The Art of Writing a Purchase Order – What Your Clients Need to Know

A common challenge with a lot of shops is the effort and time it takes to sort out a client’s purchase order.  You would think that because this is the instrument that they are using to communicate regarding their order, that some effort is put into it to ensure that the information is complete and accurate.  How much time and effort is wasted following and double-checking items on purchase orders in your shop?  Some shops have gone to charging a “PO Correction Fee” to get the correct information from the client.  I’m not sure if that is a sustainable practice, as eventually I think the client will just want to hand off their same orders to someone else that won’t charge them.

I thought I would take a moment and list some of the most common problems with purchase orders and maybe shed some light on how to give some feedback to your client to proactively prevent these challenges from occurring.  Mistakes and oversights happen, and if more communication exists regarding challenges maybe awareness can help alleviate them from happening.

  1. Cloning.  Nope, we aren’t talking about cloning in a science-fiction movie sense, but rather cloning an original order to build the documents for a reorder.  Seems like a good idea for most people, but where the problem occurs is when New Information, such as shipping dates, shipping addresses, quantities, special instructions such as “sample needed”, or other items from the first order are not updated or deleted.  This can cause a lot of confusion, and if the order is just entered as it was sent in, a lot of problems on the back end.  To correct this, have a quality control discussion with your client and review these problems.  Have a few examples ready, and show them the time and effort it takes to change them.  Outline the potential financial disaster looming for both parties if the mistakes aren’t caught.  The solution is an easy one; it is as simple as having someone proof read the purchase order before forwarding it on for production.  All it takes is some effort.
  2. Pricing.  Most business relationships are based on agreement on a common set of rules to work with, and a pricing structure is one of them.  If your client has your price matrix, it should be an easy to understand document that they can use to build pricing for an order.  Whatever you have for charges or fees they need to be simple to understand, clearly listed, and up to date.  A common problem is client’s not listing every charge on the purchase order for items that clearly should be present.  Some even forget to charge for one of the locations.  Your staff has to be on their toes and review all purchase orders as they come in for pricing challenges.  These need to be reported before the order is placed in your system.  Trying to get alignment after the job is completed and invoiced when you are standing there holding your hand out for payment can be tough sledding.
  3. Timeframe.  A huge problem that shops face constantly is juggling production orders on their schedule.  Which job ships when, and what is more important?  For some reason, clients will send in a purchase order with 00/00/0000 as their specified in hands date.  When reached, they will say that they can’t pick the date and whenever it is ready will be fine.  However, we all know that they are the ones screaming the loudest when after ten business days that job isn’t complete yet.  They are also the ones that won’t review the order acknowledgements when the job is entered with the date that was created in the system so they are aware of what was specified.  A better plan is to educate the client on the reasoning behind using real dates that are based on when they would actually like the job completed.  Internally, these dates are reviewed against the production schedule and adjustments can be made to hit the date.  (see this article about creating a production schedule – http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2012/12/23/keys-to-success-building-an-accurate-production-schedule/ )  If you can, always get your clients to use real dates!!
  4. Shipping Information – Including Drop Ships.  This one is a doozy.  I’m not sure why, but a certain percentage of clients always wait until the last minute to hand over this information.  I realize that they have to get it from their clients, but the timing is usually the biggest challenge.  A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you have enough information and the need to place an order, getting the final shipping information nailed should be included also on the purchase order.  An Excel spreadsheet with the drop ship information should also be reviewed for accuracy too.  It doesn’t matter how good of a printer you are if the box of shirts doesn’t make it to the destination on time or accurately.  Getting the right information into the hands of your shipping department is crucial.
  5. Matching Purchase Order Numbers with Inventory.  If your client is drop-shipping you the inventory to decorate, it’s always easier to receive the goods into your system if the purchase order number is on the box of shirts that come in.  You can match it up in your system with what’s on the order.  What’s difficult is when your receiving team has to try to guess what box of shirts belongs to what order.  A really great help is when the client’s printing purchase order number is referenced on the packing slip of the shirts that come in.  This makes it incredibly easy to receive and match up to the order in the shop’s system.  This can be entered in the “Reference” field.
  6. Clients That Make It Easy.  You know the ones.  Their purchase orders are perfect.  They contain all the information needed for the order and are always 100% accurate.  Usually they are more technology based, and have a robust infrastructure to support their sales team.  The leadership from these companies are usually industry veterans with tons of operational experience and understand that if their orders can go through your pipeline easier, they are the ones that will go to the head of the line faster.  Missing information, questions, or anything that looks weird are just speed bumps that slow the order down.  They also spend a lot of time training their reps, and they have a good system for accountability.  These are the guys that you love to work with.

Purchase orders are such a key part of the everyday world that you would think more companies would devote a bigger chunk of their time to make sure that they get it right.  It is worth the time though to try to work with your client’s to understand that unclear or inaccurate purchase orders present a challenge to your shop as they are potential landmines, and also may increase your transactional cost just dealing with them.  The more time it takes you to sort out the purchase order, the less time you have to spend on other things that probably matter.

Shop Owners – Train Your Staff So That They Are Decision Makers

A frequent discussion I have with my consulting clients is that they spend an inordinate amount of time solving seemingly minor problems in their shop.  You know the drill, there’s a problem on press…they come to you.  An order didn’t ship right…they come to you.  A client’s invoice is messed up…they come to you.  Which mesh should we use for metallic inks again?  They come to you.

They come to you for every question under the sun, and you stop what you are doing and answer them each and every time.  Even if your office door is closed and you are in a meeting, someone will stick their head in the door and interrupt with the next crisis.  Why not you ask?  Orders have to ship!!  I’m the boss, and it’s obviously important to get things handled.

Guess what?  All of those interruptions are your fault.  You let it happen by conditioning your staff to not make any decisions and to always come to you for the answer.  However, there is a better way.  Try this phrase the next time a problem is dropped in your lap to solve.

“What would you do?”

The challenge that you are going to find, it’s that either you haven’t supported them enough to be responsible for the problem on their own or they haven’t been fully trained in their position to understand the situation.  By turning the question back to them, you are making them think.  I know that might sound dangerous, but having a thinking and self-sufficient staff is the key to moving at a faster pace, and of course, freeing up time for you to tackle bigger challenges.

“What would you do?” posits the problem with them.  Most of the time, they will have the correct answer.  What if they don’t?  Not a problem, as here’s where you would normally step in with the correct answer.

Here are some tips to use to build a better, more self-sufficient and critically thinking staff:

  1. Build standards and rules in place in each department on how all operational tasks are to be handled.  For example you could, design a mesh count chart for the screen room, write a policy that states that all invoices should go out the day after a job is shipped, or art for jobs needs to be approved two business days before the job is scheduled to be run.  You get the idea.  The more standards you have and training you implement, the easier it will be for your staff to know what to do when situations arise.
  2. Have your department managers really manage.  Meaning that anyone with a question should go see them first.  Your managers should be empowered to make decisions.  If any of your staff circumvents your management staff with a challenge, redirect them to the appropriate manager first before you get involved.  The more you continue to have the final rule on things, the more you are going to be asked these questions.
  3. When outlier challenges emerge that don’t fit your norm, pull your staff together once the dust has settled and discuss the situation with everyone.  What happened, and how did we solve the problem?  Celebrate decision making at lower levels.
  4. Let your staff know its ok to make mistakes.  You have their back.  It’s part of the learning process.
  5. You can also train and set limitations for staff on anything that has a monetary value.  For example, give your customer service reps a $500 limit (or whatever you are comfortable with) to resolve problems for their client without having to ok it with management.  This goes a long way to instantly make your customers happy when challenging situations arise.  They could upgrade the freight, use it for a credit memo, or throw in a free screen, whatever.  Have the rep add some notes to the order under invoicing to justify the decision and move on.
  6. After you ask, “What would you do?” be sure to listen intently and ask good follow up questions.  You may even role play a little bit and pretend to be the client or another department to get them to understand the implications of their answer.
  7. Make decision making part of the performance review process.  Celebrate it in these conversations and discuss the employee’s decision making abilities during the review.  What went well?  What was a problem?  Keep pushing it forward, and give your expectations so that everyone is clear on your objectives.

To sum up, the more that you entrust your staff and train them to make decisions, the more time you are going to have to work on bigger challenges.  After all, you are paying your staff to do this work already.  Critical thinking and brain power is part of their job description too.

Still need help resolving some challenges in this area with your shop?  Shoot me an e-mail at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let me help you raise the bar with your staff.

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.

What is the Voice of the Customer for T-shirt Shops?

Let’s pretend that you have some sort of science fiction mental telepathy mind meld with your customers. (Uh, you mean you don’t already?)  You can see and understand their every thought, just like reading a book.  It’s all right there.  What do you think they are saying about your company?

Based on my personal experience, here are some top ideas to get you more connected with your own customers.  (Sales gurus everywhere call this understanding the “Voice of the Customer”)

  1. Price.  For a lot of customers, incredibly it’s not always about price.  People are willing to pay more if they like the sales experience, or see that you are providing value.  The apparel industry has somewhat of a reputation of companies undercutting each other and eating the dead.  Here’s a fact: There’s always someone that’s willing to do it cheaper.  However, not many companies are willing to do it better.  The guy that does it better is the one that typically has larger margins, and is more successful.  Add value to your sales proposition, and don’t give away the shop.  Charge for your work.  “Price shopper” type clients will never be loyal, but the customer that sees and understands your value and trusts you with their relationship will always be there.  That’s who you want.
  2. Expertise.  Position yourself as the expert in the field.  Build your shop reputation with demonstrating your vast industry knowledge.  Customers want and need someone to solve their problems for them.  Is that something you can offer?  Do they know to turn to you for guidance?  Get the reputation as a problems solver and watch your client base grow.  Demonstrate that expertise by doing things other printers can’t, including keeping your quality up and hitting deadlines.
  3. Partner.  Long term clients are seeking a solid foundation to expand their business.  You are not selling printed t-shirts, you are selling trust.  Your customers want you to be integral to their success by constantly hitting home runs for them.  Make that relationship easy.  A few times, you may have to help them with something without getting anything in return.  Earn that trust by being a good partner and provide the value your customers are seeking.  Missing deadlines, quality issues, making excuses, being hard to deal with, or other challenges erode that trust.  It’s hard, but not impossible to earn it back.
  4. Listen.  Trust me, it’s not about you.  Your customer wants you to listen to them.  Close your mouth and open your ears.  What are their problems?  What are their challenges?  Remember the old Stephen Covey rule from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  This is profoundly true in your customer relationships.  Don’t just sell them a box of printed shirts – solve a problem for them.  Stop “selling”.
  5. Make It Easy.  Make your buying process easy for the customer to do business with you.  Regardless if you are a brick and mortar shop or online, the more hurdles people have to jump over to hand you their money, the less likely they are to do so.  Make the check out or buying process smoother by thinking it through.  Provide accurate and timely information for them.  Help with artwork or digitizing.  Discuss creative solutions for problems.  Suggest different ways a client could structure their order to save time or money.
  6. Avoid Problems.  Customers see you as the expert.  Help them understand situations by explaining ways they can avoid problems by doing something proactively.  Anybody can “sell” them something.  Not everyone can walk them through the process and provide them with good information to proactively avoid a challenge.
  7. Be Creative.  Let’s face it, not everyone is loaded with creative talent.  Customers will often turn to you for help with their art.  If your art department rocks, then so will your sales.  If you are somewhat lacking in this area, think about how beefing this up can help strengthen your business.  Don’t have the money for a full-time staff?  There are tons of freelancers out there.  It’s no secret that the top shops around the country have the best art departments.
  8. Professional.  Have you ever looked at your company through the eyes of your customer?  When they walk in the front door are they greeted by someone warm and friendly?  Is your shop clean and orderly?  Is everyone on your staff courteous and helpful?  Do you have preprinted information handy that is branded and well-designed?  If your customer experience is somewhat lacking, or your staff has the social skills of a doorknob, put some thought and effort into revamping this area.  You wouldn’t expect any less from stores or companies that you use, so why do you put up with it in your shop?  If your customers aren’t raving to you about your staff and how awesome they are, you aren’t doing this right yet.
  9. Connect Personally.  It seems that the larger the shop grows, the less likely they will personally connect with the people behind their orders.  Purchase orders come in, are routed through your system, invoices are paid.  There might be little face to face or human interaction.  Get out from behind your desk every once in a while and go say thank you.  Personally deliver the next order.  Be sincerely appreciative.  Don’t have time for all that?  How about a five minute phone call.  Don’t talk business, just say thank you and ask about them.
  10. Value.  Yep, #1 was about value too.  It made the list twice as it’s that important.  Trust me on this…everyone can print or embroider a shirt.  You have a lot of competition.  Like other industries, your competition is moving online.  It’s a commodity.  Do you know what your value proposition is for your company?  What do you offer that can’t be matched?  Artwork?  Quality printing?  Customer service?  Turn-around time? Your customers want value for their money.  This is what you develop and market.   Brand this idea, and constantly talk about it.
  11. Bonus – The UnexpectedFor each order, your customers come to you for whatever they are ordering.  What can you do to make the experience so over the top that they rave about it to everyone?  “Because you are such a great customer”…  Throw in a few extra embroidered polos or printed sweatshirts with the next order for free.  Maybe some coozies with their logo printed on them.  Deliver it a day or two early.  Waive the screen fees.  Have it delivered with a box of doughnuts or a pizza.  Be creative.  Your goal is to wow the customer to the point that all competitors fail in comparison, and they will brag about you to everyone they know.

Hope these ideas help you with your shop.  If you’d like to explore some of these points more in depth, please contact me at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s set up a time to chat.

Is Your Shop Stagnant? Why Innovation is the Road to Success

Let me ask you some simple questions.  Be honest to yourself while you think about your answer.  Are you a shop that constantly seeks to reinvent itself, improve and get better?  Or are you the shop that sits there enviously and wonders “how do those guys do it?”  This is important, as I see all too many shops closing these days because they can’t compete.  The used equipment resellers are loaded for bear, and their inventory has never been more stocked.  Why is that do you think?

It’s not just the smaller shops either.  Bigger ones are going down in droves as different market forces and other factors affect their business.  So how are some shops not only staying in business, but actually growing?  Innovation.

Stronger, healthier companies are constantly seeking new avenues for continuous improvement.  They are looking toward the future, taking some calculated risks, experimenting, and driving change in their shop.  Professionals practice and develop their game.  It’s the ones with their heads down that just take orders and print, never looking up or facing the market that are going to be left wondering where their business went.  Below are a few ideas that I’ve been working on lately.  Think about how these might affect your shop a year or two down the road.

Innovation for Better Margins.  The margin is simply the difference between what it costs you to decorate the garment and what you are charging.  There’s always enormous price pressure in the apparel decoration industry, regardless of the market niche you are serving.  Yet, few shops really do anything to help build their margins.  Some can’t even tell you realistically what their actual margin even is.

  1. Sustainability.  Sure it’s good karma being “green”, but building a sustainability program in your shop forces you to review all of your processes, materials, and wasted motions to see if they really matter.  It’s hard work, and takes a good foundation of solidly trained staff members to pull off, but you can add thousands of dollars to of your bottom line by implementing a sustainability program.  For a more detailed answer check out this article I wrote for Impressions Magazine – http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-a-Sustainability-2110.shtml
  2. New Products to Try.  Your vendors come out with new products constantly.  In fact, I’ll bet you have some unused samples sitting in the same box they were delivered to you in from six months ago.  You never opened it for whatever reason.  Too busy, didn’t ask for it, loyal to a competitive product, etc.  That, my friend, is foolish.  You should always be looking for the newer, better, cheaper product.  When was the last time you went to a trade show?  I try stuff constantly, and let the staff using the product gauge whether it works for them before deciding about it.  Some are instant hits, some are ok, and some are complete dogs.  You will never know unless you open the box and find out.
  3. Training.  Innovation by Training?  Sure…as unless your staff actually knows how to do something, how would they have a concept on how to improve it?  Taking someone from customer service and teaching them how to ship, or taking someone from the screen room and instructing them on how to set up a job….those just may be the next people on your staff to have the epiphany on how to do something better.  Here’s how you can effectively build a Cross Training Program in your shop: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-Cross-Training-I-6026.shtml
  4. Automation.  When was the last time you looked at the labor steps needed to do anything in your shop?  From typing in an order, all the way through production, to invoicing.  Many hands touch that job.  How much time would you save if you reduced the steps necessary for each task along the way?  Have you conducted any time studies?  Technology, software and help is out there and early adopters seize a competitive advantage when they understand their numbers so well that they can spend the capital it takes to acquire new technology.  Are you doing anything to innovate in these areas?  Why not?  Your competitors are.

Innovation for New Techniques.  Do you ever just “try” something to see if you can make it work or figure it out?  Other industries call this Research and Development, or R&D for short.  Stretching your creative muscles once in a while when it doesn’t matter and nobody is looking can reap big benefits as you could master a technique or even invent something new.  Take that new skill and bring it to market.  Make money on it.  Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  1. Listen to Your Customers.  What do they want?  Where are they going?  When was the last time you actually sat down with them over a cup of coffee or a plate of BBQ for lunch and asked them?  Partner with them and solve a problem for them.
  2. Experiment.  When was the last time you tried to foil a DTG print?  Print off the seam of the shirt?  Screen print on an inflatable toy?  Fold shirts differently to get a drop ship set in a smaller (and less costly) polybag?  Eliminate masking tape on screens?  Print eight metallic inks on one shirt, without pick up?  Print over hoodie seams without a special platen?  We’ve done all of those, and more.  The “What If” question is a big one.  How are you handling it?  Here’s a bunch of shots of our shop that I’ve taken and loaded on my Pinterest board “Behind the Curtain at a T-shirt Shop” – http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/behind-the-curtain-at-a-t-shirt-shop/
  3. Ask Your Vendors.  I do this all the time.  I state the challenge that I’m trying to resolve and partner with them to work towards the solution.  Some are easy, as there’s a ready-made product.  A few aren’t really in their wheelhouse, but they may have experience or knowledge that could steer me in the right direction.  How good is your relationship with your vendors?  Do you treat them as partners, or do you put them off and keep them at arms-length?
  4. Adopting or Trying New Technology.  Still using film for screens?  Do you waste time digitizing your own files?  Have you looked into Direct to Garment printing?  Do you have an order entry system?  Do you have an online presence? There’s an old adage that says “The only constant in life is change” – this is true of business.  Either you adapt or you will soon become obsolete.  There is technology, services, equipment and expertise out there that can make your business stronger, faster, leaner, and more profitable.  What was the last thing you tried?

Innovation for Exercising the Creative Mind.  Unless you are a blank apparel distributor you probably don’t sell much undecorated product.    We all have our market that we sell to…but what have you developed lately that is creative and would set yourself apart from your competition?  Or, even worse, what are they doing that is going to take your customers away from you?  Adding value to your sales proposition should be one of your key strategies this year.  Have you even thought about it, or are you just like a lot of apparel decorators and just sit and wait for the orders to come in by themselves?

  1. Look to Other Industries for Inspiration.  Put your thinking cap on and try to see things from another person’s perspective.  How would a technology driven company or an equipment manufacturer look at the challenge?  Would they make the same choices you would?  Any material, training, process, or thinking that you could apply to your situation?  Being creative isn’t all art related, as creative thinkers are problem solvers.  Step outside what you know and see things from another’s viewpoint.  What would you change?
  2. Borrow Ideas from Others.  I like to watch the show “Chopped” on the Food Network.  The show’s premise is that they take four chefs and give them a basket of crazy ingredients to use to compete against each other for three separate dishes.  With each round, one chef is eliminated until there is a winner.  What’s creative about the show is that they are taking diverse elements that might not ever be paired together and forcing the competitors to create something not only new but delicious.  What if you took this idea and used it in your shop?  What list of weirdo things could you combine to make something that would sell?  This is where the “Gee, I never would have thought of that” ideas come from.  If you are only taking and producing orders you will never do this.  Get out of your rut!!
  3. Ask Your Staff.  Maybe you aren’t creative.  But I’ll bet you employ some that are very creative.  What’s the one thing that they have always wanted to try?  Find some time and have a shop contest to develop the wackiest idea to showcase your creative juices.
  4. Take a Field Trip.  This could be just to the mall or a trade show.  Bring a notebook.  Take pics.  What do you see?  Sit around the coffee shop later and debate what was really cool, and what would work for your shop.  The best discussions are the ones that are freely and unconsciously made.  Don’t try to squeeze them into a meeting.  Talk.

Hopefully this article is the catalyst that starts some innovation with your shop.  I would be very interested to know if you developed any ideas after reading this article.  I’m all about sharing ideas, so let’s trade!  E-mail me directly if you don’t want the world to know…  matkinson4804@gmail.com.

Sometimes the Word “No” is Your Friend

Quite often a lot of companies get into trouble by saying “Yes” to situations that they really should avoid.  It is harder to say “No”, as we’re wired to please, to accept a challenge, to “Get ‘Er Done”.  However, if you stop and think about the situation before you react, you might save yourself a lot of valuable time, money and effort that could be wasted on unfruitful orders.  It’s counter-intuitive, but the word “No” just could be your best friend one day.

Here are some tips to help you make a good decision:

  1. Do you have all the facts?  Quite often, by thinking about the order and writing down everything you’ll need, including a timeline of deliverables, you’ll uncover a hidden challenge that could tip your decision one way or another.  Be sure to ask thorough, detailed questions.
  2. Are you sure you have the expertise?  Accepting a job that requires a skill that you don’t possess is just asking for trouble.  Learning on the job is a great way to travel down the road to ruin at breakneck speed.  Either factor in the cost of bringing in an expert to help you with the lacking skill or just say no to the deal.
  3. Do you have an exact idea on all of your costs?  If you are the guy that just marks everything up by percentage, without understanding all of your production costs, this could mean trouble.  Sometimes extra labor, materials, or other factors are needed to complete a job and if you don’t do a good job on the estimating step you could be working extremely hard, for free.  What’s the point of that?  Use a pricing matrix or schedule (that is built on actual data based on your company) and stick to it.
  4. Do you trust your customer?  There are some clients (you know you have some) that are less than truthful with you about things.  There are just some things about them that would make a used-car salesman proud.  If that’s the case, tread lightly when accepting a deal from them, or someone like them.  Sometimes a polite “Sorry, we can’t handle that order” is better than taking an order that is going to blow up in your face.
  5. Can you fit this order into your production schedule?  Do you even have one?  Hopefully your shop is busy enough that coordinating the jobs and orders requires some planning.  When handed a challenging order request though, if you don’t have a production schedule that you can easily refer to you may be in trouble.  Salespeople are notorious for blindly taking jobs and not worrying about the repercussions.  After all, there not the ones that will have to pay the overtime.  Here’s a follow up article I authored on building a production schedule – http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/How-to-Build-an-Accu-1469.shtml
  6. Is there even enough time to do it?  If you know your capabilities per hour, you can deduce how long it will take to run the job.  Unless you can print the job on more than one press or bend the laws of time and physics, sometimes it’s best to pass.  This request is usually centered on a rush job.  Here’s a follow up article I authored on tackling rush orders – http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nielsen/impressions_201302/#/46

So how do you say NO and not lose your customer or send the wrong message?  Here are some ways you can gently break the news or turn down the order:

  1. Be firm, but not overly defensive or apologetic.  Be honest about the situation, and explain that the project isn’t in your wheelhouse and you are concerned that you will let them down.
  2. If you really would like to do the project, but circumstances are preventing you from agreeing to the proposal, rephrase the challenge by saying “I can’t do this…but I can…”  Rephrase the topic into what you need to be able to accept the deal.  Maybe it will work out in the end.
  3. You can also say NO in the present state if you need more details on how the work might have to be performed.  Have some good notes or research ready and be prepared to explain what you need or what details are unfocused.  You may end up turning down the deal as offered, but your client will be impressed that you thought of an entire series of points that they haven’t contemplated.
  4. How about saying NO to only part of the project?  Maybe you could produce part of the order, and they could contract another part to another vendor.  This could be a good solution if you have some other companies that you share business with from time to time.
  5. Don’t forget that there are only so many hours in a day.  Accepting something that you know you should say NO to, may have a domino effect on other business.  Can you adjust your production schedule accordingly?  If not, explain to the client and show them that you value all of your clients and have a responsibility to them.  After all, they wouldn’t like their order to get bumped if you accepted something else…right?
  6. Another way of saying NO is giving them the cost and time estimate for you to do the work on your terms.  This way, if it does come in you will get paid for what you are worth and have the correct amount of time to produce the job.

Saying NO is hard.  As apparel decorators we are hard wired into thinking that we have to accept every job that comes along, as every company has been through some dry spells.  However, some orders just plain stink.  You can tell they are going to be problems from the moment you hear or read about them.  Sometimes that voice in your head that says DANGER! is right.

12 Ways to Resolve Any T-shirt Shop Problem

One thing is clear in running a t-shirt shop is that there will always be a problem handed to you.  Sometimes these challenges are something that you create.  Sometimes these challenges are something that’s handed to you by a customer, stinky and steaming and you cringe just thinking about how you are going to pull it off.  Either way, there are some foolproof methods to help resolve these and get back to “normal” business quickly.  Here’s a list of things that I do when confronted with a challenge:

  1. Stop and try to understand the problem.  Quite often you won’t get all of the information and you need to dig a little deeper than just what someone hands you.  Maybe they don’t know everything; maybe they are covering their tracks; maybe they were misinformed.  Regardless of the circumstance, I write my own notes and look up the information myself.  I try to talk to everyone involved to get an accurate picture of the challenge.  Don’t stop until you completely understand the situation.  If you are working on something for a client, make sure that you repeat it back to them so that you are absolutely clear on how they see it, and what needs to be done.
  2. Ask who can help?  Maybe the situation is such that you need to bring in other people to help resolve the challenge.  This may be especially true if this is a technical issue with machinery, or a situation with ink, emulsion or other supplies.  There are a lot of reference sites and help available online too.  Not to mention your vendors, call them and ask for customer service or speak to your salesperson.  Don’t just sit there, start asking!!  It’s ok to admit that you don’t know something.
  3. Check to see if you are following procedures, policies or recommendations.  Are you doing what you are supposed to be doing?  How do you know?  Don’t rely on someone just telling you that they are following directions; make them prove it to you.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked about something and was told “we’re doing it right”, only to discover they weren’t.  The next step is always about training to make sure your staff knows what to do, and understands your expectations.
  4. Do you have the training in place?  Quite often it’s not a “worker error”, but a management error that causes the issue.  People need the training and expectations to know what to do.  They simple don’t just get this by osmosis by being in the shop, you have to train them and hold them accountable.  How are you error proofing your shop to eliminate challenges?  Does everyone have access to 100% of the information they need to do their job correctly?
  5. Ask “Why” five times.  This is always a good one and usually works when trying to diagnose and resolve a situation.  Example problem: The ink wasn’t cured properly on the shirt after printing.
    1. One – “Why wasn’t the ink cured?” – The ink needs to be heated to 320 degrees to cure.
    2. Two – “Why didn’t the dryer cure the ink?  The temperature was set for 320?” – Donut probe tests showed that the dryer was set for 320, but in reality the ink was only heated to 295.
    3. Three – “Why do we have the dryer set so low?”  Nobody is doing regular donut probe tests or been trained on this procedure.
    4. Four – “Why don’t we have the training in place?” – Production management failed train and properly supervise the challenge.  Nothing has been scheduled.
    5. Five – “Why haven’t our managers scheduled any training?” – There’s little expectation or accountability for training.  Here’s where you start – build your policies and training.
  6. Do you make it easy?  Do you make it easy for your customers to provide you with the right information?  Do you make it easy for your workers to do their jobs correctly?  If it isn’t effortless, does this add to the problem?  Be sure to ask everyone how you can make things easier.  Listen to what they say.
  7. Documentation.  Check your documentation for the facts.  For receiving issues, look at the packing slip.  For machinery issues, your preventative maintenance logs or settings.  For work orders, check the notes in the system or the client’s PO.  These are just examples, but the idea is the same.  Look it up.  If you don’t have the information, why not?  Get something built so you have the information when needed.  If you can’t find the information how can your staff?
  8. Get out in front of the problem.  Write an action plan, and discuss it with everyone involved.  Set it in motion and get to work.  Be sure to discuss the expectations with everyone and set time lines if possible.  Everyone must agree to the plan, and understand their role in it if they have tasks to accomplish.  If there is any pushback, resolve the challenge further.
  9. Let go of the need to blame.  Who cares how you got into this mess?  How are you going to get out of it?  Sure, you can write somebody up or terminate them if it makes you feel better (and sometimes it is necessary), but that doesn’t resolve your immediate challenge right now.  Get the fire and explosions put out first, then backtrack later and figure out how the blaze started.
  10. Breakdown the problem into smaller chunks.  When faced with an enormous challenge, breaking it down into smaller bits and working on those can get the project started.  I constantly use the phrase “How did the pygmy eat the elephant?” (One bite at a time).  This works!
  11. Be proactive.  Resolve the problem before it starts by working smart.  85% of problems in your shop are the result of management’s failure to properly organize, train, document, build a policy or procedure, or think about how to do something properly.  The 15% remaining balance is just some knucklehead doing it wrong.  Insist that your teams work smart and communicate.  Develop policies and procedures that work.  Train your staff and constantly drill them in the execution of their work.  Follow up.  Make it hard to fail, but easy to succeed.  What’s left is just managing the knucklehead’s in the shop to make sure they are doing everything properly.
  12. Look for more than one solution.  Sometimes the first answer isn’t always the correct one, or the one that ultimately works.  This is better if more than one person is tackling the issue.  Thomas Edison famously had teams of people working on problems, all from different backgrounds.  His famous quote was “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.  Try one thing, if it doesn’t work what did you learn?  Try something else.  Keep going…

Hope this helps.  If not, and you are stuck on a certain challenge and need some assistance you can always reach me at matkinson4804@gmail.com.

20 Biggest T-shirt Shop Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

I have over 25 years in the apparel decorating business, and I’ve seen a lot of challenges come and go.  I’ve also heard my share of horror stories from other decorators from hanging out in trade shows, classes, seminars, webinars, and trolling the various internet forums over the years.  Below is a list of the 20 Biggest Mistakes that I’ve heard of, and a comment or two on how you can avoid them.  These aren’t ranked – I’m writing them as I remember them.  There’s a comment section below if you’d like to add yours…as I’m positive that won’t touch on everything in the industry.

  1. Not being honest.  Seriously, this is the biggest mistake you can make, and I know I said I wasn’t going to rank these…but this would be number one if I did.  In any business you have to be honest with people.  Your clients, your employees, your vendors…everybody.  Once you start stretching the truth, it’s hard to get that genie back in the bottle.  Believe it or not, there are people that I know in this industry that are less than honest (you know who you are…) and feel it’s acceptable to conduct business this way.  If you run your business and cover up your challenges (missed ship dates, art issues, inventory counts, shirt defects, employee pay, freight tracking, etc.) with small lies, it’s not too late to stop.  Sooner or later those small lies come out too easily, and larger lies start surfacing too.  Then word gets out, and everyone knows…  Instead, just accept the fact that mistakes happen, things don’t go your way, and be truthful about the situation.  Own up to your shortcomings and do whatever you need to in order to make it right.  It will be ok.  Read this for more info: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/The-Heartbeat-of-Any-5513.shtml
  2. Not documenting your inventory.  Whether you are purchasing your own stock, or your customers send it in, your receiving team must be 100% accurate with their counts and verify everything as quick as they possibly can.  Accuracy is key, but speed is a factor too as you want to report any discrepancies as soon as possible for resolution.  If possible, get your vendors or customers to send in packing lists with the goods and check against that.  Everything must be counted and checked in by your team.  Don’t take anyone’s word – as if anything comes up “missing” you may have to purchase the deficit to complete the order.  It’s just a better practice to count everything, no matter what, and verify you have what you need.  Otherwise, this could be a very expensive problem.
  3. Hourly employees clocking in late.  Before I instituted a tardiness program a long time ago, I had an employee that would clock in late all the time.  His cavalier attitude made me wonder how much time was he really late.  I had his timesheets pulled for a three month period and he was late a cumulative amount of over 40 hours!  Build a policy, make it fair, put it in your handbook, and stick to it.  This relates to:
  4. Hourly employees clocking in whenever they want.  Overtime is not a right, and should be approved in advance.  Just because someone “wants” to work late doesn’t necessarily mean that this is really needed.  Especially if other members of the same department aren’t getting their full 40 hours.  Make a schedule, divide up the work.  Stress teamwork.  If you are really busy and extra time in a project is warranted, then OT is ok of course.  Keep track of everyone’s hours with a spreadsheet or other reporting tool.
  5. Agreeing to work you can’t do.  Salespeople are notorious for this the world over, and this probably will never change.  They will sell a job – the particulars don’t really matter for this example – that is beyond the capabilities of the shop to produce, it gets dumped in productions lap with the instructions “just make it work”.  Hopefully your shop has a production schedule that’s easily understood by everyone, with comprehension on what can be booked and added to the schedule.  What are the technical limitations of the shop?  How much can you possibly print or embroider in one shift?  What are the costs of overtime?  Do yourself a favor and track the actual costs of some of these gems and compare to what was actually charged.  Are you still making money?  Check out this article to learn more about rush orders: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nielsen/impressions_201302/#/46
  6. Putting up with “Deadwood Fred”.  A lot of shops have someone like this – you know this guy.  He has a real lazy attitude, but sometimes has flashes of real skill, so management puts up with him.  He’s a morale killer, and your floor managers talk about him at least once a week.  Nobody has written him up or disciplined him ever, so HR says if you terminate him it could cost the company money.  This is why a robust performance review program will either get Fred to be a solid performer, or if he doesn’t improve either drive him to self-terminate or build enough documentation on his unprofessional work performance that you can defend your decision in court if need be.  Make sure your managers are documenting and disciplining him for any challenge as it comes up.  I’ve always believed that if you have to terminate for performance issues it shouldn’t be a surprise to the employee.  Check out this article to learn more: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Build-a-Better-Perfo-2579.shtml
  7. Ink don’t think.  Not very grammatically correct on purpose, but before you start blaming the ink you are using look at all the mechanical processes that go before it.  It may be the ink, but it may also be the art, the screens, the press, the print set up, squeegees, your people….really any number of things.  Volumes of books have been written on the proper ways to screen-print, so I’m not going to get bogged down in them here; but let’s just say that you need to rule out some things first.  Lastly, and very contradictory, maybe it is your ink.  At least that’s what the other sales rep says.
  8. Know your market.  In just about every t-shirt shop across the country, someone comes in about once a week with the “GREATEST T-SHIRT IDEA EVER”.  Very, very few succeed in developing their idea and bringing it to market.  Why?  They just don’t understand it and are lazy.  Pick any day and read comments and questions left by these people on the t-shirt forums and you’ll see the same refrain.  The successful start-ups all do the homework.  They have a written business plan.  They understand their market, their competition, how to sell and at what price.  They go in conservatively and usually with pre-sold inventory; which reduces their out of pocket expenses.  The t-shirt shops don’t really care – it’s a sale.  Get that cash up front though.
  9. Lack of training – When I visit shops all across the country two things immediately stand out.  Shops that are organized and well trained hum like a well-oiled machine.  These shops have a cross-training program, deploy people as needed.  Press operator sick?  No problem as they have three or four people that can fill in for him.  On the other hand, shops that are highly segmented and have the mentality that certain staff members are pigeon-holed in their jobs…or worse, the production management is too lazy or undisciplined to build a training program are rife with problems.  People don’t know what to do; and must always be “told”.  The shop runs like a dictatorship.  These shops have an apathy and morale problem, usually more overtime, and a higher defect rate than most.  Check out this article to learn more: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-Cross-Training-I-6026.shtml
  10. Lack of Organization – Running a shop by the seat of your pants can work for some folks, but there are probably times where this method becomes a big challenge.  Thoughtful, organized and creative managers know that eliminating clutter, putting the tools next to the work, and planning every single aspect gets them to their goals faster, cheaper, and better than just using the “cross your fingers and pray” method.  If you have to have a daily production meeting with your production and sales staff in order to sort out what’s going to be produced today, you aren’t doing it right.  Be disciplined in your approach and have high levels of communication that everyone in the shop can understand.  For more info on how to build a production schedule that works read this: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/How-to-Build-an-Accu-1469.shtml
  11. Not understanding cost control.  Larger shops understand the benefit of keeping a tight rein on material costs.  I hear this all the time as smaller shops complain that they can’t understand how a larger shop can undercut their price by such a large margin and still make money.  Chances are that they could be making even more of a percentage profit, as the larger shops filter through more work through their shop and have standardized and automated a lot of the processes.  Better run shops also do their homework and analyze everything.  While one shop may purchase their ink in one gallon buckets, more forward thinking ones won’t think anything of bringing in a 30 or 50 gallon drum of the same ink (usually white or black ink), as they know that they’ll use this ink up over the course of a year.  While a smaller shop can waiver on whether or not to purchase some new equipment; more aggressive and smart shops do the math and determine the ROI (return on investment) of purchasing the equipment as they can calculate the reduction in material, labor, energy or other factors for their shop.  It isn’t a “gut decision”, but one proved with math, which makes it easy.  Also, shops that understand the value in building better margins, also understand the value in building a sustainability program.  Sure, it’s good for the environment and your karma to be green – but the main business value-add is towards your bottom line.  Here’s the link to my article on this: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-a-Sustainability-2110.shtml
  12. Lack of Communication – This is crucial.  When I meet other business people in a social setting – chamber of commerce breakfasts, after hours events, or receptions at tradeshows – one of my favorite icebreaker questions I ask is “What is your biggest problem that you work on daily?”  I ask this question to everybody, even people outside the apparel decoration industry.  The most common response is lack of communication.  This can be internally with your staff or externally in dealing with your customers.  How are you handling this common problem?  Do you have a disciplined approach to taking orders?  (Purchase orders or forms must be filled out)  Or do you shoot from the hip and an e-mail is good enough?  Do you send out art approval forms and have the client approve the art before anything gets produced?  Do you have all the notes, instructions and anything that can make the production for the order go smoother in your system, on the work order, and available for your staff to read?  If production has to stop to go ask someone a question before running the order, you aren’t doing this right.  An extra three to five minutes by your sales or customer service staff adding more detail to your order, can save someone in the back shop up to an hour in production time.  You have to insist that this communication happens, and constantly train on it with your staff.
  13. Safety – I’ve been in a lot of t-shirt production shops over the years.  Some are surgical operating room clean, with everything neat, orderly and ready to work.  Some look like a tsunami just hit.  Some are in between.  The apparel industry in general is that is prone to safety challenges if not managed correctly.  About once a year, you read online about a shop that went up in flames, or someone was seriously hurt, because a staff member wasn’t paying attention.  This is 1000% a management challenge.  It doesn’t take much for some hanging lint to catch fire, a can of spray tack to go down the dryer and explode, the forklift driver to run over somebody, or someone to get whacked by a rotating platen on an automatic press.  These things can happen in an instant.  Are you ready?  Better yet – what are you doing to prevent these accidents from happening in the first place?  When was the last time you had a fire drill at your shop?  What about fire extinguisher training?  Do you have written policies and procedures?  Do you even know what PPE’s are and how to use them?  (Personal Protection Equipment such as safety goggles, gloves, or earplugs)  Do you have a training program?  For some thoughts regarding this topic, check this out:  http://impressions.issshows.com/screen-printing-business/How-to-Implement-a-S-4122.shtml
  14. Lack of Strategic Planning – A lot of shops are reactive.  That is to say they just sit there and wait for the business to come to them, or wait until they need or forced to do something to alter their thinking.  Why wait?  Like a chess game, the shops that have a leadership mentality are usually the ones that are ahead of the curve and take a proactive stance on everything…they think three moves ahead.  They research and constantly are looking for an edge.  This could be in how they market their shop and attract new business.  It could also be how they look at decorating by adding new techniques or experimenting with developing new revenue streams that are different than their core business.  Strategic planning is innovating and constantly changing their business to suit what’s going on in the real world.  They take advantage of opportunities.  For example, it’s no surprise that digitally printing a shirt is growing in popularity, speed and techniques.  Eventually, this could surpass traditional screen printing for a lot of shops.  Where are you on this topic have you done any research at all?  How will you adapt to changes in your market sector?  What are you innovating?  For some thoughts on preventing problems when planning check this out: http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2013/02/12/when-you-are-up-to-your-ass-in-alligators/
  15. Being prepared to work – What I’m referring to here is how your shop is laid out, and how you are prepped to get more work through your shop on a daily basis.  In a lot of shops I’ve seen, the press crews have to go looking for stuff – the next order, a new squeegee, their ink, screens or even the shirts to print.  You should have the next job ready to go, with the work order, shirts, inks and screens available.   I call this “kit-packing”.  Management’s role in this is to determine ways to make it easier for their staff to work.  You should have duplicate tools at every press.  If you haven’t done so already, either take a video camera and film your press crew working or make a “spaghetti-diagram” of a press while they work.  Record every step, every motion it takes to get the last job broken down and the next one up and running.  Hopefully the press crew stays around the press and doesn’t have to walk across the shop to get anything.  If they do, you aren’t managing the process efficiently.  What can you change to minimize the downtime?
  16. It’s the way we’ve always done it – Have you ever heard this statement at your shop?  Ten years ago, a production manager instilled a process at your shop.  That guy is long gone now, but his goofy way of doing something is still around.  Every day your staff still does it like he wanted, but nobody ever thinks to change it.  Why is that?  The answer is simple – it’s because they aren’t empowered to think for themselves and nobody has ever asked them their opinion if there is a better way.  You can’t just be so narrowly focused that you miss big picture ideas.  Have an open mind.  Ask your staff daily what their problems are, what they need to succeed and better yet, what ideas they have that they would like to implement.  Worse yet, YOU are the guy that has the goofy way of doing something.  You run the shop with an iron hand and aren’t interested in anybody else’s ideas or new ways of thinking.  That’s not you is it?
  17. That guy is trying to sell me something!  Do you have a good relationship with your vendors?  Are you open to new ideas, new products, and new relationships?  How many times have you not opened an e-mail or taken a phone call because there is a salesperson on the phone and “he’s trying to sell me something”.  A long time ago I remember reading a two panel cartoon that had a great effect on me on this topic.  The first panel was a drawing of an inside of a teepee with an Indian tribal council.  The chief was being stopped by one of his warriors who pointed outside, and the chief says “Not now, can’t you see I’m busy?”  The second panel has the same warrior telling the Gatling gun salesman that the chief wasn’t interested because he didn’t want to waste his time talking to a sales guy.  Ever since then, I’ve always been interested in whoever has something to sell – as you never know.  I always listen, read, or try out the product and evaluate if it’s something that has merit.  Through the years, new products have been the difference on some major projects and innovative ideas.  Not everything is a golden gem, but it often pays to increase your understanding.
  18. OJT – On the Job Training – I’m throwing this in here for all the knuckleheads that I read about on the apparel forums that are always complaining about the rush order they took that centers around a process that they’ve never produced before.  CYMK printing, rhinestones, applique, high density, flocking, etc.  Some aren’t so difficult to learn or master, but they wait around until they sell the job and are forced into a production corner.  This really comes down to the owner or salesperson accepting the job in the first place.  Sure, there’s a chance for success and I’m positive that plenty of people have knocked a home run out of the park with their first try at something.  However, strategy-wise it’s much smarter and less risky to learn how to do a process and then over-promise and under-deliver.  Smarter shop owners would out-source the job to keep the client happy, and then spend the necessary time learning and mastering the technique.
  19. Artwork matters.  I’m sure it’s the ex-Art Director in me, but it’s surprising how few people understand the relationship and difficulty with not only designing a creative image for the shirt, but also being able to technically separate the art so it will print well.  You see this constantly when dealing with folks in the ad agency or fashion world.  They will create art that’s either extremely difficult to print, or virtually impossible due to location, number of colors, or just simply how the pasted the art onto a t-shirt template.  A great piece of art is not only technically sound – meaning it’s created to be able to be mechanically reproduced with minimal challenges on press; but it’s also designed with some creativity and flair.  You know a good t-shirt design when you see it, just as you know a bad one.  Not a lot of t-shirt shops ship blanks shirts, so let’s pay more attention to the art part of the process.
  20. Not pricing jobs correctly.  The key to long term survival in this industry is just basic business sense.  Pricing jobs correctly and understanding all the costs involved with your shop are crucial.  As with any business, labor is your biggest variable and expense.  That’s why the exercise of just throwing more people at a problem to get the order out the door might work in the short term; but if you are constantly doing and the cost isn’t reflected in what is on the invoice you are headed into trouble.  Every year, the cost of freight, supplies, apparel, taxes, etc. all rises slightly.  Are you modifying your price lists?  Undercutting your competition to get the job, may keep you busy but it won’t guarantee that you will be profitable.  A stronger and more viable method is to understand the relationship between all of your costs, how you are building your quotes, and outside market factors.

Ok, so that’s 20 things to think about for how your shop operates.  Are you being as effective and efficient as you can be?  What challenges weren’t on the list?  If you’d like share your experience add your comment below, or shoot me an e-mail at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s discuss it.