'Best Practices' Are Best
EmbTrak began when Slazenger Golf asked us to redevelop their field sales force automation system used by green grass sales reps. Since that first contact in 1999, we have worked with the embroidery and screen print departments of many of the leading apparel brands in North America. Engagements have run from a day or two on site to one stretch
of several months where I spent most weeks in the client's Boston area offices. In every case we have examined and sought to improve each client's business process for decorated order fulfillment from the point where a decorated order is entered by a field sales rep or a CSR, through the art department, color coordination, darkroom, embroidery, screen printing, value-added services, finishing and shipping.
In every case but one the existing process was a a mix of Excel spreadsheets, digitizing and art programs, locally created forms, printed garment orders and pick tickets. Some companies had written business process documents for users to follow. In most, the process was informal and largely in the minds of employees. In one large company, the typical logo order averaged 35 pieces of paper and every step in the preparation process required an email be sent to the next person in line saying that the order was being passed to them. There are obvious costs to this manual, paper intensive approach: longer fulfillment time per order, more labor per order, quality issues due to copying errors and inability to track and locate orders. One less obvious cost is the wages required to train new employees to proficiency in such a system, and the operational impact and cost of losing a senior employee.
In most cases the attitude of the staff was one of acceptance tempered by mild frustration. This is to be expected when people create systems mostly out of their limited work experience.
We also found that each company was doing some things better than others. And sometimes they were doing something better than anyone else in the industry. They had hit upon an approach which solved a problem in an elegant way. At other times, the intensive process review with client staff resulted in an "aha" moment and a new way to solve an issue. Regardless of their source, these solutions to business problems are what is commonly called "Best Practices".
One example of a "Best Practice" has to do with entering and processing a sales order which specifies that a new logo be created for use in the order. One traditional approach is to enter the words "new logo" in the order. We tried several approaches over about five years before hitting on one that is so obvious in retrospect that I cannot believe we did not see it from the first. Here it is: When a sales rep or CSR has to enter a sales order with new art, have them contact the art department and get the next logo number (pure number only--which is another "Best Practice"). The logo number assigned should be associated with the customer account and listed in the Design Library. The rep enters the new logo number in the order so that from its inception, this new and not yet created art or stitch file already has a unique identity. This unique identity allows for art development, digitizing, licensing, customer approval, etc to be linked with that new art and with the order throughout the fulfillment process. This approach is best even if used with a paper based system. It is easier to use if the rep can request a logo number electronically. For example, our Express product supports this process with our built in Design Library and autonumbering.
The move to embroidery and screen print business systems throughout the industry is a positive trend. However, you should be careful when choosing a system that it implements true "Best Practices" and not just computerization of one shop's traditions.