How to hire a production facilitator

The question of how to hire someone to manage your product development and/or production has come up several times in as many days, leading me to think we should discuss it. I don’t have a ready bullet point list, just gut reactions but I hope we can explore the topic with your help.

For grounding, I called a peer, Valerie Cooper (Heart Hunters Consulting). Although we’ve never met, we think we are soul sisters or something, karmically separated this go round if you believe in that sort of thing (I don’t) although the idea of kinship with her pleases me. Because she’s also a former pattern maker with even more years in the business than me, we tend to feel the same way about things. One example, she thinks “a contract is an invitation for someone to sue you” so she doesn’t use those either. I suppose with this airing we could get dissenting opinion but for what it’s worth, the redux boils down to expectations and transparency.

Expectations are pretty simple. Confidentiality is a given; any possible alternative sends my blood pressure through the roof. Second, no consultant should ever guarantee your stuff will sell. No ifs ands or buts.

You should expect them to do what they say they can. If they say they can find your fabric, a contractor or a factor, then that’s what they should do. Valerie says you should only hire someone who’s done what you’re asking them to consult on, for at least 20 years. They should tell you what business licenses you need, maybe backers or factors.

If you hire someone for product development, they must have a background in production sewing and pattern making. She doesn’t make patterns for her clients but if there’s a problem, she can see immediately what’s wrong. A production facilitator should have the resources and connections to get prototypes done with all of the glitches worked out.

Transparency is the problem lately. Do not hire someone who will not provide the contact information of your sources. If the facilitator (who in one specific case was a sewing contractor) is not forthcoming with the person who’s done your production, find someone else. If you are paying for this information -and you are- you are entitled to have it.

Regarding payments, you should be writing most checks to the given subcontractors personally. There have been several recent incidents in which consultants have been paid on behalf of a subcontractor but then the subcontractor was never paid. You might think you’re off the hook since you paid somebody but at least in the state of California, you’re not. You are responsible for the entire process chain. If your contractor doesn’t pay the subcontractor, you can be held liable. The only way to prevent people from using your work to take advantage of others is if you write the checks to those parties personally. Your facilitator should bill you for their services separately.

Contract production managers have varying relationships and pay arrangements. I know a guy in El Paso who deals with larger production lots. His clients have hired him because they don’t want to be bogged down in the minutia of quality control and product management. He charges two or three cents per piece, meaning per piece of the cut garment. In other words, he’s paid about 10-15 cents per tee shirt etc. The client cuts the check to the contractor and his fee is paid separately.

Some contractors may provide some sourcing assistance and charge you a mark up over the cost of goods. One person mentioned her elastic was five cents and the contractor charged her six cents, his fee rolled into the cost of goods. If a contractor keeps a store of goods you need or can get them more readily than you can (bundling your order in with other customers) this can be a good solution but still, the costs should be transparent.

Someone who does sourcing for you though, not a contractor, should not do this. You pay the cost of goods and their sourcing fee separately. Does it go without saying that the consultant should disclose any relationships they may have with vendors? There’s loads of consultants out there who love to push certain products upon which they get commissions, typically equipment, tracking or software products. I don’t have any relationships like that personally. I push products that I like personally and get no commissions. If I have a personal relationship with another party, I am usually more transparent than anybody wants me to be.

Valerie (and I) are concerned about the advent of “all-in-one” houses; the people who’ll do it for you soup to nuts. We don’t dare suggest they’re bad but you can definitely run into issues of transparency. They’ll source everything from fabrics, patterns to production and present you with one bill. This may be a simplified solution if you have more time than money but if you ever want to switch services, you can run into trouble. Valerie’s had more experience doing clean up after them than I have and says it’s like pulling teeth to get your patterns out of them. Never forget, if you paid for them, they are yours! Valerie says her number one credo is that all of her clients have their vendors and their sources in their database. All clients have all the components. Every client should have their digital files, patterns, spec sheets, cutter’s must, sources, everything. And that’s the other thing. Technically, we feel a consultant should only make introductions and recommendations. The client is the person who makes the final decision of who to go with.

By all means, feel free to add your comments, questions, experiences and concerns.

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