Steps are fine when taken for exercise, but in business steps cost money. Workrooms that take notice of the time and energy that is invested in extra steps will find an increase in productivity immediately when those steps are eliminated.
People tend to be creatures of habit. We do things the same way year in and year out without knowing why we do what we do. We are often unaware of what our habits are costing us in terms of real money. Discovering habits that are unproductive is often easier than changing those habits. As an incentive to make it worthwhile to change, take the time to realize what those habits are costing in actual dollars.
In my workroom, it takes roughly 35 seconds to walk from the work area to the office. Three employees work in that area. All of them use the fax machine to either communicate with designers or place orders with vendors. Assuming that these three employees make 10 trips combined to the office to use the fax machine per day, walking to and from the office at the rate of approximately one minute per round trip, it costs our company roughly 66 man hours per year. Estimating conservatively, it costs my company approximately $1,056 in direct wages, not counting lost productivity.
This figure does not allow for the time employees use working the fax machine or waiting to make sure the faxes did indeed go through. By comparison, a second fax machine located in the work area was considered inexpensive when we realized how much money we could save each year. So, yes, we installed one right away.
USE TECHNOLOGY WISELY
In business we need to develop systems that allow us to maximize technology. Instead of waiting on “eternal hold” or working your way through a maze of voice mails while placing orders by phone, use e-mail or fax. Placing orders in this way, not only saves time, it can be done at any hour. It will also create a paper trail for order verification. The tendency to feel as if you need to actually talk to a person for verification of the order can be alleviated by asking for a written order confirmation from the supplier.
Use a fax machine to signal designers that their work is ready. Let them know that receiving a faxed invoice is their signal that the work is done. Encourage wholesale customers to fax work orders, work order changes, and requests for quotes. This lessens telephone interruptions and allows for a paper trail to confirm all communications between the workroom and designer. It allows the workroom to prioritize communications.
When working with your installer, schedule the installations by fax. Include directions to the worksite and a copy of the work order to let the installer know the scope of the work. This will help the installer with scheduling and relieve you of phone time spent relaying information that is better conveyed in written form.
Many business transactions can now be handled in a moment electronically.
Everything from scheduling pickups by shippers to ordering stamps can be handled online.
Electronic filing of employee reports and even payments of employment taxes can be done quickly through the Internet.
ELIMINATE UNNECESSARY PAPERWORK
Often small businesses find that paperwork, including paying bills, eats away valuable production time. Set up automatic payments on as many bills as possible with your bank. Some businesses pay all expenses with a credit card and simply write one check at the end of the month, skipping multiple steps that are required to pay each invoice individually. This method also streamlines bookkeeping steps at tax time.
Other paperwork shortcuts include the use of invoices, proposal sheets, and work orders that make pressure sensitive copies rather than making photocopies or rewriting information. When measuring jobs, use an actual work order or order sheet to record measurements. For example, when measuring for hard treatments, use the manufacturer’s order sheet to record measurements rather than transferring measurements from a notepad to the order sheet. Other timesaving methods include:
• Make your own order sheet for fabrics. List all your suppliers, their fax numbers, and your account numbers on the order sheet. Circle the name of the supplier and fill in the blanks for ordering purposes. Make a box to check off when the order is faxed.
• Have a self-inking stamp made for anything that you write repeatedly. Stamps and check-off boxes are certainly quicker than writing it a dozen times!
• Self-inking stamps also can be made for your return address, for endorsing checks or for any other information that is written more than once.
IN THE WORKROOM
Use duplication in fabrication tasks. Keep an assembly line mentality when you develop fabrication methods. Group tasks together that are alike. As an example, cut multiple work orders at the same time. If you find yourself continually counting while you cut, make a habit of tallying each cut, or mount an abacus close to your cutting area and pull down a bead for each cut.
Other timesaving habits could include filling multiple bobbins, joining multiple widths, or otherwise batching similar work.
Duplication in tools is another good strategy. Some tools are cheaper to buy in duplicate than they are to chase down. Tether tools that tend to walk away to the place they are used. Tools such as snips, screwdrivers and pin bowls are inexpensive. Keeping a full set of these dedicated to each workstation saves steps and money.
Pay attention to workflow. Move machines close together to minimize getting up and down and moving fabric more than necessary. If possible use a rolling chair, and simply swing your body from sewing machine to sewing machine.
Never run out of needed supplies. Order supplies when you reach a pre-determined amount. When possible, have others deliver supplies. Office products, lumber and foam suppliers often have delivery services. If you are able to buy supplies in quantities that justify delivery, then definitely do so. Make a preprinted checklist for supplies that you need to buy. Make only one trip to buy supplies rather than making multiple trips. Shipping and delivery charges for supplies can add up; however, time away from the workroom fabricating billable items can be even more expensive than shipping costs.
MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY MINUTE
For years, as a one-person workroom working many hours a day, I looked for any possible way to make the most of every single minute. I found that these efforts paid off in a big way and were much more economical than hiring employees. When I did start adding employees, this approach carried over to my staff as well. Any time a step between workers can be eliminated it is a money-saving proposition. For example, one employee verbally telling another employee about supplies that she needs ties up two employees. One employee is using her mouth while the other is using her ears. By any summation, it costs more for two people to be involved in the same function when that function can be performed equally well by one person.
To eliminate two people being involved in the supply order process, production employees make note of needed supplies on a special list at their workstation. Another employee, not involved in production activities, collects supply lists from everyone periodically. That person then devotes a block of time to merge lists of needed supplies and is responsible for acquiring those supplies. Supplies are then ordered in a cost-effective batch method rather than by ones and twos in a helter-skelter way.
At Plumlee Place, key production employees also are enabled to generate invoices. This eliminates the step of a production employee tracking finished work and relaying that information to a second employee to create an invoice. Completed invoices go directly from production areas to accounts receivable for processing.
By paying attention to small details and thinking in terms of “steps equal money,” you can reduce your wasted steps and increase your productivity in no time at all with minimal effort. Take those steps you saved and invest them in exercise where they belong.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.