When you are inundated with orders, you might tend to feel overwhelmed and out of control. This is the point at which many workrooms, worried about deadlines, will think they are super human and can accomplish more in a given amount of time than is possible. They then end up working 'round the clock, seven days per week-not just for one incident, but on a regular basis. This is not healthy! This is not fun! This is not fair to you or your family!
If you are in this situation, it is time to stand tall, throw back your shoulders and pronounce with authority that you now are taking control of this galloping steed! It can be done. It's a matter of learning how to schedule and how to make the schedule work within your predetermined work hours. And there is the real key to the whole dilemma: predetermined work hours!
PREDETERMINED WORK HOURS
When you work for someone else, you usually know every week exactly how many hours you will work. If your boss comes up to you every day and says he wants you to work two, three or four hours longer, then wants you to work through the weekend with no extra compensation, would you hang around very long? Not likely! In fact, your boss probably wouldn't either, because he would be breaking the law by not paying you a higher wage for overtime. Yet, many of you treat yourself this way! What kind of bosses are you to be abusing yourselves like this?
Falling into this abusive trap really has an honorable intent. You want to please your customers (and who doesn't). You also want any extra income you can get. After all, as an entrepreneur you can determine your income! However, pleasing your customers does have its limits and that extra income can be costly if you burn out or you miss or lose your family. As the owner of your business, you-and no one else-have the right to decide how many hours you will work each day.
The resolution to the problem is to pre-determine how many hours you will work. Balance the number of hours you realistically have available to work with the number of hours you want to work and the number of hours you must work. You might have to start with how much money you must make and convert that to a dollar value per hour, keeping in mind that not every hour is completely productive and generating income. Generally you don't want that non-productive time to exceed 25 to 33 percent of your working hours.
When you come up with a workable number of hours per week, also establish exactly which hours every day you will work and set that as your goal for doing all your scheduling.
If you determine that working until 5 p.m. every day will achieve your goal, then leave the workroom at 5 p.m. every day! Just as if you worked for somebody else and it was time to go home!
DETERMINING FABRICATION TIME
This is not easy! This process is part science, part gut feeling and a lot of luck! For the science part, you have to know how long it takes you on average to complete each type of fabrication.
On the surface, timing your projects is done for pricing purposes, but it also is necessary for scheduling. If you don't know how long it takes you to apply banding, then you don't know how much extra time to allow to fabricate five pairs of banded draperies!
When you are just starting out trying to get control of scheduling, you must work with the timing numbers to give you some kind of realistic idea of a day's production. As you gain experience, you will just know how much "normal" production you can do in the allotted number of hours.
Of course, there are many new projects all the time for which you must calculate the time needed to produce them and the price. In these cases, it may mean writing out all the steps for fabrication and then determining how much time each step might take. Add up all the steps and pad it to determine the fabrication time. Now you not only can determine the price but also the number of hours/days to mark off on the calendar.
WHEN IS A JOB READY TO SCHEDULE?
For wholesale business, a job becomes a Ready Order when all the pieces of the order are in your hands and not before! That's when it goes to the calendar.
For your own retail business, you might have to reserve time on your calendar before you receive the goods in order to stay within your promised delivery time. Then redesignate the job when it becomes a Ready Order.
Remember this very important rule: Do not cut a job until you have all the pieces of the order.
Now that you know how many hours you will work and how much time to schedule for each project, you are ready for a weekly schedule. To do this, make a list of every task you might have every week besides the actual sewing, e.g. order supplies, check-in orders, heck paperwork, schedule work, pay bills, inspect fabric, visit customers, errands out of the shop, cut orders, etc. Inspection and cutting are on this list because in many cases, these are done well in advance of the sewing operation.
Once you have this list, arrange it in proper sequence. Then try to group together as many of these non-productive jobs as possible. Doing this will allow you large blocks of uninterrupted sewing time. Plan to do the same activity on the same day every week as much as possible. This will be more productive and will make you feel more in control.
As an example, you might want to plan all errands and outside activities on Monday, as well as checking-in supplies and orders. On Tuesday, check over all work orders, write up any new work orders, schedule work and order supplies. It is paramount to check over all work orders before they are ready to be cut to ensure that you have adequate yardage. For the rest of Tuesday, inspect and cut your fabric for the week. Then, Wednesday through Friday can be available for any remaining cutting and sewing.
I want to point out here that most workrooms do not inspect fabric until they are ready to cut, which can be costly. It really eats into your time schedule if you have planned a job and then can't do it because of flaws in the fabric. The best procedure is to inspect fabric as soon as it arrives and before it is scheduled on the calendar. Remember, this inspection time needs to be included in your fabrication timing, which means it needs to be charged for and it needs to be scheduled.
The greatest efficiency can be achieved by cutting a whole week's worth of work at a time plus an extra job or two in case you get done ahead of schedule. If storage space is a problem, cut at least one whole job at one time. If you have several items to make for one customer and there are several coordinating fabrics, cut them all at once. Don't cut just what you need for one item.
Keep in mind that at times, efficiency may dictate cutting more than one job to be able to run similar products together at the same time. If you have three orders with one swag each, then you should cut all three jobs together so you can sew all three swags at the same time. But just because you now have three orders cut, it doesn't necessarily mean you must sew all three and finish them together. If two of them are not scheduled to be finished until later, they can wait their turn. When your business grows to the point of hiring sewers, it then becomes necessary to precut all orders for the week to keep the sewers supplied.
I do not recommend precutting unusual treatments that require a lot of thought in the cutting process. If they are allowed to lay a while before you fabricate, you may overlook details or forget some necessary information that you failed to write down. Plus it will require a great deal of time to review the order again when you are ready to sew.
In order to know exactly when you can promise work for your customers, you must keep the orders on a calendar. Because the unexpected does happen, the orders must be able to be moved around on the calendar. I found the best method for me was to get a large desktop calendar and mount it to the wall on a thin Styrofoam sheet. Then I made very small schedule tickets the size of a space on lined index cards and posted them on the calendar with colored push pins.
The information on the tickets was enough to tell me how long to schedule for production. By using a different color of push pin for each customer, I could put parts of jobs together on the calendar to make whole days of production. I highlighted tickets that were reserving space on the calendar and weren't ready yet.
This method made it very easy to look at the calendar and know exactly when I could promise the next job. During busy seasons, I would have three months of work up at a time. If you find three months or longer is the normal turnover time for you, then it's probably time to raise your prices. Doing this will reduce the number of customers, reduce your stress from worrying that you are not getting the orders done as soon as you would like, and it will make you more profit!
WHEN THE UNPLANNED HAPPENS
We've all been there. Murphy moved in for the day and if it could go wrong, it did! Or maybe you caught that flu bug and were off two days. Now you are two days behind on the calendar. What can you do? Plan for it before it happens!
When you are scheduling on the calendar, don't plan quite a full day's work. As soon as you finish one job, jump right into the next job and keep going. Then by the end of each normal week, you should be ahead of schedule. I even blocked off a whole day for breathing room! Never, never promise the customer an order on the day after you have it on the calendar. Make it for two to three days or more after that.
Learn to say "No." Just because Mrs. Jones wants an order by her party doesn't mean she has to have it by then. She should have ordered sooner! Window coverings are not a life and death situation. If you must give in, then charge a premium price for overtime.
Do not plan excessively long workdays and plan at least one day off a week. Even God needed one day to rest! Plan vacation time and even long weekends occasionally.
The time away from work is necessary for refreshment, revitalization and re-energizing. This certainly can't happen during working hours. We never allow time for that! If you don't work in rest time, burnout could be just around the corner.
• Predetermine the number of hours you will work and stick to it. Be a good boss to yourself!
• Plan your production on a calendar with breathing time included.
• Don't feel guilty if you have time left over.
• Work continuously the number of hours you have scheduled to work and don't stop just because you have finished a job.
• Run as many similar products together as you can comfortably get done in a day's time.
• Don't give up on careful scheduling just because it's not 100 percent accurate.
• Accept that you cannot and should not do everything that everybody wants you to do in the amount of time in which they want it.
I can guess that many of you have been thinking that in the real world these ideas won't work. Well, I'm here to tell you they can work because I ran my workroom this way. Of course I didn't manage the perfect situation every time. And I'm not going to say I never worked all night, because I have, but that happened only a very few times.
A new business usually has to work long hours to get on its feet, but the long hours really are a choice. If you want to grow bigger and faster, then long hours may have to be the choice you make. What really matters is what is most important to you.
It takes self-discipline and a determination to control your business and your destiny. You deserve to be treated well by your boss. You deserve to have time to spend with the most important things in your life-such as your family. Sit down today and plan that schedule and make it work for your best interests!
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.