In the first entry I made points that could be summarized as:
- Technology doesn’t speed the production cycle as much as we have the expectation that it will (you can’t hire 9 women and get a baby in a month).
- Long work days are required of this and nearly any other business.
- If you don’t have the time, you have to buy someone else’s.
- If you don’t have much money, you can only buy a limited amount of someone’s skills or time.
This leaves people in the position of :
- Determining priorities, that which they must have. Being new, they often want what they don’t need and don’t want to pay for what they do need.
- Calculating what they can afford.
- Find a full package provider who can provide the options one can afford.
- Figuring out a way to do the things one can’t afford to pay for.
- Reducing complexity, hand holding becomes more attractive.
If you’re looking for full package, you need a full package provider whose operating costs are not inflated by the costs of options you don’t need. Toward this end, I breathed a sigh of relief to read that others expectations and definitions of what full service is, have not evolved as I had feared they had. On my end (the regulars can skip this), I’m seeing a disturbing uptick in the number of people who are looking for a “vertical manufacturer”. Akin to this previous entry, if you’re someone looking for a vertical manufacturer, it means you’re trying to do business with GAP, Victoria’s Secret et al. The only way to do that is to buy products as a consumer or to sell them store fixtures, labels, services, real estate or whatever.
In other words, you cannot become a vertical manufacturer by trying to hire one. A lot of people read this previous entry and maybe they thought it sounded neat or only read “In a perfect world, vertical integration is considered ideal because it reduces your operating costs” but missed the literal reams of material on what not to do. Or rather, how people envision it panning out isn’t what is likely to happen. You can only be a vertical manufacturer by doing it yourself. Which explains why part two was actually about starting your own sewing factory. You do not become a vertical manufacturer by hiring a full service or full package sewing contractor. Just because their services are vertical does not mean you are. Quite the opposite -especially at this level.
What people mean to search for is full package services but even then, they are likely in for a lot of frustration. Some -only a few- will source fabric, it’s usually a narrow range of goods they carry in stock. The fabrics and colors they have will be limited as will the range of product types they can make. Sure, they’ll do hand holding but it might not be a value if you are having to pay overhead based on the range of services they offer that you don’t need. Usually though, these kinds of contractors don’t invoice for hand holding but it is rolled into minimums that you probably should not be cutting unless you have the orders for it. These kinds of contractors are a good choice for commodity type items, not unique or fashion products. Build that into your expectations of what you think you should be able to find in the marketplace.
And then there’s costs. Many read “should cost less” and think that means it should cost less because full package services are more efficient. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t doubt they’re more efficient within a narrow specific range, you know, like Burger King is efficient at broiling burgers but it doesn’t hold they’d have the capacity, resources or infrastructure to serve up filet mignon.
I’m uncomfortable with many of the full package arrangements that seem to be more prevalent. Many entrepreneurs never get their patterns. They’re charged for them but they never get copies meaning they have to pay the cost of having patterns made all over again if they have to go with someone else later on. They don’t give you patterns because they’ve merely altered existing patterns they own to make your stuff and they’re not going to give those away so readily. This you’re not going to like: they’ll use your patterns for someone who comes along after you. Your paid fees actually add value to their pattern inventory. Hand holding isn’t cheap. You might not be billed for it but you will pay for it one way or another otherwise the service provider couldn’t afford to offer the services.
I think the better goal is to centralize services as is feasible and more in the front end of the process than the back. In other words, it’s best to hire a pattern service that can do patterns, prototypes and sew-bys -along with grading and marking when you get to that. It’s icing on the cake if the service can also help with sizing specs, technical illustrations and sewing instructions but it shouldn’t be a deal killer if everything else works out. I only know one pattern service that does all this and that’s Patternworks. The rest of us do what we can of these and refer for the stuff we don’t. Speaking of, you want to hire people who have close working relationships with others and who will refer you. I still do not agree you should have a pattern service make your samples (so please stop looking) because this is your production test run and should be done by a contractor. Again, more on this process is in my book.
Centralizing services in the back end amounts to a contractor who can cut, sew, trim and hopefully package. It would be wonderful if they had a plotter to print out the markers from the pattern service so these could be delivered electronically but many contractors don’t. The farther you get from the front end, the more rare technology use becomes. Sad but true.
Maybe I’m wrong (feel free to cite examples!) but I get the sense that contractors who gravitate into providing the pattern end aren’t entirely comfortable with it. By that I mean I’ve talked to a lot of their pattern makers. They say they aren’t really pattern makers, that they didn’t take it in school but they got drafted into the job. Many seem to do okay with it but their lack of confidence is sobering.
Above all, however you work it and regardless of the nature of the business you hire, you always need to own your patterns and have copies of them. Always. Time and time again, people have asked me how to get copies of their patterns -usually when they’re over a barrel and want to go elsewhere. That’s the wrong time. You should never pay an invoice if you will not be getting those copies as soon as your payment is processed. That should be a litmus test. If a provider -full package or otherwise- will not provide this, you need to look around until you can find a better fit for the long haul.