When good employees quit

So, yeah, our cutter quit last week. He gave us two weeks notice, which was unusual. His plan was to get his commercial driver license and become a trucker. I can respect that – the work we do isn’t a great fit for everyone and truck drivers can certainly make a good living.

Of course, just because I respected his decision didn’t mean I wasn’t cursing his name while I was on the floor covering his responsibilities while letting my own tasks pile up undone.

Over the three years we’ve been in business, I’ve spread countless plies and cut untold numbers of pieces. If you’d asked me when we started whether I would still be on the floor three years later pushing a knife around, I would have stared back in disbelief. I might have even been scared off the whole “small business” idea (probably not, but maybe.)


But, that really is part of starting a business. If you aren’t willing to do any single task that you hired or plan to hire employees to do, you had really better think twice about the whole deal. Because, when it comes right down to it, sometimes if you don’t do it – it won’t get done.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons that companies turn to outsourcing is because they get frustrated with the constant treadmill of employee turnover. Especially with small businesses that don’t have a lot of resources to be shifted around, losing an employee can turn a smooth running operation into total chaos overnight.

If you have employees, eventually some of your best are going to leave for reasons beyond your control. You need to prepare for that eventuality so to minimize its impact on your business. Cross training is one way to do that. The more jobs employees can do, the more they can cover for the missing person while you look for a replacement. (They can also take on more of the training load for new employees).

Another thing you can do is find tasks that that temporary employees can be brought in to fill while you seek a long term replacement. For us, that’s the pressing station. Part of the cutter’s responsibilities was pressing everything that came out of the sewing room. As soon as he quit, I called up our local agency and had them find me a temp to take over that work. I’m going to keep the temp at least until the new cutter is fully trained as it takes a while for a new cutter to really become efficient.

If you don’t already have a temp/employment agency you are working with, now would be a good time to find one. Most agencies do not deal in industrial and factory workers so you may have to hunt around a bit. Let them know what your business is what types of employees you may be looking for in the future. Get the contact information for the person you’ll be working with on filling openings.

It can also help if you document as much of your work processes as possible. That will shorten the training time for new employees as well as make it easier to train existing employees to take over the work.

But, when it’s all said and done, all the planning in the world won’t keep you from being the ultimate backstop. As a small business owner, it’s in your best interest to make sure you have knowledge to cover jobs critical to keep things running in the short term. The more you know about the nuts and bolts of how things get done, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with things when they go wrong.

In an unrelated note, we were interviewed recently by the editor-in-chief of Apparel magazine about our product development process. Based on the interview, they wrote an article for their February issue entitled “Concept to Spec – Fit Couture Gets Faster with 3-D”. If you are interested in 3-D pattern design, you might find it interesting.

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7 comments

  1. J C Sprowls says:

    Congratulations Mike & Amy on the article in Apparel Magazine! I got my copy last week and was impressed. I like that the software permits you greater flexibility and affords time savings. I’m married to my manual process; but, I might start exploring my options with technology.

    On the front of deciding which software package to invest in, did you perform some type of comparative analysis of what’s on the market? For example, did you consider using TukaWeb? The price appeals to me.

    If I weren’t so far away, I’d offer to come pick up some of the slack in your cutting room for a couple weeks – just to be a friendly neighbor.

  2. Heather says:

    I just got my copy and was all excited to see the article. It’s like I know a celebrity or something :).

    Sorry your cutter quit, I hope you can find a good replacement soon.

    I definately second the comment that each owner needs to be able to step up to the plate for all things that need done.

    Good luck to you guys and congratulations on the write up. The 3D software sounds super cool.

  3. Mike C says:

    On the front of deciding which software package to invest in, did you perform some type of comparative analysis of what’s on the market? For example, did you consider using TukaWeb? The price appeals to me.

    As far as we could tell, Optitex was the leader in the 3D visualization space, so that was where our focus was. We took a look at PAD as well, but their 3D system was very rudimentary. I didn’t spend much time looking at Tuka (I’m not sure their eFitting stuff was available when we bought Optitex), though every time I’ve been to their website, its made my head hurt. They really need to invest some resources into creating a sensible, comprehensible site.

    If I weren’t so far away, I’d offer to come pick up some of the slack in your cutting room for a couple weeks – just to be a friendly neighbor.

    I’d probably have taken you up on it!

  4. Miracle says:

    I’m convinced that one of the reasons that companies turn to outsourcing is because they get frustrated with the constant treadmill of employee turnover. Especially with small businesses that don’t have a lot of resources to be shifted around, losing an employee can turn a smooth running operation into total chaos overnight.

    Mike, this is a great point and I have known of several examples, with friends, where that is true. One of the things I look at is trying to find a backup solution for each thing that requires an employee or outsourcing.

    For example, a while back I wrote a few posts on fulfillment centers. I have not finished becuase the bitterness of my experiences is too fresh in my mind. Anytime I speak to friends about my issues they ask if it’s possible for me to get warehouse space and hire someone. Which is great, but honestly, you trade one set of problems for another, you don’t really eliminate them.

    Because, the shipper could call in sick and I would have to ship packages. It’s more difficult to adjust to unpredicted surges in work, then you have peak seasons and having to train temp employees. Whereas a fulfillment center has more of a hold on that.

    You’re in a location where this might not be possible, but for people in more garment production areas, it’s feasible for them to turn over work to a cutting service, temporarily, while they find and train someone new.

    And I find that the issue you speak of is a real one for small businesses and there will become a greater need for outsourced services where a company either can’t justify hiring someone or can’t afford to hire the caliber of employee to perform the task.

    And you will see some of the focus shift from managing in-house employees, to creating synergy between the different outsourced arms of a small business.

  5. J C Sprowls says:

    Do I smell a resurgence on the topic of CMT houses?

    I don’t have an issue with outsourcing a segment of my core business if it makes sense. My personal criteria are :

    * it must improve the quality of my operation,
    * it must improve the cost of my operation, and
    * it must fill a void in my operation

    Some operations only need to plan for overflow, which is a temporary state. And, others need to plan for semi-perm (i.e. until I grow to X level) and permanent solutions (i.e. I can’t manage it).

    In the tailor’s world, CMT was very much an integral part of life, which enabled him to scale his operation, smoothly. Sadly, this sector of the garment industry is shrinking quickly. Which is disparraging, considering that large factories who downsize should be feeding this sector, at least, theoretically.

    I set up a thread in the forum on this subject, I would appreciate if you folks would come contribute your ideas on the subject.

  6. Talk to Kathleen Fasanella about lean manufacturing – there are a number of capabilities you can be working with your employees to develop that will make you more flexible and able to deal with unexpected absences.
    One is the Toyota concept of “standard work” and the other is “visual work instructions.” They take the concept of documentation several steps further and rely on a disciplined application of each principle. Lean principles are subtle and it is hard to see how they are different from related ideas that are typically used in traditional manufacturing.
    Kathleen has said that eyes glaze over every time she brings up lean manufacturing (or she said something to that effect), they could save companies that otherwise are going to disappear. (E-mail me offline if you want more information and resources.)

  7. Megan says:

    I’m one of those sick sorts of people who ENJOYS cutting fabric. lol My mom would always have me cut out her patterns so she could sew them. Since I’ve moved out…how many things has she sewn? None. lol

    Sorry you’re short staffed. I’d hire on short term if I were near you! ha! =D

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