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Old 20th June 2011, 02:29 AM   #11
IBDesigns
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Productive Strategy IBDesigns, I may also add that since you have been doing this for a long time now, you will be familiar with the average time it takes to complete a certain amount of order and shipment (depending on the influx of orders of course). This can also help you create an schedule or timetable where orders are enabled when the last shipment goes. This way, your customers/clients will be familiar with your operating systems and thus build more interactivity and relationship. Just my opinion.
Thanks, Benedicta, you've definitely got a handle on the concepts. We actually took about a year to figure out our production schedule and timetable. Interestingly, as we produced more product, we also figured out ways to streamline many processes, thereby boosting our production capacity and changing our scheduling.

Additionally, we use Excel to mimic a typical warehouse inventory system. We don't HAVE an inventory, since we make the units for each order on demand, but we still create a "pick list" and delivery date list.

We're fortunate that we have all this technical capability "in house," so to speak, being in our late 50s and having worked in corporate and manufacturing environments in the past. As such, we were able to do one of the Key Things that so many small businesses fail to do --- process analysis!

Building a sewing business at home involves processes, just the same as anything else does, in life. Cooking involves getting a recipe, buying ingredients, prep work, setting out utensils, combining ingredients, cook time, serving and so forth.

A sewing business involves:
  • Tracking material, thread, needles, etc.
  • Keeping materials in categorized boxes or areas
  • Keeping track of each particular order and instructions
  • Connecting a customer with a particular order
  • Keeping a schedule of promises (delivery, etc.)
  • Managing scheduled work
  • Managing customer expectations
  • Managing final paperwork (mailing info, packaging, etc)
  • Going to post offices or other carriers
  • Tracking packages (delivery confirmations, etc)
  • Archiving previous orders
  • Problem resolution with customers (complaints, etc)
  • Financial management (purchasing costs)
  • Profit & Loss management

These are the most basic processes, and the entrepreneur should know exactly how he or she is going to handle each process. Figuring out what exactly is taking place is part of the Process Analysis.

Determining what you're going to do about each process is the "process" of putting together the business.

Another important thing is to figure out several "phases" of the business. Phase 1 would be having very few orders, not knowing what's going on, and making no money. Phase 2 would be having regular customer traffic, and realizing that current process systems aren't working very well. Fix them.

Phase 3 is to have "too much business." At that point, it's important to have the correct business model. An at-home seamstress producing unique work is NOT a typical boutique business. "Grow Big or Go Home" is absolutely Useless sloganeering in this instance!

The above business is an Artist model. When Michalangelo got "swamped" with a contract to paint the Sistine Chapel, do you think he went out and hired a couple of painters? Probably not!

For the Artist, it isn't about volume. It's rather about price and availability.

That being said, in Phase 3, the business owner can do an even more detailed process analysis. Perhaps there is "piece-work" that can be farmed out to help increase production. Michelangelo might have apprentice painters to mix paints, spread drop-cloths, build scaffolding, clean brushes and so fort.

The balance between the cost of the piece worker and the increase in business is a pretty fine line. For the at-home, single-person seamstress the likelihood is that a cash basis, under-the-table system might be the only viable option.

Finally, when all else fails, raising prices can help put the business owner over the line into a decent living wage.

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Old 20th June 2011, 02:36 PM   #12
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If there still is a problem... I think the biggest issue is that you have to free up your time in order to be able to think it thru. In order to do that, simply hire out on a piece work basis (get paid for what you do... job by job). That way, you have no 'employee' issues; your arrangement is as a contractor. You do work for me... you get paid. You don't do work... there is no work.. there is no money. That saves you on the down side.

Once you have a chance to MANAGE the business, you can then determine what has to change next. One thing is... don't upset the customers. KEEP THE ORDERS COMING... because you have to watch what you wish for, right?

There may be a day you WISH it didn't slow down. Deal with the volume now, even if it is at a lower margin... then wack it from the management side.

Hope this helps! Good luck!

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Old 22nd June 2011, 12:06 AM   #13
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(...snip....) If there still is a problem... I think the biggest issue is that you have to free up your time in order to be able to think it thru. ............

Once you have a chance to MANAGE the business, you can then determine what has to change next. One thing is... don't upset the customers. KEEP THE ORDERS COMING... because you have to watch what you wish for, right?

There may be a day you WISH it didn't slow down. Deal with the volume now, even if it is at a lower margin... then wack it from the management side. (/snip.........)
I agree, it's all about time management. And that means Priority Management. I think it's not quite accurate to say that stopping order-taking will automatically upset customers. Think about many other similar cases:

Deli customers have to take a number. Restaurants have waiting lines. Theaters and ball games are sold out. Products are out of stock. --- There are lots of examples where the customer simply isn't going to get what they want on demand. IF they're then upset, they're not the customers you want in the first place.

Otherwise, almost everyone understands that small, single-owner micro businesses have very limited capacity. They'll either wait in line, or walk away. It comes down to how much they want the unique, individualized quality work.

2 years into our business, we could only hope for orders. We had a lot of anxiety, never knowing if we'd get orders. 5 years into the business, we have too many orders! And we're only two people, so we HAVE to slow down those orders!

The one way was, at the front end, to disable site-ordering and putting a "closed to new orders until such-and-such a date." The other way is to increase prices.

Imagine if Elton John gets "too many orders" for concerts. He can't just hire another piano player, right? Nobody wants to see someone other than Elton John, regardless of how great they play or how exactly like him they play. Period, end of story. They pay the money for Elton John or that's it.

As a result, the greater the demand for Elton John, the higher the ticket prices. Eventually, certain venues just can't afford his payment -- the halls just don't seat enough audience members.

Other venues now open up because they have the capacity, and their audience members are prepared to pay the higher prices. And even then, there comes a point when a particular concert date is Sold Out.

So too, the Artist Model for a business can increase pricing based on demand. At first, higher prices get rid of "bargain basement" customers. But eventually, with an increasing number of quality customers prepared to pay the higher prices, the Artist has to "just say no." And that means having a way to stop orders on a TEMPORARY basis.

We recently began getting "bulk" orders from people who simply don't care what's the price. So our current problem is how to decline very large orders, without putting a "limited quantity" into the website ordering system. For now, we're taking these on a case-by-case basis, with direct customer email communication.

But ultimately, somewhere along the line you have to simply trust that word-of-mouth and quality product crosses a tipping point, and there WILL be continuing orders (unless the entire world economy crashes and burns).

What's great is to have a product that's so in demand that people "clamor" for the product. That's very hard to accomplish, no matter what's the business and product.

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Old 22nd June 2011, 09:12 AM   #14
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I strongly agree with you and I am honestly happy to hear you have such a 'good' problem. However, the operative word here is 'Problem'. Good or bad, you need to deal with it.

I just had a thought that would/could keep you taking orders without upsetting anyone, but still give you breathing room.

What about an online calendar. This does NOT have to be fancy. The only issue here is that you would need to update it EVERY DAY.

I am thinking about something that says "NEXT AVAILABLE DATE FOR SERVICE IS"... and update that daily. If you get really big orders that will take 2-3 days, then you just update it that way. You are being straight forward with your customers; (they will appreciate that if they really ARE customers) and you can better monitor things.

Moving forward, you would be able to see that if you are constantly booked (as an example) 7-10 days out, you know what your work load is and if/when you should hire or sub out work (I am still a big fan of outsourcing... I have seen multi million dollar companies that SURVIVED on outsourcing!!)

Now, if you want to spring a few bucks, visit coffeecup.com for really nice and easy to use software for web designers and developers. They have excellent support and a really nice calendar tool that you can customize. I don't know the price off hand... but probably about $20.

Just to be clear, I am NOT an affiliate of or have any association with CoffeCup software. I have seen/used it and know first hand that it's pretty good for the price.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

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Old 6th September 2011, 12:10 AM   #15
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I think you can also advertise your business in local classifeds & magazines.

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Old 6th September 2011, 10:09 AM   #16
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Default Industrial Sewing Machines

You can buy used industrial sewing machines for very reasonable prices, starting around $300.00. These basically last forever, but make sure you have someone local to adjust them from time to time if you can't do it yourself. Google "industrial sewing machines used" (without the quotes). It is customary in the textile industry to pay by the piece, and I would highly recommend doing it this way if you can. You should also try to find experienced industrial sewing professionals. They can sew a lot faster than you believe possible.

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Old 15th October 2013, 10:22 PM   #17
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Snyderkv, any updates on what you decided or how this went for you?

The suggestions you've been given hold a lot of merit, and I think you have some other options available to you as well, but I thought I'd see what you've decided before weighting in.

Kevin

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