the plate?  If not, why?

Let’s say our work order was entered, but was missing some information because the customer service representative didn’t have that information yet.  Is that still considered an order?  Do other departments start working on it yet?  What happens in receiving when they go to check in the goods and the quantities haven’t been entered yet?  I’ve also seen orders where production finished the job, but the shipping information hasn’t even been given to the rep to enter, so those shirts just sit there for a few days while the rep contacts the client.  Which is always a problem on a crowded schedule as something else could have been produced in that production slot instead.

No Direction.  No Speed.

Think about all of the other departments in your shop.  Where do the bottlenecks for Direction or Speed occur?  Is anyone talking about them?  Can they do it without finger pointing?  What happens in your shop when someone says “Hey, I noticed on this order that the…”  Are they crucified for bringing up a problem?

Effective management is all about giving clear expectations regarding the Direction and Speed your shop should be moving in.  This means holding people accountable regarding the processes they control.  If your management team doesn’t discuss your shop’s shortcomings often, nothing will ever change.

Can you do it without it becoming a heated argument?  For a lot of people the answer is no, so they just don’t say anything.

Silence solidifies poor performance into your shop’s cultural cement.  To work on your shop’s culture of Direction and Speed here are some suggestions:

  • Gather your team together and allow everyone to discuss what isn’t working without fear of reprisals or getting into trouble.  To change what isn’t working you have to first identify it.  Label the problems.  Triage them by priority of the best benefits to serving Direction and Speed for the shop.
  • Feedback is crucial.  Develop how feedback is channeled when something goes awry.
  • Transparency is the best.  Don’t dictate change from the top of the mountain.  Have the team doing the work be a major part of what happens.  Nobody does a Kaizen event in a closed room with a whiteboard.  It happens on the floor with the people involved in the process.  Get out of your office.
  • Publish clear expectations on what has to happen when.  For example, in your shop’s system work backwards from the ship date.  The ship date is the day that the job has to leave the building.  Your goal should be to complete the job one business day before that.  Line up all the steps backwards to make that happen.  What has to occur when?  Take control and eliminate the problems.  Hold people accountable.
  • Be patient.  People make mistakes.  If everyone is working on getting better they still could fall short on something.  Analyze what happened and make a course correction.  Does your team need extra training?  Better equipment?  Better performing ink, thread or other consumables?  Did they have the right information to do the job properly to begin with?
  • To develop Speed, you first need Direction.  Once you know where you are going, you can work on eliminating wasteful steps in any process.  This happens through feedback, measuring data, experimentation, and being ok with failure while learning.
  • Shoot bullets not cannonballs when changing anything.  Develop an idea.  Test it.  Get feedback.  Test it again.  Keep tweaking it.  When it looks like it will always perform as expected, that’s when you roll out the change as a new process or procedure for everyone.  Don’t change everything out of the gate and hope that it will work.
  • Rush orders are the epitome of Direction and Speed.  These days as production teams are getting less and less available days to work on a job, it’s critical that everything lines up correctly.  How do you schedule Rush Orders now?  What are the most common problems?  As they aren’t going away, what are you doing to make them easier to handle?  Can your team easily identify them without having a special meeting?  How do they know to work on them first?  

At the beginning of the article I said I was going to debate between picking one attribute between Direction and Speed to make a shop successful.  Then I rambled on how you need both.  However, if I really had to pick I’d go with Direction.  Why?  Mainly because without Direction, Speed doesn’t matter.

Direction is creating the vision and outlining your expectations.  It’s detailing exactly what should happen and making people accountable to ensure that the expectations reach reality.  It’s difficult.  It’s a struggle.  The weaker, concrete-brained members of your team will hate it.  “Hey, we’ve always done it this way!”, they will say.  Once those speed bumps smooth out though you can start getting traction and actually do things faster because you’ve created work standards.

Those standards allow for the Speed to flourish.  When nobody has to ask permission or find out what to do next, your downtime compresses and more action is created.   This translates to more orders produced per day.

When you add constant Direction together with constant Speed you get Velocity.

Do you think the word Velocity defines your shop currently?  If not, what are you doing about it?  

Want to make an watershed change to your shop?  Start with Direction.

“You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.  You’re on your own, and you know what you know.  And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”  – Dr. Seuss

“Ok, so what’s the speed of dark?” – Steven Wright

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” – Mark Twain

“Only the mediocre are always at their best.” – Jean Giraudoux

Procrastinate Much?

PROCRASTINATE-MUCH-MARSHALL-ATKINSON

I’ve been meaning to write an article about procrastination for some time now.  Don’t laugh.

Seriously.

Somehow, I just keep putting it off.  (Ba Da Bump)  Other topics come up that mean more, or maybe I think they are more relevant to the industry.  Things happen.

Now here we are months later and I’m just now getting some words down.  As I’m in the same boat as the rest of the procrastinators out there, maybe that makes me some sort of half-assed expert or tribal salesman at least.  I don’t know.  They don’t give out awards for being late usually.  But in this particular case there wasn’t even a deadline.  Just something I wanted to do.

I’m sure you know the drill.

So let’s examine that a bit more, and take a look at how this can affect anyone working in the decorated apparel industry.  Over the years I’ve spoken with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of shop owners, managers, employees and folks in the supply chain about the challenges in the industry.  Other than the overwhelming problem of communication (or lack thereof) in shops, the next biggest challenge is always “getting stuff done”.  There never seems to be the right amount of time.  Or dedication.  Or willpower.  Or whatever excuse is handy.

Guess what?  It’s procrastination at it’s best usually.

That’s why you didn’t learn how to sewn applique, or try out waterbase ink, or learn simulated process, or tackle CMYK, or learn how to make screens with capillary film.  Maybe you wanted to start a blog, or develop a Pinterest board for your shop, or rewrite your employee handbook, or maybe even just take a vacation.  (Really?  If that’s you…get on a plane now will ya’!)

Believe me you aren’t alone.  If there was a club I’ll bet it would be gigantically huge.  We couldn’t have a meeting though.  Nobody would find time to organize it or even come for that matter.

So what happens to us?  First, we don’t give our thought or desire the priority it should have.  If I truly wanted this article written, I would have added it to my to-do list months ago.  Anything on that list always gets handled.   Instead, it was one of those back of my mind things.  It just never developed.

Here are a few reasons I’ve discovered that people don’t do things and procrastinate, do any of these sound like you?:

  • You don’t start on the task because you are wanting the “perfect” time do it.  On a Saturday.  When the busy season is over.  When Fred gets back from vacation.  When you close that big deal and get more cash.  Next month when all of the planets align.  Guess what?  There is no such thing as a perfect time!  Stop kidding yourself.  Schedule the thing and just do it.  At least get started on it.
  • Don’t give in on acting on urges.  When we act impulsively we tend to blow off things that matter and we don’t know why.  Who wants to rewrite an employee handbook when checking out cat memes on Facebook is more fun?  Clean the shop?  Let’s go home early instead!  It’s Friday and it’s been a long week.  Then you look back sometime the following week and wonder how come nothing got handled…you know better!  Raise your hand if this sound like you.  I knew it.
  • You always leave things to the last minute because you “work better that way”.  But if you ever just looked at your results and logged how much time you spent goofing off before you got around to starting on the project, you would realize that you could actually be more productive, be less stressed, and produce better work if you had just followed a more sane schedule.  Buzzing about being busy and how in the weeds you are seems to be a badge of honor with some people.  However, I’ll take the person that manages their time, logs great work daily and goes home at the same time every day, every time.  They are usually more productive.
  • Another obvious procrastinator sign is to get crankier and moodier the closer the deadline approaches.  I’ve worked with people like this, and it’s no fun.  They have a freak-out and nuclear meltdown with a “the world is going to end” attitude that is hard to swallow.  The funny thing is that they never see it.  When you talk to them about it, somehow they twist it up so you are the bad guy.  Once that deadline passes and the work is completed, they are as sweet as pumpkin pie.  But you know better.

I’m sure there are plenty more examples I can add.  Feel free to throw yours into the comments section.

So what can we do about procrastination?  Are we just doomed to a roller coaster ride of action, inaction, worry and self-doubt?  Here are some thoughts:

Stop worrying about perfection.  Just get started.  Even doing something small for fifteen minutes can help give you the momentum to act.  Let’s say you’ve been putting off cleaning your shop.  Just organize that one section over there by the corner.  Looks good?  Do the area next to it tomorrow.  

Write down what you want to do and assign a date to it.  To make it even better add a time and make it an appointment.  “At 11:00 tomorrow I am going to write a blog post about procrastination.”  Which actually is exactly what happened here.  Yes, I did schedule a procrastination task.  

Remind yourself and your staff that finishing the task now, can help you in the future.  Why do you have to experiment with silicone inks if none of your clients require it for their orders?  Because maybe your next quote or new client could ask about it.  Getting prepared is the sign of professionalism.  Learn that new topic now when there isn’t a deadline and stress associated with perfection.

Reward yourself or your crew for completing projects or even sub-goals for longer programs.  This doesn’t have to be monetary or a physical reward.  Maybe just an extra ten minutes at break, or an ice cream party on a Friday.  Maybe the person who contributes the most gets to blast their playlist on the shop music system all day.

Realize when you are putting things off you could be trading one thing for another that seems like it’s making a difference.  However, it’s not getting you to where you need to be.  Instead of preventative maintenance on our equipment, you organize the customer pick up area instead.  Both have to get done, but you are trading one outcome at the cost of another.  If you were to give each an importance rank, which one would win out?  Try triaging your tasks, and do the ones that matter the most first.  

So there you have it.  I feel better now that I completed this article!  I got to cross that item off my to-do list too.  

Got something you need handled?  What are you waiting for?  Now seems like a good time…

“Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often.” – Mark Twain

“Get action.  Seize the moment.  Man was never intended to be an oyster.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” – Zig Ziglar