Peter's Napkin

As soon as he drew it on the napkin I knew I had to grab it.  My worst fear was that someone was going to sploosh ketchup or jambalaya on it, and then it would look like a crime scene photo.

I’m talking about the hand-drawn graph in the photo for this article of course.  It was sketched at a restaurant dinner table by none other than the golden voiced Aussie, Peter Walsh, President of NazDar SourceOne.  While his drawing skills may be somewhat limited compared to others in the industry, the emphasis and meaning on what he was illustrating are exceptional.

The basic nugget of our conversation was centered on the effort and financial expense shops go through on their continuous improvement journey and the impact that has with their customers.  What’s the divide between final production results for what is Not Acceptable to Acceptable to Above Acceptable?

Why were we talking about this stuff instead of sports or families or movies or any other normal dialogue that people might share at a restaurant?  Because that’s what anyone in this industry does over dinner and a few beers.  C’mon!

Think about how your shop fits in.  I’m curious to see what you think too, so please leave some comments!

For any decorated apparel shop across the land, as they continue to expand their business their skill and expertise grows as well.  Every step from starting an order to finishing an order comes under scrutiny at one time or another, and steps are taken to improve it along the way.  That’s completely natural and most certainly warranted.  We all want to get better.  (Some people actually work at it too.)

But what’s interesting is the shops that go above and beyond what anyone else is doing.

Sure their thinking and effort paves the way for a lot of great things to happen, but at the end of the day are they a more profitable company?  Is the dedication to obtaining complete perfection, and delivering results way beyond what the customer requests on the order, worth it?

What the customer deems acceptable is the bulls-eye we’re shooting for after all.  

They are the ones ultimately that decides if the techniques we use in production make sense with their shopping dollars.  Either they will buy the shirt or they won’t.  Either they will continue to use us as a vendor or they won’t.

I’m sure we have all lost customers because someone else was a nickel cheaper.  Did it really matter that there’s something “extra” in the print just because you are more craftsmanship oriented than the next shop?  Doesn’t that just burn you up inside?

In today’s commodity oriented, everything driven by price, online world, when is over-reaching expectations grasping at straws?  At what point is it just too much?

There’s a point of diminishing return somewhere in any process where if you keep loading in more improvements to a process, but the requirements in time or money to back the improvements might strip the potential profit away from the job.  Improving anything has to make sense to each shop’s situation.

On the other hand, over-delivering on value is the best way to obtain more clients by simple word of mouth.  If someone only expects X, and you deliver X + Y.  You become unique.

So the presented question is this: Are the results for those shops that strive for the Above Acceptable route worth the extra effort and money invested to get to that level?  If it doesn’t make you any more money, should you do it?

If someone is only willing to pay for a Happy Meal, offering them a Filet Mignon may strike some as unwarranted.  Hell, the customer may even say “I didn’t order this?!”

Delivering the Happy Meal as ordered might be more profitable.  But on the other hand, if you can offer Filet Mignon to people expecting a Happy Meal, and you’ve built an infrastructure that allows that to be more profitable than other shops who can only serve what’s expected…then you’ve got something.  Getting to that point is the trick.

Vince Lombardi famously said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”.

But can you have excellence without all the fancy gear?  

I’m positive there are fantastic printers out there that don’t use computer to screen imaging, LED’s for exposure, roller frames, an automatic press, bar-coded work orders, or even the latest bit of printing technology.  I’ll bet there’s a craftsman out there somewhere that is still pulling a squeegee on wooden frames, just because that’s the way they’ve always done it and they are masters of that skill. There is nothing wrong with that if it works for you.

Usually when shops upgrade their equipment it is not just for the ability to produce better prints.  More often than not, it’s about saving labor dollars, time on the production schedule, energy or other consumables.  With better toys in the shop to play with, most companies can produce better prints as well.

That’s because a machine is going to be more consistent than a person.  I don’t care how great you are at pulling a scoop-coater for screens, an auto-coater is going to give you better results every time.  It is consistency we crave in this business.  Not to mention you can lock in your frames and walk away and do something else, essentially doubling your efficiency.

Do you need an auto-coater?  No, you can do the job by hand…but if you have fifty of them to do before the next shift, it sure is nice to be able to coat them two at a time while you are working on other tasks simultaneously.

The more you standardize the work, the more consistent your results will become.

At the end of the day, everything involved with producing the order determines if you are a success or not.  Consider your shop’s volume and the tasks involved in production.  Are there techniques or equipment available to make it easier, or to increase your production rate, or to lower your consumable or labor costs?  You bet.  When is the last time you did an ROI study on something that could potentially improve one factor in your shop?  Most shops are just so consumed with getting all of the orders to ship on time, that the mental strategy of getting to the next level is constantly put off.  Perfection becomes procrastination.

On Peter’s graph there are three sections.  The chunk that is deemed Acceptable is the largest.  With Not Acceptable and Above Acceptable flanking the ends of the graph.  Where does your shop fit on the graph with most of the work that you churn out?

If you aren’t getting any more money for whatever you do that’s beyond what’s expected…would you still do it?  Have you ever added up all the “extras” you provide to see what that really costs per order?  How can you deliver Above Acceptable work, but have the same (or better) margins as shops that slug away with production that is just Acceptable?

As professionals, our constant aim is to deliver value and create trust with our clients.  This keeps them coming back for more.  Competition is fierce, and it seems lately that it’s only going to get uglier.  The point of this article is just to throw you the idea that examining “why” you are doing something is a good thing.

There’s no right or wrong answer here.  It is you that determines the value and the comfortableness of the profit margin after all.  I’d love to get your shop’s take on this answer.

In the comments section, share your thoughts on the subject!  What do you do?