I’m sure many buyers have had their share of experiences trying to write an order with a line and they were constantly flipping back and forth from one page to the next trying to figure out what went with what and where it was and what the product code was. Even more frustrating is when the line sheet is so confusing that even the rep doesn’t understand it.
Considering all this, I am going to explain why American Apparel has one of the best line sheets ever. Catalog, line sheet, it doesn’t matter, because the basic outline is the same.
Now we all know they have pages and pages of pictures, but if we took what could be considered the “line sheets” (which are in the front of the catalog), it’s broken down into these basic categories:
Fabric explains the basic fabrics they have. Color is a printed color swatch (and they include Pantone numbers). The style portion shows the line art sketch along with the product name and item number (for the record, style numbers that are pure numbers are easier to work with than letters, unless your letters are consistent and stand for something, more about that later). The best part is the product matrix. It’s this, well matrix, with tiny versions of the style sketches along with tiny color swatches. Why is it fantastic? Because at a glance, on one page, you can figure out which items come in which colors if you are trying to mix and match your merchandising.
I wish more line sheets were this easy to read.
If you have the type of product line that can be merchandise across the board, offering some type of “at a glance” view, like American Apparel’s product matrix, makes it easier to read.
In addition, you should set up a standard format to your line sheets so that the pages look consistent. For example, information should be on the same place on every page so that buyers know where to look for it. If your style numbers are below and left of the sketch, keep them there. If your delivery dates are in the top right hand corner, keep it there.
Another tip is don’t ever put anything in the top left hand corner right where someone will staple or paper clip pages together. I know sometimes your line sheets are bound and placed in sheet protectors and in binders for your sales reps, but there will be people who only have copies and they aren’t bound and they have to unstable them to read them.
Many people are consumed with making a line sheet that looks pretty. Pretty is not as important as functional and easy to navigate. And if you have a huge line, with lots of colors and styles, make sure to recap everything in a product matrix like form.
If you have a small line, considering making your own order form for every season that is grouped by delivery date and has all the styles filled in so the retailer only needs to fill in quantities. Do this if you can get everything to fit on one page, otherwise it becomes too much to have a retailer send in multiple pages when they are only ordering three items but you have split them across pages. I only know of one company that does this and it’s a lifesaver over having to write everything down (especially since most POs don’t have enough space to accommodate handwriting). When I go to market, I always write my own orders. Because reps are notorious for only writing product codes and color codes and I have to flip back and forth through the line sheet to associate codes with style descriptions.
I went to one market and the rep insisted on writing the order. Some stuff about the owner understanding her handwriting best. Well I don’t write like a pig (my only vice is not writing hard enough for the third carbon copy to be legible) but I can’t read her handwriting and I have no idea what she wrote. I mean, I have NO IDEA. And it got really bad once she started making mistakes, and crossing things out, and her writing became even more difficult to read. It was large and loopy and didn’t fit into the space. So when she asked for my shipping information, I just gave her a business card and asked her to staple it to the order form. That’s the last time I let a rep write an order. It would have been much less painful with a pre-filled order form.
If you are producing a line or would hope to, you really need to read The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing because this entry (or this blog) cannot begin to teach you all you need to know. After all, if you didn’t know you needed line sheets, what else don’t you know? You can read sample chapters free online.