Snakebit Order Curses

Skid 1 of 20 - Marshall Atkinson

Have you ever had an order go so inexplicably wrong that no matter what you did another crazy problem would creep up and bite you square on the butt?  Ouch!  As you are left standing there, scratching your head muttering curses under your breath you wonder how that order could go sideways so quickly.  Of course, that’s when it dawns on you that most of the time these problems are not just some random act of karma, but entirely preventable if someone just did “something”.  That could be you, your customer, your staff, your vendors, or maybe just some random guy off the street.

I’ve talked with hundreds of different printers over the years, sat in on dozens of classes, belonged to numerous industry forum groups, and consulted with shops all across the country.  It seems we all have the same problems from time to time.  Customer problems, employee problems, training problems, equipment problems…they can all add up.  Of course, nobody ever admits to having any of these challenges…until about the second beer and then everyone spills their guts about the disaster that just happened in their shop last week.  Wanna know more?  How about this fictional order for your shop:

The %@#&!#% Customer PO   It just was e-mailed to you; three days after the boxes of shirts showed up without any information on them regarding what job or company owns them.  It looks great, except that the due date is missing and it appears to be built using last year’s pricing.  Plus they want youth shirts, but didn’t include a different set up for those screens or provide answers to the obvious artwork sizing question.  When you call the customer to get the information you find out they are on vacation.  Whoops…checking; they forgot to send the artwork too.  Hopefully someone from their office can answer your questions so this order can get booked in the system and scheduled.

The customer finally e-mails you with the missing information and artwork, highly frustrated that they have to follow up on their order on their vacation.  They let you know that their intern assistant will take care of any questions going forward.  Luckily for you, the ship date is in two days, so you have plenty of time to get everything ready and produced.  Joy.  At least you can charge a rush fee.

Some $@#%*&@# Shirts Are Missing   Now that the order in in your system your Receiving team can check in the inventory.  Looks like three adult mediums and all of the youth shirts are missing.  They receive in the items that are here and mark the job partial in the system.  You e-mail the intern and the client detailing the challenge, and then call the intern when you don’t hear back from them for two hours.  Can you please send tracking?

The intern looks it up and discovers that the missing mediums are coming in from a warehouse across the country as the distributor was out of that size, and nobody ordered the youth.  The mediums will arrive in three days, and she is having the youth overnighted so we’ll get them tomorrow.  Crickets chirp when you ask if they would like to hold the order until all the shirts arrive, or take the three missing mediums off so it can ship in two days as planned.  Chirp.  “I’ll have to get back to you”.  Four hours later.  The intern calls you and says “Run as is”, and send the three shirts back with a RA.  You can feel the order getting away from you by the minute.

That &@#?@# Art File   When your graphic artist opens the artwork they discover that it isn’t a vector file after all, but a 72 dpi .jpg placed in Illustrator and saved as an .eps file.  Yep, another one.  So he e-mails the client questioning the file, and if they could possibly get a better file as it looks like this order has to ship soon.  Vacation, remember?  Argggh.  You call the intern assistant and explain to them what you need.  “Vector what”?

That’s when you remember the vector conversion company that keeps sending you LinkedIn messages to try them out for free ($6 a file after that).  They are on the other side of the planet, so it will be morning before you get the art file back.  You shoot the file off and pray it works out, as you don’t have time to waste recreating someone’s logo.  Which they do perfectly to your incredibly amazed heart.  At least that’s something.  The art approval is fired off to the intern assistant (with the client cc’d for good measure) for approval.

The intern doesn’t come into the office until noon because, well, they are an intern…so the approval doesn’t get reviewed until then.  Finally around 3:25 pm the approval comes in and you can immediately burn the screens for the job.  Evidently there was a lot of text messaging about what to do between your client and the intern.  You feel like you just ran a 10k, but you were glad you weren’t part of that.

Our *#@!% Screen Room   The art is finally down in the screen room and not a moment too soon.  Ut oh.  Looks like they are out of 110 mesh screens as there’s been a run on them these last few days and they haven’t caught up with reclaiming them.  Your screen room tech makes the decision to just use a 175 instead for the underbase screen.  What could it matter?  He blithely goes onto the next job and doesn’t think a thing about it.  It doesn’t affect him after all.  He’s got twenty more jobs to burn before he leaves.

The $@%&*#@ Ink Color   Luckily for you, there’s an approval process in your shop where each job has to be signed off by a manager and an artist on color, placement and correctness.  There’s a huge argument on press now for the job as the colors aren’t matching.  There’s a big debate about why there’s a problem, but nobody is making a decision.  The press is down now for an hour while the debate rages.  Let’s review the choices:

  1. It could be that the ink guy matched the bucket to a Pantone color from a faded 1996 dated Pantone book that is held together with some tape and a paper clip, and is so dog-eared that you can find PMS 3005 just by the folds on the pages.  (Production has been asking for a new one repeatedly for weeks, but nobody wants to order a new book as they are too expensive.)
  2. Maybe the ink isn’t quite opaque enough, and you are overprinting a white underbase so now the color is two shades lighter. Maybe a softer squeegee would help.  Or switching the underbase to a gray.  Maybe double stroking the ink color.  Lots of maybes are floating around.
  3. What mesh is the underbase again?

Our *#@!% Screen Room   Ding.  Ding.  Ding.  The consensus is to reburn the underbase screen which was choice number three.  The screen room guy is livid.  “I just did that.  How can I get all of my other jobs out if I’m constantly redoing stuff?”  Mr. Frownyface reburns the screen on the correct mesh as now they have a big stack of 110’s.  In twenty minutes it is back up on the press, with the print looking great.  Ten minutes after that someone remembers the youth screens, and he has to reburn the youth underbase as well.  If he was a cartoon character steam would be blowing out of the sides of his head.  It’s the last job of the day and printing finishes just as the shift ends.

Late #$&@$*% UPS Truck  The missing youth shirts haven’t shown up yet.  UPS is over an hour late today.  You hear the beep, beep, beep of the truck as it backs up to your back bay door and notice your production manager standing there.  He’s like a vulture circling the roadkill, just waiting for the shirts to arrive and get checked in so he can add them to the print run that is already in progress.  Everyone keeps looking at their watch as they know how long jobs to take to print; and you are running out of time to get it completed before the afternoon pick-up.  Thankfully everything matches up.

The *@#%!& Press Crew   The job gets printed and boxed up.  The image looks fantastic, and they run the job with zero misprints or defects.  Even the late-to-the-party youth shirts go off without a hitch. Unfortunately, there’s a new catcher at the end of the dryer and she doesn’t mark the job complete in the system or bring the order down to shipping.  It’s her second day, and while she’s done a great job learning how to keep up with the shirts coming off the dryer, nobody has had time to teach her the finer points in work order documentation.  So the boxed and printed shirts sit lonely and forgotten at the end of the catcher table.  Taped shut, without a label, it is a disaster waiting to happen.  With all the attention that this job has for getting out the door, nobody wants to stick around and your production team quickly clocks out, files out the door and into the parking lot.  If this was the beginning of a Flintstones cartoon, everyone is sliding down the neck of their dinosaurs and jumping into their stone cars to go home to Wilma.  Yabba dabba do.

Those %#&*!@ Last Minute Changes   Luckily for you, the Shipping manager can run a report for all the jobs that are due to go out today.  He sees the order and goes down to production and looks around.  There’s the job!  As nobody is around, he even recounts it, marks the job produced in the system and gets it labeled and shipped.  Whew!  You made it.  The job is loaded onto a skid for the rest of the stuff that’s shipping today, and as the freight driver is backing up (beep, beep, beep) that’s when the intern calls you with a shipping address change.  “The customer wants these to go to a hotel in Phoenix for the convention, rather than to their office.  You need to change the shipping.”  Not a moment to lose, you run out to Shipping, ask where the order is and bribe the freight driver with a Coke to wait three minutes so you can make the change.  Luckily for you it wasn’t scanned in yet by the driver.  New labels on, everyone high fives as the van drives away.  Whew.  You are amazed what a Coke and a smile can do.

Three @$*%$#@ Days Later   Your customer calls from their vacation absolutely livid.  You can hear the wind and the seagulls in the background.  Sailors don’t use that much profanity, and you can only imagine what other people surrounding her must be thinking.  “The job is three mediums short!  This was for a new client we are trying to impress!  Every single one of those shirts was for someone at the conference, and now our reputation is ruined!”  You try to explain the circumstances with the inventory, and the fact that you had instructions from her intern on what to do, but you can’t get a word into the tirade.  You wonder why you put up with clients like this.  Eventually she calms down enough to ask you “What are you going to do about it?” and this gives you the opportunity to speak.

You detail the challenges that occurred with the order and inventory, and just to calm her down agree to print those three mediums that came in for free if they pick up the Saturday delivery.  Reluctantly she agrees, but you know by the tone of her voice that she still thinks your company is to blame.  Good thing you haven’t reclaimed the screens yet.  Just to make sure everything goes correctly with these shirts, you walk the job through your shop personally and even put the shipping labels on the box yourself.  %@#*&$@ done with this job.

So, where did this made-up order go south? 

The mistakes that happen in your shop are owned by your shop.  Only you can prevent forest fires, and only you can insist on excellence in your company.  You don’t need a big drama-filled meeting to change anything either.  Just start expecting more out of your staff.  Do things the right way.  Provide them with better tools.  Make sure everyone gets the right training – early.  Buy a new tape gun or PMS book.  Use the right ink, mesh & emulsion.  Insist on cross training so other departments can understand what is downstream from their effort.  Don’t accept half-assed effort or apathy.

For the client relationship question, that’s tougher.  You can’t control other people.  From conversations I’ve had with shop owners, I know that sometimes diva-like clients get charged a PMO fee (piss me off) for having to put up with them.  Maybe a little extra jingle in your pocket makes it worthwhile.  That’s a decision only you can make.  Diplomatically pushing back and training your client to do things your way can be a big help.  Insist on the basic things, such as information needed for order entry, packing slips with inventory, art files that work with PMS colors or thread selections called out, and best of all, enough time to do the job properly.  If the job is a rush, make sure you charge a rush fee.

As decorators, we accept a lot of challenges from our clients because we want the work.  Other industries have stiffer rules and don’t allow changes or make it financially painful to do so.  If you go to a restaurant and order a hamburger, and then fifteen minutes later change your mind and tell the waitress that you want to order the chicken special instead, they probably won’t accommodate you.  In construction, when an addition has to occur on a job in progress a “change order” is inserted into the job specifications with a fee, and more time is added to the job to get it completed.  In medicine, if the doctor diagnoses you for one thing and then it turns out to be something different, the work is about getting you healed but they charge you for both situations.  Why then is it so difficult sometimes to work with our customers as apparel decorators?


  • Whew….and then we get to do it all over again tomorrow! I think I hear the wine bottle calling my name.

  • You pretty much described my week this week. The only thing missing was the @$*%#$ press is down and a tech can’t get here until tomorrow. As always, great blog! I always learn something new from you every week. Keep it up! Thanks Marshall!

  • tmdesigncorp

    Sara is right it really is nice to know we are not the only ones. I sent this to my production manager. I feel like we have used some of these orders as teaching moments so this doesn’t happen to us hardly at all anymore. “Own It” we all know 90% of the problems the client created however we have learned to see it coming(it is your job to intercede). If you have a client that is confused, disorganized etc.. there is the job that is going to be snakebit and you owe it to your client to speak up before things go badly. Nice Job!!!

  • Excellent write up. I can’t imagine going through a day like that, but like you said there’s a lesson to be learned for someone in that situation.

  • Sara Neumore

    So many days I read your articles and think…..”thank God, I’m not the only one”. Thank you for letting us all know we enjoy the same hardships in this business. For some odd reason I find that a wee bit comforting. 🙂 Your writing is fantastic as usual!

    • Thanks Sara!! I appreciate your continued reading and taking the time to comment. Trust me, you aren’t alone with challenges. I talk to shop owners all over the country and we all basically have the same problems. It is remarkable when you think about it.

Leave your comment

Talk to Marshall and get his help.
Learn More
View All Ebooks

Related Posts