Are You Doing the Right Things?

Shirts and Screens on Carts

First and foremost in our shops, we only have so many hours in the day.  The big question is what are the people in your shop doing with that time?  Are they doing work that matters?  How do you know for sure?

One of my favorite Peter Drucker quotes is “Efficiency is doing the thing right.  Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

So how are we getting our staff to do the right thing constantly?  I don’t even think it should be a matter of choice.  They shouldn’t have to choose to do the right thing.  We have to make it an expectation.  Part of our culture.  

That my friend, is trickier than it seems.

If you wanted to build a culture that emphasizes being effective by doing the right thing, where would you start?  How about these:


Over the years I’ve gotten my fair share of customers because some other decorator couldn’t consistently produce orders that met the expectations of the client.  Quality has to come first.  If you can’t print or sew to exacting standards go find a class and learn how.

Your company culture should push this above all things, and emphasize this in all departments.  It isn’t good enough for just your production teams either.  What do you think it says to the client when they get an email with their name spelled incorrectly, or the job ships out ground instead of two-day select?

Think about your company for a second.

Where is your biggest weakness when it comes to quality?  You already know the answer.  Why didn’t you resolve that problem yesterday?

It’s ok if you don’t.  I’m always happy to talk to new people.

Get Creative

Let’s face it, we’re in the imaging business.  Want to attract more long term clients?  Be the go to company that can muster up highly creative ways to decorate apparel.  Anybody can throw a “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme on a shirt.  That’s not doing you any favors.

How does your art team rate?  Are they chock full of ninja level art badassery?  

Doing the right thing for being creative consists of marrying up a great graphic with the right location and apparel choice.  Maybe there’s a funky ink technique or something dramatic about the art that sets it apart.  Lately I’m seeing a rash of one and two color images being printed that are just awesome.  You don’t necessarily need to use all of the crayons in the box all the time.  Great designs can be simple.

Make sure your art team stays inspired.  It’s tough sledding to invent the coolest thing that anyone’s ever seen multiple times a day.  I know, I’ve been there.

That’s what makes it such a fun job though.  It is solving creative puzzles all day.

Keep your creative team inspired by providing them with time to think, resources to peruse (I love Pinterest for that), and hands-on experience down on the shop floor understanding how things are produced in the real world.

Do Things on Time.

One of the biggest challenges a production environment can face is getting off schedule and getting behind.  That just plain sucks.  This can happen for any number of reasons, but the most common is that the shops get overbooked like the airlines do.  There’s only so many seats on the plane, but yet they sell more than they have.  For us, when our schedule is overbooked that only leaves us with a few options.

More overtime.  Contracting stuff out.  Pushing dates.  Saying “no” to customers and knowing they will walk over to your competition.  All revolve around some difficult conversations.

As we look forward to this spring and summer, you know the busy season is coming at you like a tidal wave.  Are you prepared now?  Pull up last years orders.  Can you trace back to where the craziness began?  If you had another press, started that second shift, or worked that Saturday could you have mitigated the issue?

What if instead of taking that huge job that log-jammed your shop you contracted that out to another decorator that could have handled it for you?  You might make a little less, but all of your other clients wouldn’t have been so upset when you finally got to a spot to start their jobs.

Are you training more of your staff to handle the equipment?  Can your puller or catcher run an auto?  Can your trimmers hoop or thread an embroidery machine?  Does everyone in the art department know how to preflight the art files for the DTG press?  This is important as you scale your business and add equipment  (or another shift) you’ll need trained people to step in.

Another thought is that instead of looking at how fast your equipment is running, take a hard look at the downtime spent between jobs.  What’s that timeframe look like?  Are you at NASCAR pit crew level?  Or does everyone look like they are beebopping around like a waddle of penguins?  How many more jobs could you do a day if the changeover was faster?

If your production crews have to walk more than three feet to get anything you aren’t staging your floor properly.  Make sure you are bringing everything they need to start the next job, and that’s it’s right there when they reach for it.  This is 100% your shop management’s challenge.

Take a minute today and assess your biggest weaknesses when it comes to the busiest part of your year.  List anything and everything you can think of to make those choppy seas calmer.

Then, get busy making the changes you need to smooth those waters.

Solve Problems

In our shops every day there are many, many problems that happen daily.  Most are handled with aplomb and skill from our staff and nobody even realizes it.

Some challenges are more insidious though, as we don’t know about them.  Doing the right thing for problem solving is often about speaking up.  There is part of your workforce that just simply will put up with something that isn’t functioning the way it should.  Thread that constantly breaks, screens with pinhole problems, computers that have to be restarted a few times a day, that “funny sound” from the machine.  The only way this stuff gets fixed is when you ask about it.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual.  Head down.  Working.  Until that thing doesn’t work, then you hear all about how it was making that sound for weeks.

Do your people know that the correct thing to do when something isn’t working properly is to speak up?  

I know it sounds obvious, but have you given them the expectation of what is the right thing to do in your shop?  Actually spoken the words?

Yes, I know what you are going to say.  “Hey, it’s just common sense.”  True.  However, does everyone really always act or work with that on a daily basis?

C’mon.  Deep down you know better than that.  Have a meeting and discuss this.

Be fair.

Got employees or customers?  Of course you do.  It seems obvious, but a lot of shops don’t handle challenging situations well.  You need to be fair and understanding.  People want to be heard and treated with respect.

I was told a story recently of a guy that used to work for a screen-printing company ten years earlier.  He came back to the same shop looking for the owner to place an order for a project he needed and when he wasn’t available stopped in to say hello to a few people he used to work with.  A newer production manager had a complete melt-down when he noticed this guy walking around the shop chatting up the employees.  Instead of trying to help, or maybe inquiring who the person was, he instead grabbed the guy and threatened to call the police.

I don’t like strangers walking around the production floor anymore than the next guy, but would it have hurt too much to just stick out your hand and introduce yourself and be civil?  Whatever happened to basic customer service?

People liked to be treated with dignity and respect.  The actions of your staff in the face of the unknown can go along way to painting a positive picture of your shop.  Think about the story above and how many times it’s been repeated.  What do you think the staff at the shop thinks of this manager?  How do you think he treats the employees he supervises?

When thinking of ethics in business, I’ve always admired the Rotary Club for their Four Way Test.  If you haven’t read this before, it’s excellent.  Think about how this could work in your company’s policies and actions towards people:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Make it easier for the next person.

Has anyone in your company ever said “They don’t pay me to do that.” or my favorite (not) “That’s not in my job description.”?  If so, then I can use my secret powers of mental telepathy can guess who’s the next person on your team you need to replace.

It is common in this industry to have some finger pointing battles between departments when things get off track.  The embroidery department blames receiving, the screen room blames the art department, production blames customer service, and sales blames everybody.  That’s a lot of blaming.

Guess what?  When something doesn’t go according the expectations of the customer it isn’t any one department’s fault.  It’s everyone’s.  The customer doesn’t blame a particular department, they hold your entire company at fault.

If this sounds like your shop, it’s time to rethink your mental outlook.  Instead of playing the game of defending the castle, where everyone views their department as individuals, push the culture change and focus on painting the picture of teamwork.

Everyone in your company is on the same team.  Taking an order, producing it, shipping it and invoicing it should be a coordinated effort to wow the customer.  Get it done as quickly as possible with craftsmanship and a smile.

Does that sound like your company?  It should.

Be a good neighbor.

This means you participate in more than just what’s between your walls.  You live in a community.  Your employees are doing things.  Support them.

Your art staff may be exhibiting in a gallery.  Someone in your group may have a music recital or be involved with a local play.  You should go.

There are non-profits that need your support too if you can help.  Will it kill you to do a job for cost or free?  Could you spare a Saturday or two and do the walk to raise money for something?

On a civic note, there are plenty of Chamber of Commerce or local business groups you can join.  Leadership in these groups can be fun and rewarding.

On your block, do you know your neighbors and use them for their services…regardless if there’s a guy across town that’s cheaper?  Sometimes keeping your area of town economically feasible is more important.  Help each other out.

Trust me.  People notice when you get involved.  Your employees, your vendors, your customers.  Being a good local corporate citizen is important.  Think about how you can make an impact.

Be sustainable.

You knew I was going to get to this sooner or later.  Have you started your sustainability journey yet?  All it takes is a few first steps.  Why do you think I’m always rattling this cage?

Because I know the value.  With some effort you could build a program at your shop that will make your company more efficient, more dependable, and ultimately more profitable.

Being more environmentally conscious isn’t just being earth friendly about things.  “Going green”…you’ve heard or read that somewhere, right?  It’s about channelling some effort into asking “why” more in your shop and making better decisions.

Why are you using this ink?  This tape?  This shrink-wrap?  These boxes?  This type of lighting in the shop?  Recycling the plastic in embroidery, or a new pellon?  Is there a better way?  Quite often there is one out there.  Better performing almost always equals less money spent at the end of the year.

Starting a program isn’t that hard.  First, get a group of folks in your shop that would be interested in working on this project.  Talk about ways you can reduce, reuse or recycle anything in your shop.

Gather some data points and measure where you are now.  Benchmarking your efforts allows you to see your progress and determine if your efforts are paying off or not.

There is plenty of help out there too.  SGIA is a great resource partner with their Peer to Peer Network.  You should also look into getting your shop certified as a sustainable printer through the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.  They can help you as well.

I can too.  Need a push to get started?  Just let me know how I can help or questions you need answered.  I’m on your team.

Be open-minded

Is your team open to new ideas and coaching?  Or are they “know it alls” that have an ego that just says “I already know all about this…next!”

Recently I was trying out some new white ink (you know everyone does this about once a year) to see if a newly released white works better than the product we are currently using.  I sent some photos of our results to our ink supply rep, and asked him to pick which one was the new white.  He guessed incorrectly of course.  That’s how it goes.

Then he asked something amazing.  Have you optimized your white?  I don’t recall hearing that term before, so I asked him what he meant.

Optimizing the white means using less pressure on your squeegee, more of a vertical angle on the blade, and using just enough pressure to get the ink to clear the screen.  It’s about optimizing the mechanical function of printing the ink through the screen.

Hmmm.  I know we do a great job of printing, as I see the results every day.  We discussed the notion, and he agreed to come into the shop and show our production managers this idea.  When I mentioned this to one of our floor supervisors, he made the “…but I already know how to print” crack.  This is where ego gets in the way of learning.

Sure enough, we were able to tweak how we print and adjust the press settings.  We are still using our same white, but the value that our ink rep brings us just went up a notch.  Sometimes the trust that is built is better than the sale.

“I already know how to do that” isn’t being effective.  Say yes to learning something new.

Make it fun.

Lastly I want to write about the importance of making it fun.  Our staff comes to our companies every single day and works miracles for us.  There is a lot of focus to do the right things.  A good number of jobs are extremely repetitive in nature.  A few have a palatable weight of stress on occasion as they deal with challenging issues.

The environment you want is one that people can’t wait to get to work.  For those that have worked in other shops, they can’t believe how lucky they are to work for you.

If you are a shop where the production manager has to lock the doors during the work day, what does that say about your company culture?

You can go a long way to build the culture that you seek by making sure the work day is fun.  Encourage laughter.  Have company events like cook-outs, bake-offs, and some silly contests.

Remember most people don’t leave their jobs due to a money situation.  They leave because of bad bosses or the work environment.

Be more effective.  Make it fun!



  • Richard Bright

    Mr. Atkinson,
    Great article, I can see some meaningful comparisons to my classes and others. the quality aspect is tough with some students they occasionally just want to get it done and move on to the next project. I can also appreciate the story of a former employee walking the shop floor and reconnecting with friends. Teachers are always looking forward to visits from former students around the holidays and breaks just to see what is going on in their lives, so what a little student productivity that doesn’t mean the sky will fall.
    Thank you for sharing


  • ronel maureal

    marshall, I learned a lot…I practiced some of these but reading it again makes me inspired to do things better this time. this literature of yours must go to every shop manager for reflection. bravo man, I owe you bigtime.

  • Carl Busey

    Another good article Marshall

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