Let's talk about screen printing spoilage.
What is spoilage?
In the garment decorating industry, spoilage simply means production errors.
Spoilage becomes expensive, fast – so it's very important to develop a strategy for minimizing spoilage in your shop.
You will lose clients and money if you don't plan for and actively control your spoilage.
In my experience at Campus Ink, spoilage is an inevitable part of doing business. That doesn't mean you should just accept spoilage and go about your business.
Here are the most common types of spoilage situations I've encountered:
There are a lot of variables in the garment decoration industry: apparel styles, colors, garments, ink colors, screens, fabrics, processes, tools, machines – each and every one of these can introduce spoilage!
Producing consistently high-quality goods that thrill your customers? That's an ongoing challenge for every print shop, whether they're making $10 million or $10,000 a year – so don't fret if you're having spoilage issues.
Mistakes and errors do happen. It's inevitable!
So how do you handle spoilage correctly?
Here are the 5 most successful ways to deal with spoilage.
A visible spoilage policy looks like this:
It’s very important to educate your customers about spoilage. If you explain that mistakes do occur, it makes breaking the news much less damaging.
Customers don’t like negative surprises.
Be up front with your spoilage policy, even if it's an uncomfortable conversation.
Creating a spoilage strategy works best with specifics. Here’s an example:
You get a 24 piece order for a sports team, with custom names & numbers. If you have one spoilage event, you’re at 4% spoilage. Worse, one missing jersey damages your relationship with your customer and hurts their team!
It’s easy to see that when you’re printing small custom orders, spoilage becomes catastrophic.
The best way to handle small orders is to guarantee a perfect order up to X number of pieces – the extra effort will keep your customers happy.
You must have a strategy for mitigating misprints with small orders!
For larger orders, the numbers become even more challenging!
2% spoilage means 10 ruined garments for a 500 piece order. But here's the carrot: 10 lost garments could be negligible if you’ve guaranteed 90% of the pieces and set customer expectations appropriately.
Harry Gordon Selfridge coined this phrase in 1909:
The customer is always right.
So how does that relate to communication?
It’s not just “the customer is always right," so they can walk all over you.
It’s your job to create reasonable expectations, then fulfill your promises!
If you’re keeping clear and open communication about a customer’s order, it’s far less likely you’ll deal with an irate phone call when they discover something misprinted. It’s important to manage their expectations.
Tell the truth about spoilage as soon as you know about it. Be proactive in discussing problems. It’s harder to react to an angry customer than it is to proactively demonstrate what they should expect.
If you communicate often about the risk of spoilage and inform customers when it happens, they’ll trust you. If you’re not clear about spoilage, you’ll create customers that don’t trust you and are paranoid about getting ripped off.
If you want to get ahead of the curve, address spoilage internally. Anticipate spoilage and have a process for resolving it before it reaches the customer.
Demonstrate to your production team that it’s important to openly discuss spoilage and that you won’t fly into a fit of rage if something goes wrong. If your team is afraid to talk about errors, you’ll spend a lot of time managing frustrated customers.
Spoilage must not be hidden. If it’s hidden, you’re going to get extremely unpleasant phone calls from really pissed off customers. They’ll badmouth your services to their friends and leave terrible reviews online.
Damage to your reputation is far more expensive than printing a few extra shirts.
When spoilage does happen, immediately make a plan for contacting your customer:
The most important thing? Catch spoilage before it gets to the customer. If it does slip past, carefully manage the outcome for the customer and signal that you’ve done everything possible to make it right.
In the garment decoration industry, we’re all in this together.
You’d hate it if you contracted a job & were completely blindsided by spoilage.
You open up your DTG order and find that the count is miserably off – and the quality of 15% of the order is bad! You’d have to scramble to replace and reprint everything and almost certainly wind up needing an extension on delivery. Your huge order is ruined and a profitable customer never returns.
That sounds terrible. It is terrible!
So don’t do that to shops you’re contracting for.
Printers are reasonable people. They know the process is tough and spoilage is just part of reality. However: if you offer contract printing, you need to be just as clear & upfront about your spoilage policy as you would be with retail customers.
Don't assume that another shop "just knows about spoilage." How they handle it might be very different than how you handle it. Communicate & set expectations!
That doesn’t mean your spoilage policy has to be the same for contracted work. Your business may rely more on retail customers than contract work – so determine who gets priority in resolving spoilage disputes. It’s worth having a different set of rules for replacement & refunds with contract work: press time is your most valuable resource.
Remember: word travels fast in this industry. Don’t create a negative reputation by taking on contract work that you can’t actually fulfill.
If you put a dollar in a jar every time your team printed a perfect order for an entire year, that amount will be much less than it costs to fix one job with a high spoilage rate.
Creating a culture of success in your print shop means consistently doing things right.
Doing things right requires totally transparent goals & a willingness to revise your process.
Set daily, weekly and monthly performance goals for your team. Offer metrics about those goals. Show your team what happens when spoilage occurs. Some shops even send their printers a weekly email documenting the spoilage rate and explaining exactly what went wrong & how to avoid it.
Documenting problems is a shortcut for avoiding them in the future. Learn from spoilage events and figure out how to avoid them in the future!
The rewards you choose for perfect orders are up to you – but it’s important to highlight when things go well. Reward workers that preempt spoilage events!
You can work hard to reduce spoilage, but you'll never totally get rid of it.
The most important thing you should take away from this is that spoilage can spiral out of control – so it's important to manage it.
Don't wait until spoilage ruins a great relationship with your favorite customer to get serious about dealing with it: start today by refining your process and making a clear-cut plan for handling your next spoilage event.
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