Erich Campbell provides a stress-free guide to contracting out extra work

There are plenty of good reasons to consider outsourcing: receiving an order large enough to outstrip the capabilities of your equipment or that doesn’t make sense for your production schedule; customer requests that require a decoration technique with which you are unfamiliar or requires equipment you don’t have; or work that requires a skill you don’t possess or that you and your staff are still learning. Far from simply a last resort, outsourcing has become a regular part of doing business thanks to our increasingly connected world filled with remote workers, drop-shipping and global production. That said, there are risks associated with relinquishing control and relying on others to fulfil critical tasks or production. Here are my three tips to make the process of outsourcing simpler and safer for your business.

Build a dream team

Don’t wait to seek out production partners until you have jobs on the line. By identifying key areas now where having back-ups and resources will help you better serve your customers, you can start proactively recruiting your dream team ahead of time. For embroidery-only shops, you may look for a garment printer, small shops may look for a larger producer for those high-count orders, and larger, corporate-focused shops may look for boutique decorators who do one-off custom work that requires personalisation or alterations. Although it’s good to have a speciality, being ‘the shop that can do anything’, including o-the-wall requests, can secure the core work we want to do most. Just remember, you may have to consult industry communities, communicate with several suppliers and invest in test pieces to make sure you have the quality and service you expect before releasing critical work to a contractor.

For small, single-head and retail-focused shops, the 100+ piece category of work may not make sense, particularly when you calculate the cost of missed opportunities that fit into your core work. Outsourcing to a multi-head, large-order facility can be a great boon not only to your schedule but to the customer’s perception of your shop’s abilities

For treatments that require appliqué cutting, it may make sense to contract designs to a company that specialises in appliqué and has cost-saving tools like this laser bridge

Prepare for the process

Know and train your staff on your contractors’ requirements. What information is required for them to quote orders? What are their minimum order sizes? What format art files do they need? Do they require a deposit to begin work? How do they handle art and production approvals? What is their normal turnaround time? How do they deliver and how are the deliverables presented? None of this should be a mystery to staff members interacting with contractors. Having a clear understanding of each supplier’s process means that in the customer interview phase, your sales staff can ask all the right questions in one go – this prevents them from having to keep going back to the customer with additional questions and also allows them to sort any potential problems before the order leaves your control. Understanding what you need to deliver is easily as important as communicating your expectations on how their work must be delivered to you. 

Keep communications clear

Establish clear lines of communication and preferred methods of contact. Know who on your team and your contractor’s team is tasked with checking in and keeping up with the chain of approvals and notifications needed to keep a job moving. If you have more than one contact, such as when purchasing is handled by a designated staffer in accounts while the rest of the process is handled by someone in production, make sure that all parties are aware of the correct contacts for each key role. The contacts on your staff should be constantly aware that the order progress hinges on their keeping up with communications. Art staff should know how and where to send files, sales staff should know how and where to submit work for quoting and how to check order statuses, and so forth. Everyone in the chain should also document every communication, whether that takes the form of simple, saved emails and notes, or using an order management system. Keep an account and be accountable.

Entering pertinent information and logging communication in an order management system can be incredibly useful, both for tracking and formulating initial orders and for repeated orders by a given customer

In conclusion

Outsourcing can be a powerful tool for extending your production capacity if handled correctly. Even if you want to build a one-stop shop, outsourcing can be a stepping stone towards your goal as it allows you to build a clientele for your eventual offerings and put away profit towards your own expansion. With clear goals, well communicated expectations within your organisation and between it and your contractors, and careful attention to the process, you’ll be able to make the best use of those companies that specialise in letting you do the selling. And remember, there’s no reason these relationships can’t be two-way streets – what can you do that fills needs for your contractor?

 

Sometimes, an order calls for so much personalisation or variation from one piece to the next that digital printing is the only call for efficiency and profitability. These sublimated patches represent three in a series of tens of layouts for a single event; if you don’t have sublimation in-house, contracting these patches will be cheaper and easier than trying to have a plethora of icons and images digitised as custom pieces for embroidery

Overlock-edged patches like this must be manually edged with an overlock sewing machine known commonly by the brand name ‘Merrow’. Merrow machines are not common to most embroidery shops, nor is the skill needed to run them. If a classic overlock-edged patch is your goal, you may consider outsourcing to an emblem company. (Image courtesy of AB Emblem)

Erich Campbell is an award-winning digitiser, embroidery columnist and educator, with 18 years’ experience both in production and the management of e-commerce properties.He is the programme manager for the commercial division of BriTon Leap.

www.erichcampbell.com