Managing Your Shop Floor – First You Need Leaders

This time of year most t-shirt shops around the country are getting tested every day by a higher than normal percentage of new orders arriving.  In our shop, we’re about 20%-30% above our historical norm right now, and it’s good to be that busy.

However, with the volume comes a completely new set of challenges that need to be addressed daily.  Managing these challenges can only be controlled with leadership from the floor.  This means staff making decisions and moving onto the next challenge, without running to you to clarify a detail.  It’s all about leadership.

So how do you grow or find that leadership when you need it?  Here are some tips:

  1. Set clear expectations.  It’s easy to make decisions if your company culture has matured enough that your entire staff knows what’s expected of them, and what won’t be tolerated.  That being said you still have to reinforce, promote and discuss these expectations constantly.  If it’s widely known that “Receiving must check in all goods by 1:00” or “Rush orders are staged and printed first” or “Invoicing for orders occurs one business day after the order ships”, etc., then managing your company is that much easier.  Ambiguity breeds indecisiveness. 
  2. Who stands out on your team?  Regardless of seniority, who is stepping up and getting things done?  That’s the person that you need to mentor on leadership.  Keep giving small projects to them to nurture their growth.  Cross train them in other departments.  Like a shortstop on a baseball team, these folks will quickly become your “go to” people when you need them the most.  Encourage them with praise, training, and yes even more money if you can afford it.
  3. Not all of your leaders are managers.  Look out among your staff, these people easily stand out as they are the ones that come in early, stay late, and are not satisfied until everything that are tasked to do today is complete.  Hold them up as examples for encouragement.
  4. Leaders are dependable.  It won’t do you much good to have someone volunteer to help out with a special project and then not show up.  Learn that some people are all talk and move on.  Find the people that you can count on.  Sometimes this means letting go and hiring new people.  You can train a skill, but you can’t train an attitude.  That comes from within.
  5. Trial by fire.  Got a big project looming?  Who is on your A-Team that you are going to need to get it accomplished?  Everyone on that crew that helps grows a little bit, as they have provided an over the top value to your company.  Publicly recognize these people as leaders, and that they earned their stripes by helping.  Don’t forget that the people you may want on your team may not necessarily work in that area…  If you can get them some training beforehand, you’ll be that much better prepared.
  6. Find the mechanic.  Who in your company wants to fix the problem instead of pointing fingers?  That’s leadership.  Finger pointing and assigning blame is for cowards.  Problem solvers make the attempt, and regardless of the outcome, are showing leadership potential.  Get those people some help.
  7. Leaders understand the value of accountability.  More often than not, they aren’t happy when something happens and want to find a solution so it doesn’t happen again.  One tool to use is your performance review process.  I’m a big believer is using a 360 degree review, with all of the discussion during the review is focused on improving performance and setting goals.  Everyone should get a review every six months.  This includes your management team and owners.

Developing leaders in the apparel industry isn’t something that most shops do naturally.  Most are just focused on getting product out the door on time.  However, if you take a step back and honestly review your company from a 30,000 foot level you can see where you need help.

Got some questions on leadership development with your group?  Contact me and let me help you develop an all-star team that will set you apart from your competition.  matkinson4804@gmail.com

T-shirt Shops: Reduce Your Misprints – Simple Steps

There’s nothing more frustrating for a shop owner than having to replace a bunch of shirts at the last minute so an order can ship complete.  Earlier in the day, there was some preventable mistake with the print, and now you’ve got a bunch of scrap piled up on the catchers table.  If life had a rewind button, we could press it and zoom backwards to the exact moment that the mistake occurs and yell out “HEY!!” and prevent it from happening.

However, life doesn’t have a rewind button.  But there are a few things we can do to help minimize the mistakes that happen on the shop floor.  Here are my top five:

Have a Huddle.  This is where the entire print crew meets BEFORE the job starts.  Take the work order and read out loud what is expected.  “We are printing 500 Hanes 5280 white t-shirts.  Four colors on the front, 3 colors on the back, one color on the right sleeve.  We are starting on the front side first; then we will print the back.  Press 2 is printing the sleeve, as they have the platens already set up.  After printing the job is going to finishing and will be polybagged.  We’ll need Black, PMS 186, PMS 286, and PMS 414.  We’ll use these colors for the other locations too.”  Here’s a pic from my Pinterest board that shows this: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854916177/

Notice that the work order states 500 white Hanes 5280 t-shirts.  If the shirts at the press are anything but these the work on this order stops and a manager should be called over.  The crew should move to the next job while the challenge is sorted out.  If you don’t have enough shirts, or have too many, this is a big problem.  A bigger problem is when the job calls for white shirts, and at the press they are black.  Make sure your receiving team is on top of their game.  See my article in Impressions Magazine: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Key-Traits-for-Your–6563.shtml?utm_source=Silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=41497887&utm_term=5931699&utm_content=

There should be eight screens pulled to the press.  If any are missing, the work on this order stops and a manager should be called over.  Do not start setting up the job until all the screens have been verified.  Nobody from the print crew should ever pull their own screens or ink.  They should be brought to the press and staged in what I call “Kit-Packing”.  http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338852942465/  Tip: Have at least two or three jobs lined up at each press at any given time.  Keep feeding them jobs.  At the end of the day, make sure your hot orders for the following day are staged so when you walk in tomorrow morning, your crews can just start printing.

“We are printing on the front side first” This should tell the catcher how to lay the shirts out so that the image is printed on the correct side of the shirt.  This seems obvious, but if you’ve ever had a crew print on the wrong side of the shirt, you’ll know why I’m listing this.  Tip: This is a training issue, especially during the busy season when you may be using temporary help in your shop.  Make sure everyone understands what they are supposed to do.  Management sets the standard.  People don’t learn from osmosis from just being in the shop.  You have to teach them.  Sometimes several times.

The four different colors of ink should be staged with the shirts and screens.  If not, a manager should be called over to have the ink expedited to the press so they can get started setting it up.  Quantities of common colors such as Black and White should be nearby so it makes getting replenishment easier.  If you do a lot of set ups for clients that use other colors, make those buckets always available too.

The original crew is only printing the front and back.  Another crew will print the sleeve, as they have the sleeve platens set up and the shop can save time by not having to switch the platens out.  When the job is transferred to the next press, the hand-off should include a discussion about quantities (were there any defects or misprints?), what sleeve should be printed, and that the order gets polybagged afterwards.  This communication is vital as it keeps the thinking going and helps comprehend the next step for the order.

Art Approval Forms Are Mandatory.  All art should be signed off by the client before anything is printed by using an Art Approval Form.  This document is crucial to your success.  Ideally your form has your work order information (such as the client’s name, PO#, your order #, shirt color, and all ink colors – listed in the exact print order.  (For extra bonus, include the flash and cooling stations)  If you were building a house, you would use a blueprint to let the carpenter know what to do.  The art approval form works the same way.  Treat it as your “blueprint for success” for the order.

Include size information (e.g. 8” h x 14” w) and also show distance from key landmarks on the shirt – such as that it will print 3” down from the neck collar.  If there are different sets of instructions – 3” down from the collar for adults, 2” down for youth – make sure those are listed too.

Include the artists name or initials so that your print crew knows who designed it if there are questions.

Have your shop agree on your “standard” sizes and locations for most commonly used art terms such as left chest, full front, full back, etc.  Where do these go in relation to the collar or hem?  How big do you make them?  How should it work for a Small versus a XXXL?  Get everyone together and set these expectations so that you can not only agree on them, but you are setting the standards for others to follow later.  Train your staff on this and hold them accountable for varying from the norm.

Ideally you want the art signed off by the client at least two business days before the job needs to print.  This way the artist has time to separate the file, and the screen room can burn the screens.  Everything needs to be ready and waiting for production to stage the job.  Presses should never wait for screens to come out of the screen room.

Ink Don’t Think.  If you’ve mixed the ink correctly and it’s the right color, but your image looks wrong it may not be that bucket of ink.  Before you go run off and mix a new bucket, check to see that all the mechanical parts of the printing process are dialed in correctly.

Are you using tight, properly made screens?  One of the biggest factors in printing on darks is that some colors lighten up when printed over an underbase white.  Make sure that your screens have been properly coated and that you are using a lower enough mesh count to get enough coverage.  If you don’t know what EOM is, you should spend some time learning how this can affect your final print.  (Emulsion Over Mesh)  We coat an extra pass of emulsion on the print side of all of our 110’s so our underbase screens transfer more ink down on the shirt.  This really helps with opacity.

Your choice in mesh count can affect how the color prints as well.  There’s a big difference between the amount of ink deposited through a 110 mesh as opposed to a 305, and all meshes in between.  Learn how this can affect color by printing and using these meshes to control ink deposit.

Your choice in squeegees could also affect the color.  Printing with a softer squeegee blade as opposed to a harder squeegee blade can have different results.  Same with rounded edges versus sharp.

If you are printing on polyester or some technical fabrics – watch your heat when printing white or light ink colors over dark fabrics (especially red).  Too much heat can start reactivating the dye in the fabric and may cause it to migrate up through your ink colors.  What was a nice bright white on a red shirt when you printed it and placed in the box, becomes a pretty shade of pink by the time the garment cools down and your client opens the box.  Disaster.  Tip: Use inks that are formulated for lower cure temperatures (think 280 instead of 320), and watch your flash dwell time on press.  On the catcher table, don’t pile up the shirts in dozens immediately.  Make a few piles and have a fan blow air on them to get them to cool down.  Don’t box up the order until the shirts have cooled.

Remember if you are using an underbase that you don’t necessarily have to use white.  More sophisticated printers will use other colors.  Using a grey instead of white can help with Pantone color matching, when flashing and then printing another color on top.  When using a metallic foil, it’s also common practice to use a hue that matches the foil color to help camouflage any mistakes.

Training.  Despite advances in automation, our industry is still ultra-dependent on staff to make things happen.  How much time do you spend training your crews on all the different facets of printing?  Would you say they are all experts?

Press operators are basically the quarterbacks of the print crews.  They direct traffic, set up and tear down jobs, and keep your shop moving.  Most shops have one or two superstars, and the rest have skills of varying degrees below them.  It’s your responsibility to train and discuss new concepts, techniques and skills to your crew.  Shop pic: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338853952711/  This won’t happen when you are insanely booked during your busy season, so make sure you set aside some time throughout the year and discuss different points.  Here’s a short article I authored for Impressions about cross training: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-Cross-Training-I-6026.shtml.

A lot of misprints occur due to alignment on the shirt.  The image can print off-center, at an angle, too low or too high all depending on how the shirt is loaded.  Operators are always judged on their throughput speed – “how many per hour”.  However, that doesn’t really matter when you have to replace 35 shirts at $6 a piece because they were loaded wrong.  Printing fast is nice.  Printing correctly is better.  Remember the old adage “If you have time to do it over, you have time to do it right”.  Slow down and do it right.  Your clients (and bank account) will thank you for it.

Need to exactly position the image on a shirt?  We use lasers to illuminate lines on the shirt for correct loading placement.  You can get these at any hardware store.  Attach them to the press with a magnet.  Here’s a pic from my Pinterest board showing how we correctly line a pocket t-shirt on the platen each and every time for perfect positioning: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854777966/

What do you do when something is incorrectly printed?  Do you ever gather your team and discuss what happened?  Ask them what should have been done to prevent the challenge from occurring.  Don’t lecture.  Get your team involved in the process in making things better.  My guess is that they already know the answers.

Equipment.  It’s nice to have good tools to use for printing.  It’s even nicer when they are given some love occasionally and properly maintained.

Keep your work area clean.  I know this is a tough one.  We’re all so focused on getting product out the door that we let things go a bit.  The problem is that when the top of your press looks the backside of sheep right before shearing season, you’ve got problems.  Dust balls and stray pieces of lint can filter down into the print causing small areas in your image to not print.  Keeping your equipment tidy is professional.  Everything has its place, and it’s neat and orderly.  If it helps, paint lines on your floor where inventory is to be staged.  Clean on Friday’s so when you come in to work on Monday everything is ready to go.  Shop pic: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854916157/

If you don’t have a Preventative Maintenance Schedule on your equipment please start one today.  Ideally you want a log sheet for each piece of equipment.  Log the equipment model and serial numbers.  Use the manual to review the servicing needs and schedule them on your calendar.  Order your most commonly used spare parts and keep them available.  Murphy’s law is going to dictate that the exact moment you need to get that crucial job out for a client is the time that something breaks down because you haven’t lubricated your press in six months.  Shop pic: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854237667/

Keep good care of your squeegees and flood bars.  Squeegees should be sharp.  Flood bars should be free of nicks or burrs.  Want a giant mess on your hands?  Wait until that screen rips due to a nicked up flood bar.  You’ll think twice about throwing these on the concrete floor, or leaving them in a big pile.

Make sure your platens are centered on your press.  Keep getting complaints that your prints are off center?  Could be your platens aren’t lined up exactly with your screens.  The shirts are loaded right, but because of the relative positional relationship between platen and screen, the print becomes off-center.  This may be true of only one or two boards on your press.  Do yourself a favor and make this examination part of your weekly preventative maintenance routine.

So there you have it.  Five basic ideas that could help your shop save you tons of money in the long run with misprints.  It usually comes down to one or two basic things when something goes wrong.  When you have a problem, back-track the challenge and find out the root cause of the situation.  Even though the issue occurred on the press, most misprints can be tracked down to a management issue.  Don’t just start blaming the printer for your misprints either, make sure they are set up for continual success by having a good management team supporting them.  If your shop is having problems in these areas and you need some help sorting it out, shoot me an e-mail at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s set up some time to talk about it!

Why a Daily Production Meeting is a Waste of Time

If your shop is like a lot of others around the country, every morning several members of your staff congregate in a meeting room to review the plan for production on that day.  Orders large and small, problems with art or inventory, jobs that “have to go” and others are all discussed, usually led by the production manager or the person that does your scheduling.  Sometimes there is some horse-trading too – as maybe not everything will be able to be printed for a multitude of reasons, so job production is rearranged to get the most jobs out.  Or at least the ones the scream the loudest.  Or have an account rep that brings in cookies.

This meeting could last up to about thirty minutes, but when your production level spikes it could last up to an hour.  Decisions are made and the meeting breaks up.  Not everyone leaves happy sometimes.  Maybe it’s even fun…with coffee, muffins and good morning jokes.

However, it is a complete waste of time and it’s costing you a lot of money.  Here’s why:

If you grab a piece of paper and a pencil, based on what you are paying everyone you could easily calculate the per hour cost of that meeting.  For the sake of discussion, let’s say that there are five people in the meeting.  Your production manager ($24/hour), one artist ($14/hour), one customer service rep ($16/hour), one shipping clerk ($14/hour), and one salesperson ($20/hour).  Add that up, and its $88 per hour for that meeting.  Expand that for a year’s worth of half hour meetings, and you are spending $11,440 just in salary cost alone to have a production meeting.  Your results will vary, of course.  (Challenge: Add up the cost of your daily meeting per hour!!!)

Now, let’s think about why you have the meeting in the first place.  It’s a crutch.  Most shops have the production meetings mainly because nobody uses their system correctly, and possesses the discipline to enforce standards that the company should be operating with.  The information in the system is lacking in some way; the dates entered are padded because sales and the customer service reps have been burned by production so they don’t trust that it will go out on time; or maybe there are challenges along the way with getting the art approved or all the inventory delivered – but the ship date never moves.  The need for the production meeting is apparent, as your staff isn’t doing their jobs correctly and each day the schedule has to be filtered down to what you can actually accomplish with a discussion.

So how do you fix it?  What’s the alternative?  First, everyone has to agree that you want to move in another direction and agree to work towards that goal.  Below are some challenges that should get you thinking:

  1. Whatever system you use, everyone has to do their part correctly.  All departments have to use the system and mark their part of the work complete each and every time.  Staff members agree to put all notes in the system, and not handwrite anything on the work orders.
  2. Ship dates and In-Hands dates must be the real ones.  This is a cardinal rule that can’t be broken.  If you are padding dates, you are forcing the “we have more time” thought around the order.  It becomes a moving target, and the information is unreliable.  Once in a while that client’s order uses a real date, when normally it would be padded, nobody will trust that it’s accurate and when push comes to shove, this is the order that gets bumped.
  3. Based on your staff’s skill level and equipment, you need to calculate how much time is needed for each step of the process along the way, and then set some rules to work by.  For example, art will need to be approved two working days before production is to start.  This gives the art staff time to separate the file so the screen room has time to burn the screens.  The goal should be that the screens are ready for use one business day before the job is to start printing.  The goal for production is to work towards finishing printing one business day before the posted ship date.
  4. You should know your daily capacity in production based on real numbers.  Use your production logs, and average out how many impressions or jobs can be printed on each press on a normal shift.  If your customer service or sales team books jobs that exceed those numbers you should start talking about overtime, moving some jobs around, adding another shift, or contracting the work out.  It’s crucial that your front office is trained to understand the production schedule, and comprehend the impact on crowding the schedule and agreeing to challenges.
  5. Your production schedule should be available for all to see.  Whether it’s in your computer system, on your server, or just a whiteboard on the wall of the shop; it’s mandatory that everyone is trained to review the schedule constantly and make adjustments to their department based on the ebb and flow of the work coming in.  Each department has to support each other and get their tasks completed – the earlier the better.
  6. There’s one thing that’s certain, and that you are always going to have crucial “have to go” jobs every day.  These could be for an important client, maybe they are already late, or you just want them to go early to impress a new customer.  Regardless, you need a way to earmark them so everyone knows to “work on this first”.  These are the first jobs you pull to the press in the morning (or if you are like our shop, we like to start them the day before), so you are assured they will go out on time.  Some shops use brightly colored stickers, different colored paper, or job jackets for the work orders.  We add a “$” to the front of our customers PO numbers so we can simply run a report each day on what are the crucial “can’t fail” jobs.  This is reviewed by each department constantly and everyone gets to work to make it happen.
  7. People have to pay attention.  Any challenges to the timing of the schedule have to be handled and decisions made.  Inventory shipping in from two different distributors on different days?  How will that affect the production?  Art not approved?  How will that back up the screen room?  Everyone should be trained to review their chunk of the schedule three or four times a day; and really dig into what’s coming up tomorrow or the next day.  Your staff may also need to get up out of their chairs or pick up the phone and talk to other departments to resolve challenges.  The longer your company waits to tackle a potential problem, the larger it will grow as it nears the deadline.  You want to be in the “Hey, I just noticed this” stage…not in the “Oh no! What are we going to do?” stage.
  8. The more you standardize your company’s policies and procedures, the better chance you will have of weaning off the production meeting need.  It’s the system, discipline and training that you have to have to support the idea of not having a production meeting.

So what do you do to get this started?  Well, the first step is to recognize that you have a problem and are willing to do what it takes to work towards improvement.  It may be hard, and require some real work.  I would suggest getting all of your stakeholders involved and brainstorm on how it could work in your shop.  Ask the hard questions.  There may not be some readily available answers without some research or work writing new policies.  Test it out.  Maybe try it on a Friday, or your lightest production day of the week.  Learn what works, and make changes and improvements on what is a little more difficult.  Make sure everyone’s concerns are heard and addressed.

If you need some help please contact me at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s set up a time to chat.