The other day I randomly connected with a young entrepreneur named Christopher Heller on LinkedIn that made his own custom ties, bow ties and suspenders. He didn’t only have his own brand, but he also manufactured his product himself in Los Angeles. The name of his brand is RawHyde Manufacturing which can be found at http://rawhydemfg.com/. He makes some really awesome high end boutique products. However, what really peaked my interests was the section that Christopher titled “Custom”.
The possibilities became apparent to me immediately. Someone could go on his site and customize a high end bow tie or tie. However, I know that presenting custom manufacturing in a simple way, and processing a custom manufactured order is not even close to easy, so I wanted to see how Christopher handled it. His page for custom manufacturing can be found here: http://shop.rawhydemfg.com/pages/custom-1. As soon as I saw the page I realized that RawHyde had the same challenges that most manufacturers have when trying to accept custom orders. How do you make the process informative, yet easy and engaging?
I understand the challenges Christopher faces. We have 7 programmers dedicated full time everyday to thinking about how to make custom manufacturing simple and we are still struggling everyday to learn from our customer’s, staff and factories to get it right. I decided to get on a call with Christopher and find out a little more about his business.
I love talking to guys like Christopher because they are so passionate about what they do. I could immediately tell that he truly loves the products that he manufactures and its obvious when looking at his products that for Christopher it is a labor of love. When I asked him how many people work on his assembly line, he told me that it was only him most of the time but that he could tap into temporary workers if demand required. I explained to him that I think what he is doing is excellent, and I think manufacturers like Christopher are going to be the manufacturers of the future.
I explained to Christopher that when I first came to China 10 years ago, a factory with 3,000 workers was considered a small factory. However, technology started to improve and many machines that once cost hundreds of thousands of dollars started to cost twenty or thirty thousand dollars. Industrial sewing machines only cost a few hundred dollars. Furthermore, a factory can buy aftermarket machines for even cheaper. In addition after the global financial crisis, business became much less predictable and large corporations were cutting back on their orders. Also, there has been a global trend amongst consumers to treasure custom and limited edition products rather than mass produced products.
The result is that even in China, factories have gotten smaller and smaller. These are exactly the type of factories that we work with at The/Studio. The average factory that we work with only has 30 to 40 workers. I believe that Christopher represents the future of manufacturing, especially in the United States. He is highly educated and passionate about what he does, which is a big departure from the stereotype of a factory worker that is uneducated and monotonously assembling the same product everyday. Christopher is a factory worker in the technical sense, but he is obviously much more. He is an entrepreneur, designer, project manager, marketer and yes a factory worker when he needs to be. He keeps his production as lean as possible, but can scale up his manufacturing when necessary.
With advances in technology the ability to manufacture will become even more of a commodity. In fact in the next 10 years with 3d printing, at least some manufacturing will be able to be done in our own homes. Successful manufacturers will be those like Christopher that can put ideas together. They will be part manufacturer, part designer and part marketer. Anyone can make a tie or bow tie, but not anyone can understand the right materials to use to make a high end fashion boutique bow tie, and think of the little things like adding a metal pin to the bow tie to give it additional flair.
Nevertheless these small manufacturers are still human and they can’t do everything themselves. I explained to Christopher The/Studio’s value proposition. No matter what, he doesn’t have the time and resources to make online manufacturing simple. At the end of the day that is what we do at The/Studio. We spend all of our time on making custom manufacturing simple, not only for the customer but also for the manufacturer. Instead of Christopher trying to figure out the IT part of his business, which will literally take him years and millions of dollars, we can do that for him. He simply just needs to plug his product into The/Studio platform, and customers can easily order his products.
The/Studio does what we do best, which is to create a platform to allow people to custom manufacture their products and Christopher has time to do what he does best which is to concentrate on the design and manufacturing of ties, bow ties and suspenders.
Next year The/Studio will be making a big push into working with American manufacturers. Hopefully The/Studio will have the opportunity to offer our customers the manufacturing capabilities of RawHyde in the near future.