SPESA Trip Report: Eric Husman

I’ve decided to open this sure to be multi-part series with Eric’s trip report of the SPESA expo, because like you, he’d never been to an apparel industry trade show. I concur with much of what he has to say but it doesn’t really bother me because I’m used to how business is typically conducted in the apparel industry. It doesn’t bother me to be invisible -honest!- although from an efficiency standpoint, it did get a little irritating when I asked a question and they’d tell him the answer -if they heard me at all :).
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First off, this was my first sewn product trade show. My experience has mostly been with general science and engineering related shows and conferences.

Automatic spreaders and cutting machines are very cool toys. For someone who barely knows the difference between an overlock and a regular sewing machine, it’s very useful to be able to see all the different varieties of machines out there. Who knew the automatic welt pocket machine had laser pointers to align the work? And some of the custom jigs were interesting.

The most interesting thing I noticed, however, was the dual failure in salesmanship. I assume that anyone who refuses to embrace the web as a sales and marketing tool must be reliant on their top notch, person-to-person, human-touch sales force. Yet some, perhaps even a majority, failed in both respects: no personable, knowledgeable people and no usable website.

Just to pick on a few: on day 2, I stopped to talk to some Henderson folks about machine power requirements. I finally hooked up with someone who seemed to know what he was about. On day 3, J.C, Kathleen, and I couldn’t get anyone to put down their cell phone or video camera to answer a question about pricing on a buttonholer. So I looked at the Henderson website when I got home. Under “New Machines”, Brother, Pfaff, Yamato, and Clinton are broken links, the rest are very bad scans of old-style product catalogs with some rough translations to English. To make things worse, they are monster PDFs, but there is no warning about what you are about to download.

Universal Sewing Supply had a humongous booth. They have a humongous catalog that you need a dolly to carry. The website looks like it was done by a little old lady from Peoria (please, no offense meant to little old ladies in Peoria or anywhere else). The most impressive features are the controls that allow you to spin the globe and shoot fireworks and play Tchaikovsky. If you venture into the featured items, you might actually find something you’re looking for. But don’t bother looking for a search box – for that, you need to call. Or risk the hernia that comes with the hardcover catalog. Perhaps they haven’t noticed that Thomas Register has gone electronic?


The SPESA website takes an obscene amount of time to load even on a DSL link. I think that it’s the uncompressed or barely compressed photos and the image buttons. So many people didn’t even have websites on their cards or brochures. There were the blank stares we got when we explained that F-I is an internet trade magazine; you could see the thought clouds above their heads: “a what? But all the trade magazines I know are printed”. There were the salesman who all automatically assumed that I was the one to talk to, not the experienced pattern maker, even when she was the one asking the questions. The booths we went to and stood there, waiting for someone to either stop talking to their co-workers, stop talking to their industry contacts they’ve known for 30 years, or to put down their Blackberry/PDA/cell and talk to the live people in their booths. C’mon, people, haven’t you heard? Your industry is moving off shore. Shouldn’t you work harder at making contacts onshore, or maybe consider entering the web-enabled 21st century, and maybe attempt to contact the growing army of onshore DEs that want to make onshore contacts? May I suggest, perhaps, an internet trade magazine?

I’m no protectionist: I just happen to think that lots of production is going off shore for the wrong reasons. Toyota moved much of their production for North America to North America for two good reasons: it costs less to ship and it puts them closer to a perfect pull system. It could be that one of the savviest companies at the show was Maersk, the shipping container giant. Friendly, multilingual representatives were there to hand out glossy brochures or direct me to their state-of-the-art website -which impressively, loaded the English version unaided. It doesn’t bother them that the transpacific voyage takes 14 days – they’re proud of it (considering the engineering that has gone into modern container shipping, they have reason to be). It should bother anyone hoping to sell here; it means your goods are tied up in transit for a minimum of 3 weeks.

I was also amazed at the suspicion and paranoia. Several people refused to discuss pricing, and one wanted to know where Kathleen got her information about them. What is the deal? At some point in time, customers are going to figure out your prices. If you want to know what Kathleen wrote about you, search the website. It was amateur hour: we get this sort of response from small town “crafty” people at our local farmer’s market who clam up when she asks to take pictures on the basis that they don’t want to be ripped off.

I don’t want to leave this on a negative note, though. While we actually had to time Lectra’s response time with a minute hand, the Gerber people noticed us and helped us quickly. Tukatech and Alvanon were almost overindulgent of me, the novice. I also enjoyed talking to Advanced Innovative Technologies and Reliant about fusible machines. Finally, it was great fun to speak to the America’s 21st team and their customer Motionwear Inc, who actually brought a working lean production cell that made garments, tagged them, and packed them in boxes to ship to customers. Their turnaround time on orders is phenomenal.

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6 comments

  1. J C Sprowls says:

    Incidentally, Universal Sewing Supply has modified their catalogue criteria. They now ship a free catalogue to any Dunn & Bradstreet-registered company (i.e. DUNS#) with at least 25 machines in operation.

    I guess 25 machines means you’re serious. In any event, I have 8 machines that perform at least 3 functions, each, so I’m counting them as 24. I also have a DUNS number and sundry other credentials to support the validity and seriousness of my business, so I submitted a request for a catalogue.

    It happens that I received an email this morning advising me that they are out of print and that they “may send me one if they decide to reprint.”

    I wrote back saying: “Please do. I really want to price Strobel lapel pad stitching machines. It would be a shame if I had to place that business with someone much more attentive.”

    Let’s see what that does…

  2. Kathleen says:

    JC, in their defense, the catalog is pricey to produce and ship. It is exceedingly high quality, hard cover, stitched and weighs over 10 pounds. Knowing what I do about the book business, it probably costs over $50 to print it.

    I know they will sell it but among equipment suppliers, selling catalogs is frowned upon so they rarely suggest it. I think it is worth paying for.

  3. Esther says:

    It would be nice if Universal would make an actual, functional online catalog. That would save everyone tons of money in a print catalog – not to mention a few trees. They haven’t updated their site in any substantial way in years.

  4. J C Sprowls says:

    Oh… I certainly agree that it’s comprehensive. It’s been a mainstay in several of the costume shops I’ve been in. I also agree that it requires significant effort (and, expense) to organize and publish. Would that I could purchase it, I’m all too happy to do that. But, they were also out of print around the end of 2006, too.

    I suggest it would behoove them to publish fewer hard copies and divert a portion of that expense toward developing an electronic version, similar to Henderson’s or Banasch’s sites. My frustration, however, is that their business model is eating them alive – perhaps that’s a different topic for more sympathetic discussion, later.

    I suppose the higher business context is that: if a catalogue is the only driver of sales (for any company), then it needs to be easily accessible.

  5. Mike C says:

    Our experience this year at SPESA was pretty good.

    The American & Efird folks were fabulous as usual. We’ve been having a problem with looper threads breaking on the cone for a while that they diagnosed immediately. They sent us the special felt pads we needed to correct the problem this morning.

    We spent a fair amount of time with a Lectra tech going over our environment and needs. Same with the Assyst/Bullmer folks (though, AB was a bit pushier on the sales side than I liked). We spoke at length with the Pathfinder founder and he was helpful.

    The guys at SewnProducts.com were very helpful as well. One showed me how to take apart my Eastman Chickadee knife and fix a short (the fix didn’t work, but he also offered to let me send it to him and he’d fix it.) The other went over manual spreading options with Amy and I in detail and is going to quote us some options this week.

    Thermopatch had a nice setup showing off their Deco-Print heat transfers. They’ve just released a combination machine that allows you to use reel-to-reel heat transfers as well as ink transfers. The ink transfers are perfect for tagless inside labels (e.g. size/care/content) while the heat transfers will work well for exterior logo-ing. The ink transfers can be pre-printed or done off a plate – either way its about 2.5 to 3.0 cents per imprint. Heat transfers are more in the $0.12-$0.15/each range. I expect we’ll be picking one of those machines up promptly.

    We spent a ton of time Wednesday morning in the Juki booth with our fabric and their hemming machines proving that it was possible to get them adjusted properly to sew off our hems flat (something our current machine has a problem with). They even had an air-assisted hemmer which was really neat.

    We probably spent the most time with America’s 21st going over the TSS demo. We’re planning on bringing them out to our shop and see whether we can convert over.

    The most disappointing thing for us was who wasn’t there. Yamato and Siruba both skipped the show this year, which is unfortanate. Both companies are strong on knits and we were really hoping to get a good look at all their machinery.

    I owe Kathleen a more in-depth trip report as well, in which I’ll go into more detail on everything we saw.

    Every three years is too long a gap. I think we’ll have to start going to one of the international shows each year (Singapore, perhaps?)

  6. jinjer markley says:

    I checked out the website for Motionwear, and I really, really like their thing: they’re so focused on a realistic market, it’s refreshing! It’s exciting their also lean! If any Motionwear people are listening, may I request a guest article from you, if Kathleen is willing, or perhaps something in the discussion forum on what your manufacturing system is like?

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