We process over 2000 custom orders every month. Some of our orders are for just one piece and some of our orders are for hundreds of thousands of pieces. We haven’t had a million piece order yet, but we will be prepared for it the day that it comes. That means we process over 24,000 unique custom patches, challenge coins, caps, t-shirts, and woven labels each year. Each order requires a unique design, color and size. Our custom products are just as unique as the customers that order them. Just as each person is different, each of our orders are different (unless the order is a reorder, which does happen often).
For our customer to receive their custom product there are numerous steps along the way before the products arrives in that fresh white The/Studio bag. First we need to create an invoice for the customer. The salesperson needs to get each and every fact correct about the customer’s order from the quantity, to the details of the order, to the delivery date. If just one piece of information is incorrect, the entire order will be incorrect.
Next our art team processes the details of the custom order and puts that information in a mockup for the customer to approve. Again if the designer makes just one mistake, the customer could unwittingly approve a mockup with the wrong information and the entire production process would be incorrect. Once the customer approves the mockup the order is then sent to our CAD design department.
Depending upon the product the CAD design is either done by embroidery digitizers or done by graphic designers on Adobe Illustrator. The CAD process is probably the most difficult process, because the CAD designer must translate the mockup into a CAD design so that the machine or mold will properly translate the design into an actual product. One simple mistake such as leaving out a letter, or not properly understanding how the machine will interpret a particular detail, could completely ruin the design. If the sample is done incorrectly at best it will delay the production process, and at worse the customer could mistakenly approve the product and we will produce an incorrect design. How scary is it to know that you are producing a CAD design for a 200,000 piece order?
The last step is that our factory team must read the invoice instructions, mockup and CAD design and make sure they choose the right materials, and machine settings to make sure that all of the previous work is properly translated onto the final product. Our factory team first creates one sample, and that sample is submitted to the customer through the customer area. Once the sample is approved then we begin final production.
Once production has been completed, we have three different QC teams that checks your order to ensure that the information on the invoice, the mockup, the CAD design, the final sample, all are the same as the final production. Sometimes our QC team has to work under enormous pressure as they need to check each product, and sometimes the product reaches our final QC station, just 30 minutes before the product needs to ship out.
If all of this wasn’t hard enough, we realize that we live in an extremely fast paced world. Sometimes we are producing 1000 custom patches for a Navy unit that is being deployed out to sea in two weeks. If we don’t get them their patches before they leave for sea, their will be hundreds of sailors without their custom name patches. One time we received an order from the Houston Rockets basketball team. Their cheerleader outfits for a special event were ruined, and they needed 50 patches in 3 days to sew onto the uniforms in time for a special halftime show.
Not only does our ordering process require extreme accuracy, but it also requires rapid speed.
Each item is custom made, so there is always the possibility that an order may have a problem. Even the most famous consumer product company in the world sometimes has manufacturing problems. Yes, even Apple has manufacturing issues. Its an unavoidable part of manufacturing. Every manufacturer in the world knows that some of their products will have defects.
We know that out of the 24,000 plus custom orders that we process there will be some errors. Maybe the mockup artist will select a yellow Pantone color, for a color that should be orange. Or maybe production delays will cause us to miss a customer’s deadline.
We even have a company goal around the percentage of orders that will have problems. In our company it is our goal that only 3.3% or less of our orders experience any problems such as delays, or manufacturing defects. But just imagine that means that 96.7% of our orders are free of defects and meet our customers deadlines.
This also doesn’t mean that we accept the 3.3% error rate. Every year we make our goal even more difficult. Next year our error rate goal is going to be 3.2%. Even in 2014 we had some months where our error rate was less than 2%.
The reason why 96% to 98% of our orders are error free despite all of the moving parts mentioned above, is because we are perfectionist. When there is a problem, we don’t throw our hands up and say oh well. We constantly search for ways to improve. We have a report each day that reports any orders that have problems. Then both our sales and production department is required to write a report on why the problem occurred and how it can be fixed. Then we take action on fixing the problem. Here are some problems we found recently and here is how we fixed them:
-This month we found that we have 3 problems with orders that were delivered to the customer one day late when we used UPS. We scoured through the history of over 200 orders shipped via UPS and created new rules around when we would and would not use UPS.
-We realized that we were wasting one day of production when our production team needed to ask sales questions. So we went through the questions that were being asked and worked on tightening the requirements needed to create an invoice and mockup so that there would not be missing information.
-We realized that some customers are choosing the wrong colors, because the colors on our website look different from screen to screen. The President of the company Greg, spent a month researching the right way to solve this problem and decided to take pictures of all of our colors using a special $500 device on his camera. The President will take the pictures on his own and our designer Joseph will go through each color and match it to the appropriate Pantone color.
-The other day we realized that we quoted too high on a particular woven label project. We are going to work backwards and figure out exactly why our price quote wasn’t competitive to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
We know that manufacturing will never be perfect. However, we are going to make it as simple and perfect for you as is humanly possible, and we will never stop doing that.