Why retailers become manufacturers

Note: I’m off today for a week in Canada to do factory troubleshooting and on site training. I haven’t conferred with the client to see what if anything I can post about the experience. I can’t be reached by phone except in the evenings when I can skype. In any event, don’t hesitate to contact me if needed. Email responses and comment approvals (if needed) will be tardy.

Today’s entry came in from a very frustrated swim wear retailer. While few make swimwear, I thought his letter was very educational, providing insight as to why retailers become manufacturers. If you don’t want your doors competing with you, look for the holes in the market and the content of their complaints. Retailers are in a unique position to take the pulse of the marketplace. By the way, this writer is very serious about doing this and has made extensive plans to pursue the project that I have not published here. The summary of complaints is:

  • Timely product delivery during critical selling time periods
  • Range of products available
  • The ability to re-order good sellers through out the selling season
  • Fulfillment problems such as wrong sizes and quantities
  • Inconsistent quality of goods

The swim wear retailer writes:

My wife and I are writing you out of desperation and I hope we are not wasting your time. We are online swim wear retailers with several websites and have been in business 8 years. We purchase primarily from 2 different swim wear manufacturers, one in Florida and one in Texas, of which we are their primary buyers. We have purchased from 8 others over the years but discontinued them for one reason or another. Primarily lack of available product for purchase, inconsistent quality, massive amounts of untruth concerning product popularity, sending us wrong sizes instead of what we actually order, among other reasons.

We sell approximately 45,000 pieces a year. The main problem we have with our 2 main suppliers is stock levels. During the busiest months of the year they constantly run out of popular product for weeks at a time. It is extremely frustrating. Our warehouse space is limited and we cannot stock hundreds of each color/style/size just to make it through these times. On that note, about 75 percent of our sales are in solid colors (14 colors in about 20 styles) and the remain 25 percent in prints (usually around 30 prints give or take, number of styles varying with print). The prints are a lower percentage only because we have to discontinue popular prints for weeks when we run out and cannot get restock, that and limited availability of new prints along with the manufacturer offering new prints in incredibly crappy patterns. (On a side note, we have been in business for 8 years, go to Florida to the beaches multiple times a year etc) and can look at new prints and tell straight up if they will sell or not. Fortunately we are never wrong…NEVER… and the manufacturers we deal with seem to offer 2 types of prints, those that will sell and those that will have no chance of selling…it’s very weird). We are proverbially between a rock and a hard place. What sells without a doubt is being able to ship same day. PERIOD! That is why other companies are losing a large part of the marketplace. Our sales suffer badly when we put…”will ship within 3 days” on our websites.

There is also a major need for plus size swimwear in the U.S. and no one sells it but China in preset lots. AND believe it or not, our main manufacturer just raised their prices exactly 20% after raising most of them last year 15%. I have no idea what they’re thinking but word in their shipping and receiving is they are getting a huge number of complaints (yes we visit them regularly and I know the help). The owners just don’t seem to care at all.

Another aspect that is disappointing with the current swimwear manufacturing segment is that they don’t release new designs until February at the earliest. Now you might think this was a good thing, however ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THEM are stocked until mid June or the end of May at the earliest. This totally destroys the swimwear spring break business. Better than 30% of our sales are between late February and the first of April. They are firmly tied to the “fashion” industry which doesn’t start putting out new releases fully into production until may. I don’t understand truly.

We have talked for years of doing our own manufacturing. I have 2 regional sales people willing to pick up our designs if we produce them. (I have good rapport with our salespeople) but as you know, established retailers are less willing to try anything new during tough economic times.

Would it be to our benefit to manufacture ourselves? There are only a limited number of styles and everyone makes the same styles (as I said earlier we have dealt with at least 10 manufacturers, they sometimes call the style something different but the cuts are exactly the same in most cases, a quarter inch difference here and there is about it). Our bottoms come in 3 or 4 sizes (small through x-large) and our tops come in 5 sizes (small through dd). We also live near a fairly large immigrant population and I have talked with the leaders of their catholic church who have informed me that there are many very experienced sewers in their congregation that need work. This is standard swim wear material, 16% spandex/84% nylon material. The swim wear does have half linings. Full in the tops, half in the bottoms.

We can buy the equipment, overlocks etc. I have also last week contacted a somewhat local manufacturer of coverups. She is a very small business that makes mesh coverups (I’ve been informed that if you can sew meshes reliably you’ll have no problem with lycra/nylon mixes) and she is quoting the party line and wanting 250 minimum of each color/style/size. We simply cannot afford to store quantities at that level. I pointed out that her business was suffering and she claimed she would simply close down and wait for better times vs going below standard contract cut and sew levels. What the heck is that?

Can you give us some advice please? We desperately need it.

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  1. cdbehrle says:

    Wow, I don’t know why any one would so rigidly adhere to the minimums is given an opportunity such as this sounds…when I was manufacturing (leather, which I realize is a whole different story) I was able to get so many more sales, and steady re-orders by being able to provide special cuttings to my customers. This flexibility really, really helped my business. I was also able to do very quick turnaround which is another big, giant plus.

    While the set up for swimwear is of course completely different, I cannot understand why someone would not try and figure out how to get it to work & accommodate this customer. It may be a challenge, but what a good one!

    I wish this future manufacturer the best, they sound like they are in a really good place and I could recommend an absolutely amazing print designer when they finally take the plunge!

  2. R says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    Interesting, and you summed it up wonderfully. I wish now i had added to the 2nd to last paragraph concerning the (somewhat) local mfr that made mesh coverups. The problem is she currently only makes 1 to 6 of each at a time for her own business. Basically mfr’ing for immediate demand. My orders would have been a lot larger thus increasing her overall time savings and productivity. But as I mentioned…For some reason she see’s rates on the internet that the “Big Boys” require and is trying to fit them to her business. I cannot even comprehend that type of thinking. Laying off 2 people and going out of business vs not requiring lot levels that the “Big Boys” require. The sad part is she’s not even set up to mass produce at that level. No way for her to cut 120 layers at a time etc. But she read it on the internet so of course that’s the only way it’s suppose to be.

    I will post this as a comment because I feel it’s important for startups and smaller mfr’s to have realistic goals. If their not set up for it how can they expect to get what the big boys get?

    Thank you for your comment on our future success “cdbehrle”. The main difference between leather (which we’ve done at one time) and swimwear is machine setup. Smaller needle, stretch in feed etc. If you can do meshes and 1/4 inch elastic you can do swim wear fabrics.

  3. Rocio says:

    Well, we are seeing this scenario every day now and it’s not limited to swimwear…
    Provided that this retailer could find a Production Manager who knows how to use all the machines required to assemble swimwear and can train the operators it could be relatively easy to set up a shop…

    The reason why most sewing contractors used to working with high “minimums” can’t offer too much flexibility is that the business model (and pay scale for operators) requires to have a garment going through many people (each performing one individual operation) until it’s fully assembled…

    The set-up for a small order requires only a few people who are experienced performing numerous operations (which means the pay is much higher compared to the operator that only knows how to use one or two machines)

  4. Max says:

    Here are few domestic swimwear contractors that are listed in our domestic production sourcebook. Call and see if they are flexible SOLID STONE FABRICS David (276) 634 0115. I meet them a magic and seem like a nice outfit. You can also try L.I. CUTTING Peter 631 951 3711, FASHIONS UNLIMITED, INC. Philip (410) 783 1584 and HARDRIVE PRODUCTIONS, INC. John (407) 418 1376

    Best of luck!


  5. Jennifer says:

    Do it! There is no better time than now to start manufacturing your own line. You know the business better than those already doing it, and you provide better service. If you get the fundamentals in place, you will easily outgrow your competitors.

  6. Renee says:

    If you control the manufacturing, you can even run small lots of many colors and prints, with some of them exclusive to your online business. My guess is that once you organize all of the operations by seam type as shown in Kathleen’s indispensible book you won’t need many sewing stations at all.
    I think it sounds like a great business extension/transition. Best of luck!

  7. Leslie Hanes says:

    I am the Canadian that Kathleen is coming to work with…Her plane is delayed so I waiting and reading. I have an investigative background (I was an insurance investigator in a previous life) and have already figured out who you are. I think I may have some suggestions, so feel free to call me at my shop. 250 286 6577. We may want to chat in any event, because one of the products we manufacture (both here in Canada, and through a Cut and Sew in Mexico) is a special swim towel that has received a lot of media attention recently…believe it or not.. I would be happy to share my contacts for manufacturing with you in case they would be helpful.
    By the way, Kathleen, even though we haven’t discussed it, feel free to share with the group any details about me and my business that you feel would benefit the group. It’s only by sharing that we can all be successful. Although I would rather you don’t tell everyone that my dog pees on the carpet. Tell them about how many tricks he can do, instead. Once I subject you to the show, that is.

  8. kathleen says:

    Hey everybody! I’m writing from the Vancouver airport. Boy, I’ve only been in Canada for half an hour and I already love it! Haven’t been here since 1998.

    Gee! Free luggage carts everywhere!
    Free internet connection in the airport!
    Dogs meandering about too, I tell them I’m giving out free pets today and they seem pleased enough to take advantage of it.

    I’m in the bar, enjoying other things Canadian while waiting for the puddle jumper.

  9. Kiran Bindra says:

    I have been on both sides of the fence. Having started in the business as a designer and then switching to manufacturing, I can tell you that it is a challenge to do both unless you have enough experienced manpower with the same vision to run both.

    We do manufacturing with a special focus toward medium sized businesses who benefit from low minimums – 50 units per color per style. Having transitioned from an IT career, we can efficiently manage your product development and production based from TX. Most of our clients (over 90%) are based out of TX and some overseas.

    Our model is ‘thinking out of the box’ and responding to the changing landscape of the industry and the economy. We do swimwear and can offer great turnarounds, quality product and project management.

    Again, we thought we could do both – design/sell and manufacturing. Within one year, we chose to stick to manufacturing and service designer entreprenuers and private labels. I would recommend do one or the other!

  10. Brian Kroon says:

    f fabric that alone is a tall order as I am now required to make my best guess several months in I will be a dissenting voice here.

    Something does not seem right to me. Based on the volumes claimed, there should be little problem getting the goods, unless the retailer is trying to shift the cost risk for inventory and poor selling styles on to the vendor. (ie Have it in stock when I want it!)

    I am both a retailer and a manufacturer and I can tell you, without a crystal ball, it is not easy on either side of the fence. My wholesale customers always expect me to have the stock on hand for immediate shipment, in the quantity (large or small) of what ever happens to be hot at the moment. Considering I usually have to wait for at least six weeks to get a dye lot oadvance. Now compound that with building it. Add the further complication of having to pay up front for the fabric and pay the staff on time….well it starts to get expensive…and I still have yet to sell something to my dealers!

    If I predict wrong I end up with tens of thousands of dollars worth of slow moving inventory.

    Should the swim suit retailer have the skills to be never wrong about the styles etc. and have the volumes claimed, I can not figure out how come they can not source the fabrics, colors, design the styles etc.

    Like I say, I have a retail operation (since 1981) and a wholesale manufacturing operation (since 1996). I have been around the block more than once. I sense a level of frustration on the part of this retailer, yet I fell that something smells fishy in this swimwear operation….

    If indeed all is as it is claimed ( and again I emphasize my doubt on this) my advice is to increase the warehouse space and book more inventory in advance. This strategy will be far far cheaper than attempting to start manufacturing.

    Kindest Regards
    Brian Kroon

  11. R says:

    How to respond that that negative post poorly disguised as “how apparel manufacting is done”. Let me think. *shakes head*

    Be warned. My reply will be quite long.

  12. R says:

    Many thanks to all those out there including those I’ve spoke to (kathleen and Miracle and soon Lance). Your advice is awesome and we appreciate it and just hearing your words of encouragement we’ve decided to approach this in a systematic manner. We will go with what works and work on what doesn’t. This means keeping our main primary manufacturer for solid goods for 2010 and beyond. They are extremely reliable in solids even though their prices have increased a total of 29% in 12 months. We will instead drop most of the product from our 2nd main manufacturer that sends us wrong sizes and colors and styles. We will concentrate our budding manufacturing on prints that is the core of our problems. That and specialty solids for very specific purposes. “Miracle and I discussed this at length”.

    To Brian, I’m not really sure you understood our original letter or perhaps we didn’t understand yours. It really doesn’t sound like it as your post was extremely negative disguised in the name of “how apparel manufacturing is done” . Almost clever. You write like we’re already a manufacturer and are trying to shaft our vendors?? The facts are we are a retailer. Our “vendors” are retail customers. We buy from “manufacturers” defined as those that assemble or produce the product we retail to our customers. These manufacturers have major issues for this extremely large niche market. We have no say on what they (the manufacturers) produce or when they produce it. Let me break this down enough so that hopefully you can understand where were coming from. As a long standing manufacturer like you claim your advice also would be greatly appreciated.

    >>Something does not seem right to me. Based on the volumes claimed, there should be little problem getting the goods, unless the retailer is trying to shift the cost risk for inventory and poor selling styles on to the vendor. (ie Have it in stock when I want it!)<>My wholesale customers always expect me to have the stock on hand for immediate shipment, in the quantity (large or small) of what ever happens to be hot at the moment.<>Considering I usually have to wait for at least six weeks to get a dye lot oadvance. Now compound that with building it. Add the further complication of having to pay up front for the fabric and pay the staff on time….well it starts to get expensive…and I still have yet to sell something to my dealers! If I predict wrong I end up with tens of thousands of dollars worth of slow moving inventory.<>Should the swim suit retailer have the skills to be never wrong about the styles etc. and have the volumes claimed, I can not figure out how come they can not source the fabrics, colors, design the styles etc.<>If indeed all is as it is claimed ( and again I emphasize my doubt on this) my advice is to increase the warehouse space and book more inventory in advance. This strategy will be far far cheaper than attempting to start manufacturing.<<

    Yes and no. Booking more inventory is relative. I order and they tell me they only have a limited quantity and have to divide up what they have with all their current customers. FACT! No emphasis is placed on my volume. We’ve learned that little lesson the hard way. In fact I am penalized because I am an online retailer and they give emphasis to brick and mortar stores over my own needs even though I buy more each year. Another FACT! Perhaps it’s just this one manufacturer. I don’t know. Nor do I really care. We have dealt with over a dozen in the last 8 years and they are all exactly the same in this regard.
    Also. What good does it do me to finally get all of my product in my warehouse at the end of may when spring break is in the beginning of april??? I have no clue. You say perhaps I am dealing with the wrong manufacturers. But we sell moderately priced swimwear. Not the pricey brands that sell limited quantities.

    And warehouse space in this economy? We make our money on quick turnover. If I’m paying 3k for 2500 square feet. I cannot see paying 5k for 3500 square feet. Which is how it works in real life in our area. Our sales are down about one third this year.

    Now everyone. Bear in mind that I am not upset. I am simply explaining things from a real life perspective. What I described above is how it works in real life in the moderately priced swimwear market. I am positive that there are swimwear manufacturers that sell their product for $40 a piece wholesale that are fully stocked all the time. IT is important to realize that is NOT the market I’m in. I am also not in the $1 to $3 a piece wholesale market. In the middle sort of. It’s what our customers buy.

    If anything I wrote above is not crystal clear please ask. I will gladly go into detail. We are running multiple websites with a large variety of product. I know exactly what I’m talking about in everything I said above. We are not trying to shaft anyone. We are trying to provide a quality product at a reasonable price. And no you cannot trust truly the current manufacturers I deal with. Every time I ask about sales of a particular design they claim glowing reports. Then I go to the stores down south that sell their product and hear a completely different story. You decide the motive. I already have.

    Yes. to some extent buying more warehouse space might be cheaper. But… I still have the same problems I’m currently experiencing. If I manufacture I’m no longer tied to “what I can get if i can get it”. I can also experiment and play with different marketing techniques.

  13. Jimmy Hudson says:

    14 solid colors x 20 styles x 4 sizes of bottoms =1120 sku + 1400 sku for the tops.
    You don’t need a warehouse, you need MRP with a forecasting module and some new vendors.

  14. R says:

    That was really one of the points of my last post. Too much too quick. So simply work on prints. perfect it and move on from there.. So we introduce a half dozen new prints. 10 to 12 styles. we produce in small quantities so we don’t have to radically increase warehouse space. In the mean time, we have something to show the sales people that are interested in new product. And if no one pics them up? that’s ok too. because we’ll sell it online on our multiple websites. If we take a loss? so what again. At least we tried to rectify our situation.

    Jimmy has an excellent point in a way. What he said is something we looked at but from a different angle. In buying our fabric were probably looking at 200+ yd rolls. Now I know a lot of you buy yours in multi thousand yard rolls but we cannot afford that. For one thing we don’t own a forklift.
    Now a subject we are intimately familiar with. How much space does it take to store 16k pcs of swimwear in bins 14″ square by 18 deep stacked 6 high organized by color/style? A 6′ by 26′ footprint. We maximize our space and have been doing it for years. Incoming swim wear is packed and rolled, taped and takes up a very small individual area. You can pack over a hundred of them in each bin. Take white solids triangle top, 5 sizes. 105 pieces in the bin. Sure it’s packed but it only takes a few seconds to pull out the right size to fill an order. And that’s all it takes. We’ve been doing it for years. Now add to that 8 patriotic prints and approx 45 other prints and you still have a lot of space left over in a 2500 sqft warehouse. Of course that’s not all we sell but it’s our primary stock. The prints are much more condensed as we don’t sell as many. That will change. You may think 45 prints is a lot. It’s not. Bear in mind their slow sellers because I’m more often than not reduced to triangle tops and thong bottoms after a certain point. Or only large sizes. Etc.

    Now take shipping and receiving. I currently have 11 shopping carts through mals-e. They are all linked in that I can do a mass dump at any time. I dump to an access database that sorts for me. I have one girl that several times a day simply does a data dump and access does the rest. It generates all the invoices by company name including our dropshippers (we have a few) and orders are printed out on 2 separate printers, one at either corner (sort of) of our small warehouse for different product fulfillment. The location each invoice goes to is determined by “the girl” (I’ll make her read this she’ll get a kick out of it). She simply proofs each invoice to make sure every is correct in that they selected sizes etc. then she hotkey’s it to printer one or 2. Started with one printer but got confusing when grabbing orders and finding swimwear orders mixed up with uhm leather orders. Mals-e costs me $8 a month each for 11 shopping carts billed on a yearly basis. It cost me $200 to get mal to modify the script to dump them combined. My access auto queries do the rest. Each shopping cart has it’s own account code so I set up access to generate invoices accordingly. It’s quite simple really. The only tough part is during the summer when things are super busy with the mailing equipment. Remembering to hotkey the right return address on the shipping labels. And yes. Mistakes have been made occasionally. Ooops.

    My point with all this dissertation is swimwear does not take up as much space as say…Jimmy might think. What will take up the space in manufacturing is the rolls of cloth and with solid color dye goods your going to want large rolls just in case you have trouble matching it in the future. What takes up tons of space is hanged goods. Like lingerie etc.

    Shipping and receiving I know thoroughly. It’s manufacturing I’m trying to learn.

  15. J C Sprowls says:

    Actually, if you were stocking these in proper warehousing bins, 2600 SKUs would take up a fair amount of space. Jimmy isn’t far off.

    Because of the wide array of products, though, you need proper inventory management and e-commerce systems. You’re wasting too much time cobbling together a simile of a system and it’s hindering your ability to forecast based on empirical information.

    Now, you are right in that you can get a lot of cuts out of a roll of fabric. But, because you offer a wide color spectrum, you’ll have inventory aging on your shelves. So, you’ll need a large receiving/storing area, too. Considering that your product requires tiny allocations, you might be able to do a fair amount of production on what would be considered sample lengths – about 40-60 yds – of the prints and novelty stuff to pepper among the solid colors.

    Cutting and sewing 2600 SKUs every 2 wks can probably be accomplished with 2-3 stitchers and one cutter if you are OK with pinch hitting during peak periods.

    If you want to be nearly vertical, I would suggest, first, fleshing out a line of staple products in solid colorways, making up to 50% of your total inventory, then use the stuff you buy from your vendors to provide interest and additional color options.

  16. R says:

    Forgive my ignorance please JC. What is a proper warehouse bin? What are it’s dimensions? What I’ve created suits my needs perfectly and is compact. When I manufacture I will probably not create more than 24 of a style/size at a time. For my operation that might be a 6 month supply depending. My bins would not need to be bigger unless i had a larger demand. I or help can fill an order in under 2 minutes (4 pieces, two sets of a color/print design…average order). When I start manufacturing and if my stuff actually sells outside my own websites then I can look at larger bins at that time if needed.

    OK first. *smiles* I have no intention of replacing my primary solid color supplier at this point. I simply can’t store the material needed as I would need very large rolls at my volume to keep enough in stock to ensure future dye lots within tolerance. I simply want to concentrate on print designs. Only a half dozen or so at first to get my feet wet. Before I dig deep I need to know the cutting and sewing side of manufacturing frontwards and backwards to justify that kind of expense. I am in unknown territory here. I have no real idea of what I’m doing but I’m trying like heck to learn quickly. Everything is relative. If I hire a couple of darn good production sewers half my battle is over.

    I have ideas on the novelty stuff btw.

    Awesome idea on the last paragraph JC. That thought did not occur to me yet.

    ecommerce and inventory management. I honestly don’t know how I could improve my current operation. I write my own scripts and databases with the exception of mals dumping all my accounts into one download each time i trigger it. I simply do not have access to his server or I would have done it myself. When you say…

    “You’re wasting too much time cobbling together a simile of a system and it’s hindering your ability to forecast based on empirical information.”

    What exactly do you mean. Please elucidate. I understand what the words mean. But I don’t understand how you mean them.

    All of this is a major help. I’m trying to be like a sponge here.

  17. R says:

    Oh. Why do I use such a simple aftermarket shopping cart like mals-e instead of creating my own through html or java? Simple. His works and he’s open for minor changes at a small cost. He get’s back to you the very next day and if you need a change it never takes him more than a day or 2. It fits my needs. If I decide in the future I need more capability I can spend the time to create my own or pay for one of the more intense shopping carts. I have 2 small children so i value what time i do have to give them. Mals-e ties seemlessly with authorize.net and all my accounts so I’m happy at this time. I can restructure to a full vendor account setup if I need to in only a day.

  18. Jimmy Hudson says:

    Actually, I wasn’t commenting on the space required to inventory all those p/ns. so much as how to avoid stock outs. Then I was thinking that since you have only two primary suppliers of product to whom you are the biggest customer, you should be riding high in the driver’s seat not stuffed in the trunk.
    I’m sure you’ve provided a detailed forecast based on x number of previous years sales, and current year sales assumptions. Why your suppliers won’t build inventory, stage it and ship to your replenishment schedule is anyone’s guess. My guess is they don’t make enough money to provide this level of service. Whether or not this is valid when compared to the unit cost you pay is irrelevant because it’s pretty hard to sell apples from an empty cart.
    In a previous post I mentioned MRP, but that is really overkill. All I’m really talking about is a simple min/max reorder point requisition mechanism. Something captured from your perpetual inventory records. Essentially, every time you relieve inventory
    It generates a shop order on your supplier’s floor. Far from being cutting edge, it can work well. It could even be manually generated rather than system generated.
    Of course none of that stuff will address the Spring Break issue.
    You’ll probably have to source out of Australia to solve that one.

  19. Liz Gerds says:

    The notion of bathing suit manufacturers not working from the bathing suit season is mind boggling. I remember several years ago I worked in a bathing suit store at the beach and the owner considered the season over by Memorial Day and dead by the Fourth of July. Prime season is March and April.

    Until you can get your costs per unit under the price you are paying your manufacturers for the solid color pieces I’d continue to buy from them.

  20. Miracle says:

    You know, I think it best if this conversation is carried over to the forum, and I will email Kathleen and request this. We’re getting too deep into somebody’s business model to sit and talk about all of this upfront.

    I will say that a lot of you are judging him based on the information you have, which is fair, but it’s also prudent to realize that when reading a “public” blog that everything is not laid out for you.

    Having spoken to R at great length, I just want to clarify some things:

    He is unable to get his needs met by his current suppliers. Forecasting models, sophisticated software and everything else will not change that. If they aren’t making it when he needs it, they aren’t making it when he needs it. He’s not the only one who has this problem. I can relate.

    Secondly, he’s pulling his own orders, JC, he doesn’t need to separate each sku into separate bins taking up more space. It wouldn’t be great to pay more for space only to shelve things differently when they can pull them perfectly fine just as is. Swimwear, while bulkier than lingerie, is still really, really, really tiny and still has a small “footprint” no matter how you cut it. They make bin dividers, and while he doesn’t seem to be using them, yeah, it’s not taking up a lot of space. An itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini is itsy bitsy.

    Third, I agree, R, you really do need to upgrade the software into something you can comfortably grow and scale into, not something that “works for now.” Something to think about.

    Lastly all the skus aren’t daunting when you consider it’s only roughly a dozen styles, just variations in color and print.

    Also regarding roll size, I’ve never heard of anyone supplying fabric on rolls that large, it’s usually broken down to, what, at most maybe 100 something yards a roll?

    I think when you guys talk about “oh you need new vendors” and what not you need to keep this in mind, this is his business, his bread and butter. When you get up against a wall and you have few options and you’ve already had problems with your supply chain, you stop looking for others to solve your problems and you solve them yourself.

    Yeah, it would be nice if he could just get new vendors, but how many times do you roll the dice before you learn to STOP leaving your business survival in the hands of those that have far too many customers to please. It is devastating when you rack up lost sales because of product out of stocks and delayed deliveries and other shenanigans and it only takes one that one devastating experience of watching tons of money slip away before you take measures to stop that from happening again.

    When you are online, you have the metrics to measure that, more so than in the brick and mortar world.

  21. J C Sprowls says:

    Rolls of fabric are measured by weight. Most rolls are about 45-50 lbs. Depending on the weight per square yard, the length of yardage will vary. Jumbo rolls, that weigh up to 150 lbs, are typically sold to converters and commodity-sized manufacturing facilities.

  22. kathleen says:

    You know, I think it best if this conversation is carried over to the forum, and I will email Kathleen and request this. We’re getting too deep into somebody’s business model to sit and talk about all of this upfront.

    I agree this discussion should be moved to the forum but I can’t force “R” to register and participate over there (he does qualify to join). While “R” may be comfortable with this level of disclosure in public, it makes me distinctly uncomfortable and I can only imagine it evokes the same in others. Discomfort=silence. This is the issue, others who have experiences that have direct bearing on these topics, and they are not comfortable providing their examples as illustrations to their arguments -publicly. Therefore, the discussion becomes rather one-sided with people who can help sitting on the sidelines rather than contributing.

    Since “R” is not a member, he has no comparative experience between the level of discussion on the blog and that of the forum. There are certain things we don’t discuss in public and this is veering abruptly in that direction particularly when we have one given participant making cursory and subjective assessments about “R”‘s enterprise that are unfounded and furthermore, a more careful reading of the original entry would have eliminated the bulk of said unsubstantiated arguments as possibilities.

  23. R says:

    One last post while my forum account is being approved. To Liz Gerds:

    >>The notion of bathing suit manufacturers not working from the bathing suit season is mind boggling. I remember several years ago I worked in a bathing suit store at the beach and the owner considered the season over by Memorial Day and dead by the Fourth of July. Prime season is March and April.<<

    Mind boggling huh? Bear in mind that the world’s largest swim wear manufacturing/retailer conference is held in Las Vegas in the middle of february. Always. This is when mfr’s show off samples of upcoming prints and take orders for late march to early june fulfillment. FACT! FACT! FACT! I go to them almost every year. In the mfr industries defense there are swim and surf shows in miami and dallas that premier in the fall. But I’ve been to those also and they are almost exclusively mfr’s showing patterns trying to figure out what they will actually make and market come the las vegas show. Uh Yep! Oh. And also showing patterns they have no intention of making hoping their competition decides to make them instead. *Grins*

    You are 100% correct. Orders really pic up starting the middle of february till the end of march. That is at least 35% of your business probably 40% for an online retailer. For a brick and mortar store it’s at least 70%. Soooooooo…The question is why? The answer is incredibly simple. Most of these mfr’s and the industry as a whole is run by ex-fashion mfr’s. I know a LOT of them. They have tied the swim wear industry to the high fashion cycle which really has no bearing on real life in swim wear.

  24. Miracle says:

    Liz, I think you are thinking more along the lines of the fashion swimwear side (which I do too) where there is resort, spring and summer. He is more on the commodity side.

  25. R says:

    Jimmy. No apoligies necessary. I am here to learn and am soaking up all of this like a dry sponge. Retail swimwear sales I know thoroughly having owned 2 brick and mortar stores (one in south florida and one in michigan) and quite a darn few online stores.

    All of you out there have done or are doing this. It would be exceedingly foolish of me to discount any advice unless proven erroneous. Change is good too. Just because it’s always been done a certain way does not necessarily make it the correct way or the way that meets the markets demands. This is the problem I’ve run into. This is why I’m rectifying my situation.

    I would like nothing better than NOT to have to get into manufacturing. If my suppliers could provide product when I need it I would be more than happy and much richer. Marketing is an indepth study. And seriously a whole book in itself.

    >>Why your suppliers won’t build inventory, stage it and ship to your replenishment schedule is anyone’s guess. My guess is they don’t make enough money to provide this level of service.<<

    Darn good question/statement! You have hit the nail on the head. My personal guess is they are jobbing most of it out. Their heavily mortgaged and their supplies of available raw materials is limited because they don’t want to make a bigger initial investment and the product might be somewhat limited or their limited by available space constraints and cannot stock large quantities of raw goods. Either is understandable. Their are hundreds of so called swim wear mfr’s in the U.S. alone. Most of them job their product to brazil or china. This is the simple truth. With this come restraints on their own business model. They make their best guess at the beginning of the year and they have no choice but to go with it. Does this make them an inferior “mfr”? NO! A lot!… of the biggest names in the industry job their product out overseas. We all know why. That is a consideration we also have explored but decided against.

    As far as mfr’s that job their product out. Are they really mfr’s? Personally I don’t consider them as such although that is what they are technically called. That describes most of them. I would consider them middlemen or wholesalers. But that’s me.

    I know very little about cutting and sewing mfr’ing but I’m learning. Both my wife and I. Will we succeed? Probably. We have an abundance of common sense.

  26. R says:

    You people here. All of you have the ability to affect needed change in current market places. Swimwear is only one niche. There are many.

    I’m repeating myself but just because it’s always been done a certain way does NOT MAKE IT NECESSARILY THE RIGHT WAY.

    YOU have the ability to affect change. Sure you might stand out as we will I’m sure. BUT!!! If I start marketing swim wear for full production in january will I have buyers???? You bet your darn butt I will.

    Do you want more sales? Then start marketing to the demographics of your market and not to the demographics of your groin. (most market execs are men although this is THANK GOD slowly being taken over by women. When you create a catalog or flyer would you simply STOP using the blonde big boobed model and have the same girl in every single outfit!!! Instead use 4. a blond with big boobs, a brunette, a redhead and an afro american. Your gross sales are in the millions or approaching, why in heck wouldn’t you spend an extra couple hundred dollars in modeling fees when you get your product shot??????? No clue. I routinely have to have product re shot. For marketing purposes. For Cinco de mayo, a huge mexican celebration. Why in heck would i market using a blonde? You need to put your product in a latin american. Period. How many of you do that? not many that’s for sure. So what do I do? I have it re shot so that I can maximize sales. It’s cheap.

    I was just at a major photo shoot in lansing involving a mfr that is quite large. I sell a LOT of their product. They make coverups and clubwear. They wanted one model only for all 400+ products in their line. Yes she was a blonde DDD-Cup. I talked them into 2 models (I wanted 6 but had to settle on 2, a blonde and brunette). This is a company that grosses over 25 a year, they market world wide and also to penthouse, playboy and the NFL. The models cost $60 an hour. We shot for 3 hours and got through maybe 20% of their inventory. I buy A LOT from them so they took my advice on photographer when their main saleman indicated to me they needed new product shots to upgrade from their catalog that was 6 years old.

    My point is open your horizons.

    I am not a revolutionary. I am a simple retailer with common sense that is hamstrung by the current market standards. Market=manufacturing. In this economy. IT is high time mfr’s met the demands of their customers not vs. Those who do not meet those incredibly simple demands will suffer.

  27. Mike C says:

    I manufacture & retail with stretch-knit fabric in a semi-seasonal market.

    I doubt I’d set up a dedicated line from scratch in this scenario.

    Unfortunately, I don’t really have time to go into it – I’ve got a new line launching this week and I’m already playing hooky reading F-I.

    But, manufacturing – especially with this type of fabric – has a very steep learning curve for new entrants. The financial cost will be higher than you expect and the management distraction will be much greater than you would expect.

  28. Sonia Levesque says:

    Happy you love Canada Kathleen! It is a wonderful place. Vancouver is gorgeous. But come see us in Montreal too… For a little bit of French Europe, on the cheap side. lol

    This is an interesting blog entry by the way. I’m working in a plus size boutique as a sales person, and since I’m a designer/seamstress, the owner gave me a tall order for a small collection of her own design. She’s frustrated with just about the same things as the swim wear company you present here…

    That is why she’s manufacturing now. She gets EXACTLY what she wants; her money, her design, her quality, her prices, her timing. Lucky lady hey?

  29. Mae says:


    I’m doing a lot of thinking and researching lately, and I’m looking for some information. I’m currently 28, and in my 3rd year of treatment for breast cancer. I used to import my own private label of cosmetic accessories from Asia and sold in Mexico, but because of health problems I had to exit the business. I recently had an idea (I’m thinking a bit of a niche) that involves swimwear for breast cancer patients.

    Here’s my problem: I have experience in import, wholesale, retail, but none whatsoever in design. I really know nothing about design or sewing, but only a tiny bit on the business aspect.

    Can anyone give me some pointers? Perhaps I’m not fit to start my own line? If I have a slight chance, who can I talk to or which direction should I head to get myself more information? I’m not looking for any overnight success secrets (though that would be great!), I am a hard worker and I really just want to learn more to see if I can do this.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you,


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