As if I’m not lucky enough to have Kathleen on my proverbial team, I come to find out that Mike and Amy Cerny are running a lean apparel manufacturing operation right in my backyard. OK, maybe not my backyard; I would have noticed. But in Houston. Which is actually closer to my armpit, in relation to the rest of Texas. But I digress.
As you know, about a dozen of us descended on Fit Couture to pummel Mike, Amy, Fernando and Len (from America’s 21st) with newbie questions. Turns out, I was a relative oldbie (that’s a new word for you, Kathleen), having been manufacturing for almost five years now. That’s a change for me. But I guarantee you that regardless of our experience, all of us came away with new insights on manufacturing in the U.S.
Kathleen will take you through the specifics of the machines and process, so I’ll just leave you with my disorganized impressions. I have seen my future, and it is really, really cool. Currently, we have a four month lead-time on our production orders. With a system like this, I can see myself reducing my finished inventory to almost nothing (the goal is NO finished inventory in warehouse). The caveat is that if you import fabric, as I must, specializing in organic cotton, you will have to stockpile fabric. But stockpiling fabric, versus inventory that has many hours of added value in labor and embellishments, is a much leaner way to operate.
The really exciting thing to me, as someone already manufacturing and with a good cash flow every month, is that the costs of setting up a line are well within our reach. For two month’s worth of our production spending, we could have a lean sewing line. Given our volume of production, we’d need two of these lines to bring everything in-house. But in talking with Len, it became clear that this is a scalable system. You can ease into it from any level. When Len designs any given setup, he designs in a growth strategy. For instance, with the Fit Couture sewing line, there were about 5 different ways that everyone knew the setup could be expanded or made more efficient, from time/labor-saving machine upgrades to splitting the line in two (taking pants and shorts to a new line, e.g.). With a setup like mine, we talked about setting up a sewing line to produce just new product categories as they come on board, or perhaps just in-fill as we draw down our current (bloated) in-stock inventory. That would effectively transfer our invested capital from inventory to equipment over some given period of time. Easy-cheesy.
So for the cost of engineering, you receive a growth plan, as well as gaining an invaluable consulting partner. The first part of the process with America’s 21st involves sending them all of your products. They will do their own analysis to determine how much time should be involved in producing any given piece. (I’m starting to sound like a commercial. Sorry. It’s just so cool.) From there, they design an appropriate system, given your staff, needs, budget, etc.
If any of you get a chance to tour this sort of facility in the future, jump on it. It was a thing of beauty to see the cut pieces feed into the beginning of the line, and in less than 10 minutes flow through to the finishing station. The piece is then blown clean with compressed air, tagged, folded, sealed into a plastic bag, and voila! Done. We “ooohed” and “aaahed” as the pieces piled up in a bucket as we stood there talking. Mike said that inserting an emergency item into the line (perhaps someone has ordered something for next day delivery) is no problem at all. He just drops the cut pieces at the front of the line and out pops the finished product a few minutes later (there are humans involved, of course; they’re just so good at this that they seem like a well-oiled machine). Try that with batch processing.
Last, but not least, I have to say that it was great to talk to other D-Es, in their various stages of the process. I don’t know how it is with others, but my husband only lets me talk about my business so much. Not nearly as much as I could. So a day or two with others of my twisted kind is really, really nice sometimes!
I hope this brain dump has been helpful. If you have any specific questions, please ask in the comments or the forum.
Thanks Amy and Mike! I promise not to steal anything else if you let me come visit again. Well, probably not, anyway.
The second report is short and sweet from Jennifer Murphey:
Thank you Mike and Amy for making your facility available. I really didn’t know what to expect before the visit but was amazed by the whole experience. This was one of the most valuable events I have been to because it helped me see an lean manufacturing process in action and it REALLY works! I saw:
- bright space
- happy and energetic employees
- simple processes
The system seems so much more attainable then I had originally thought. While an investment, it is great to know that this works so well and really pays off after a year or two – depending on each organization’s needs. I loved meeting with everyone too – Kathleen has built a very valuable network of entrepreneurs who can truly help each other! Thanks!