I recently spent the weekend at ISS Atlantic City. If you have not been to a show, put it on your to-do list! I was able to meet so many new shops, industry experts and had the opportunity to reconnect with several shops that I've talked to through the Facebook Groups and forums.
All I can say is that trade shows give you the opportunity to retreat away from your business and really think hard about the day-to-day. It is a humbling opportunity because you meet shops that may be 10x larger or smaller than you and more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to learn. The people you stumble upon and meet are connections that you will value immensely.
Each show I usually go with an agenda, to learn more about a specific sector of the industry.
For me, it was all about automation and efficiency.
Let me backtrack a second. I was reading an article recently that redefined our role as screen printers. It asked Are we really screen printers? Or screen makers?
Let's face it. Our shops may spend arguably more time actually separating artwork, printing film, burning screens, and setting up jobs than we spend on actually printing. The industry argues over which presses print more shirts per hour, but we should really think about that differently. We should really zero in on the process before a job actually goes to press.
That starts when the customer emails, calls or walks through your doors.
I asked several shops what their turn-around was and most shops gave the typical "7-10 day turn around" answer.
I ask you reading this:
Why is that the going rate for turnarounds?
If we are able to get products within 24 hours given the current circumstances and ease of ordering from major vendors, why is it that we can't go to press 24-48 hours later and make our turn around even faster.
When I asked that question to other shops, you usually see a lot of moaning and groaning, but it comes down to a couple reasons.
"It's the customer, it takes forever to get the customer to approve the invoices and the artwork."
"Our artists would have to work around the clock to get artwork done"
"We would have to burn screens within 24 hours and that sounds outrageous"
But the underlying theme here is that it is possible. And if it truly is possible, then why aren't we building our screen printing infrastructure to do so.
What would happen if the infamous Custom Ink or Amazon came out with 2-day tees?
Would we panic? Envy them, more?
I would rather not think about it, and instead focus on how we can transform our industry to accommodate it.
Based on these conversations I had at the show, I spent the remainder of my time learning about different ways to become more automated and efficient in our industry.
I see it as follows:
When you log into Amazon, you can order, shop and check out in seconds. Now obviously we don't all have the luxury of having full stack onsite engineers that are able to build us the "Amazon System" in our shops, but we do have the ability to do the following:
You can create very strong forms using a tool like Jotform and you can embed them into your websites and use apps like Zapier to integrate them into simple shop management tools. This way we are responding to customers quicker, with stronger information. Jotform has the ability to allow for file upload so you can intake an order and turn it into a job quicker. The UI/UX is beautiful in Jotform and it is extremely flexible to your business.
By doing this, your communication with the customer should speed up. You don't need a powerful CRM tool like Close.io or Salesforce just yet. Using Gmail plugins like Boomerang or Mailtrack can hold your sales team and artists accountable and have better response times with your customers. These tools can track when customers open emails and can remind you to send follow up. It takes less off your plate and puts a larger load on a system that can automate your customer service.
Once you take orders, you need to be able to quote, invoice, and get approvals in a timely fashion. Attaching proofs to emails and sending PDF invoices is a thing of the past. You should really think hard about a tool like Printavo that can text out reminders to customers phones and get feedback instantly. More importantly, you need your shop to be working together and by using automation and status change notifications you can speed up purchasing to bring a product in quicker.
Once products come in the door, what are the steps you take to check in the goods? Are you using organized Purchase Orders or are there too many papers flying around your back room?Products should be checked in instantly so you know if there are mistakes or if products are ready to go.
Do you have carts that you can wheel around your shop with garments ready to go? Or are press operators hauling around boxes and piles of clothing?
Let's talk screens. The film is expensive! It costs close to a dollar a sheet when it's all said and done. Have you thought about going to direct to screen? I know it is a pretty penny, but when it comes down to dollars and cents, it may make more sense to go computer to screen. I tested two pieces of equipment. I tested out the Douthitt Computer to Screen system and the M & R i-Image. They are both great.
When you chose a CTS system, you also become more precise with registration because your screens are burning in the exact same spot for several color jobs. This makes set up quicker, faster, and cleaner for your press operators.
You eliminate the step for your artists to print out the film on those Epson printers and you can allow them to get more artwork done in the same timeframe.
Are you seeing a pattern here?
You can easily go years without using any of these tools or worrying about any of this, but I have come to the conclusion that we need to start making small incremental changes in every facet of our business when it comes to efficiency. If we make a 5% adjustment in each department in our business what will the end result be? Will it bring down our turn around to 2 days? Maybe not to start, but it will get us thinking about what it means to run a streamlined operation. You'll definitely see an increase in your production volume and hopefully profit.
All large manufacturing companies have grown because of strong sales, marketing, quality control, and efficiency. Your goals in 2018 should focus on all those angles, but as we begin to adapt to market trends in 2018, your efficiency needs to be a priority.
When you automate your business you liberate yourself as a business owner and it gives you the ability to develop new channels of business. Now you can start thinking about offering different decoration types, or you can make strides acquiring new customers.
If you have not written down your workflow I challenge you to do so as soon as possible. I took a business that was using carbon copy paper tickets, and in a few years, we are now completely digital.
Overall, ISS Atlantic City was eye-opening for me, and I hope those that have gone to shows had similar benefits. Reach out to any of us if you'd like to chat further!
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