There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people who would like to hire a full package sewing contractor to provide a broader gamut of services than is traditional. There are good reasons for wanting full package but it will be helpful to know why it may not be for everyone. If it is to your benefit, guidelines can help you define your needs and search more effectively. If not, you’ll spend less time questing for the Holy Grail, figuring out other ways to get it done. Before I get into what the guidelines may be (pt.2), we should mention definitions which can conflict with expectations.
The definition of what full package service means has evolved. Depending on where you operate your business, full package can mean different things. In NY, the traditional definition of full package referred to a contractor who could cut, sew and trim from the same space. Owing to the cost of real estate, this sort of operation wasn’t very common. It was common to make patterns and samples in one place, cut in another and sew in still another. One needed to schlep stuff from one contractor to another but it generally worked out okay since these businesses were relatively close to each other, the occasional exception being cutting due to the increased need of square footage.
Industry culture also played a role in how contractors were set up as enterprises moved from the first tier city (there used to be just one -NY) to the hinterlands of Dallas, Atlanta or Los Angeles. In spite of having lower real estate costs with the possibility of including cutting, some businesses didn’t do that because they didn’t know how, weren’t interested or they didn’t need to because they were dealing with other NY refugees who were accustomed to doing business the old way. The innovation in the south and west arose slowly from those who realized they could put everything together under one roof. As this model became more common, it evolved to become a pervasive expectation what we now call CM&T. However, we are faced with continuing evolution of the definition of full package. Among today’s designers, the definition of a full package contractor is fluid. Full package is ambiguous and usually self-defined based on one’s particular needs. At close, it will be helpful if you can define what full package means to you.
The conflicts today are based on several things, changes in the way we work and the expectations of how work is done. Some are reasonable while some are not. Technology has forever altered our expectations. We expect to be able to go on the web to buy whatever we want, whenever we want. It shouldn’t take long to buy either. It doesn’t work that way in manufacturing so I suppose the problem could also be defined as a culture clash of consumers turned producers. Consumers bring consumer market expectations into manufacturing where those concepts do not apply in such a limited context. Previously, no one got into manufacturing without realizing it would be a 12 to 16 hour a day job.
The problem today is exacerbated by social memes that tell us we can have it all in a four hour week. How the four hour work week meme is broadly interpreted makes for a palpable fallacy in real life. If your contractor only worked a four hour week your stuff would never get done. Meaning it’s somewhat elitist, good for me but not for thee, the other party is surely wasting time or money or, one should endlessly outsource the work until everyone down to the last sewer is only working four hours a week. Okay, that’s silly but many people have developed the expectation that they should be able to have this whole other life or business in only a few hours of their day with other parties picking up the slack. The problem is, you need money. Unless you have lots of money and can afford to buy other people’s time, becoming a manufacturer is still going to be an 8 to 12 to 16 hour a day job. And it’s not that this is a crappy business that requires it; I don’t know when restaurant owners ever sleep. Most businesses do take this much time.
Another problem is cost expectations. The costing baseline people use most often is the price of offshore production. Sure they know it’s not going to cost the same here but the lower offshore price has become their baseline with anything over that mentally designated as a premium they are paying for keeping people employed here. Some feel this is a gift they’re giving the contractor for which they should be appreciated. And they should be. However, there’s two things going on here, money and time. You have to pay a premium for buying someone’s time to save your own. One way or another, be it here or offshore. The conflict arises when designers want to be able to buy more of a contractor’s time in the form of services than the contractor is able to sell -and at a price the designer has decided they’re willing to pay when they’re already paying what they consider to be a premium.
We’re in another evolution cycle now. People have the expectation that technology will make production go so much faster and it can but not enough to meet expectations (you can’t hire nine women and get a baby in a month). People expect additional services to be offered and performed in that technology time savings gap but it largely can’t because the time savings reduced head count to a new equilibrium, fewer people are doing the same amount of work. Just as technology permitted your employer to downsize the workforce, it did for contractors too.
The sum of all this meandering is a greater quantity of services are demanded of a workforce that is poorly equipped and capitalized to do it in skills, infrastructure and head count. Some contractors have become closer to what designers today might describe as full package but they are not inexpensive with much higher minimums. You pay a premium for the time you buy from someone else to do work you don’t have time to do.
In this new evolutionary cycle, it will take time for contractors to recalibrate to meet market expectations. Some won’t evolve because they don’t need to. Their customers are used to schlepping stuff from place to place because they’re working their businesses full time. This means change will be slower in coming than if it were something the entire industry needed to do overnight. The rub is when you find a dream CM&T contractor who can’t fill every item on your wish list but who is worth your having to make the difficult decisions and sacrifices to find a way to fill your own gaps by doing those things yourself. Otherwise, the alternative of paying a higher price to someone else whose time you can buy remains. What is certain is that it is not reasonable for full package to be inexpensive (a premium above the baseline offshore price) with low minimums so that someone can become a manufacturer in what free time they have after dinner. This is true of nearly every business, ours isn’t defective in this respect.
In the next entry I hope to cover deciding what needs to be done, calculating what you can afford and finding a full package contractor whose operating costs are not inflated by the costs of options you don’t need.
Speaking of, how would you define a full package contractor? This would be helpful. Thanks!