Fundamental Skills Predict Final Outcomes

Fundamental Skills Predict Final Outcomes

How are your shop’s core fundamental skills?

Somewhere along the way, many decorated apparel industry businesses have lost the fact that their level of ability to complete core tasks with predictable excellence drives their level of craftsmanship.

Yep. Fundamental skills matter.

When performance is at a rockstar level, basic fundamental skills have been executed perfectly.

Every time.

But what about when things go wrong?

That’s when there usually is a breakdown of a core fundamental element in your shop.

Take any challenge from the past couple of weeks.

Hopefully, you don’t have many, but let’s single out a disastrous problem that made you want to vomit in your trashcan.

It was that bad.

What happened? Here are a few I’ve seen, and by all means, this is not a complete list.

Your results may vary.

  • Incomplete or inaccurate information at order entry. You shipped an order without a decoration location or forgot there were youth shirts for the job. Typo! It was PMS 368, not PMS 386. Something was amiss with the information and that carried over to what was shipped to the customer.
  • Purchasing ordered the inventory but was one column off with sizes. You needed 20 M, 40 L, 40 XL, 20 XXL. Instead, they ordered 20 S, 40 M, 40 L, and 20 XL. Nobody counted them in when they were received. Production just discovered the problem after they were decorated. The in-hands date is tomorrow. Now you have to make that phone call.
  • Shirts have been delivered to your shop for that important order that is due Friday. But now, nobody can find them. Two minutes ago, you overheard your salesperson say, “Let’s just reorder them.”
  • Registration problems on press. It’s been almost two hours and you still are struggling to get it dialed in. That underbase white is peaking out at the top and bottom of the print, but the sides look fine. It’s confusing.
  • Half of the shirts for an important order were decorated with the image crooked.
  • For some reason, about 25% of the order with the circle design has the image stretched and now it looks like an egg. Someone should write a song entitled, “Too Much Spray Tack Blues”.
  • Final print color didn’t match the Pantone color designated for the order. The customer rejected the entire job.
  • Your customer just called. They are fuming. The white imprint on those red performance tees is pink. You know the old “Well, they looked great when they left here” excuse won’t work.
  • Scheduling is a mess. Orders are shipping late which means bumping up the freight from ground to expedited to get the orders affected delivered on time.
  • Calls are coming in. Somehow orders are being switched shipped. One customer has another’s. The count is up to six now. You want to scream.


There are plenty more scenarios I could list, believe me. I’ll bet you have your favorites.


Problems Start With Missing a Fundamental Step


These problems may all appear to be different, but somewhere along the way, a fundamental step was skipped.

Bonus points if you can name what was skipped for each in the list above.

To solve these problems in your shop, you need to snug that detective hat down on your head and start asking questions.

Not the finger-pointing Spanish Inquisition style questions.

That method only makes your staff defensive. You’ll know they are traveling down a street named “Not My Fault” when all you hear are excuses.

Rebuff that excuse mentality and determine what your people need to do the work properly.

Ask to see how people are doing their tasks. What isn’t working? What do they need? That’s what you want to find out.


Three Fundamental Needs


You can solve most challenges by examining three fundamental needs in your shop. The three “T’s”.


Mistakes happen when people rush through things.

That’s when steps are skipped. Remember, it’s better to take your time and do things right initially than have to spend even more time doing it over. Sometimes slower is faster. Be deliberate in your actions.

Does your crew slow down with working with odd-ball sizes? You know those XS or XXXXL shirts are the majority of the ones that get screwed up. Take your time.

Conversely, I’ve noticed that time also affects the shop in other ways.

Before a break, lunch or the end of the day more mistakes seem to happen as staff may be thinking about something else. When you record your mistakes with an error log, don’t only list the problem. Make note of when it happened too.

Look for patterns.


Do your people really know what they are doing?

You may think they do. But unless training is an on-purpose event in your shop you may be falling short.

What color foam do you use for puff embroidery? Where should the left chest print fall on a women’s V-neck shirt? What is the cut-off for minimal mesh tension in your shop’s screen inventory?

There are thousands of things everyone should know. But do they?

Do yourself a favor and create a “Skills Inventory” for core tasks for your shop.

These are the 10-20 things that are the basic steps for any task that you are doing on a regular basis. Make a list.

Then, have each employee and their manager rate each fundamental skill on the list from 0-10.

Zero means you don’t know anything. Ten means you are an expert.

Don’t limit the list to only core skills for their department either. Maybe some of your staff has been cross-trained in different areas. That’s a good thing.

Create a training program. Especially where your lack of knowledge intersects with your list of common errors in your shop.

That’s where you start.


In any industry, tools are important to do the job right. In ours, it is no different.

Yet, industry forums and groups are filled with people demonstrating poor results because they don’t use the right tools.

It would be ludicrous to try to be a carpenter without a hammer, level, or saw. Chefs need great knives, pots, and pans. Athletes need performance-oriented footwear, apparel, and gear.

Every industry not only has their own tools, but they know how to use them and take care of them too.

So why are shops constantly skimping on our basics?


Some embroidery shops still use the same needle for every type of fabric. For the tinier type that is around 4mm, are you changing to a thinner thread?

Older machines still have floppy disks or USB sticks to transmit the digital image data. How much daily productivity is lost just humping files around the shop with your feet?

Not to mention what do you think happens when your magnetic hoops come in contact with these devices?

Can you say instant delete? I hope you made a backup file.

Some don’t even steam out the hoop marks or do a good job of trimming after the job is run. You’ve seen that too, I’ll bet.  Geez.


Don’t get me started on screen-printing.

Lots of shops make zero connection to the importance of a well-tensioned clean and degreased screen, coated with proper emulsion thickness that is completely dry. This is the basic starting block for everything that will follow.

When your worst employee is “sentenced” to work in the screen room, what kind of craftsmanship results do you expect?

It’s much easier to blame the ink, the press, even the production workers than to look a the level of attitude or skill where the screens are made.

Nobody talks about that much.

Direct to Garment

DTG printing has it’s problems too.

Shops routinely point a crooked finger at this newer technology for their production failures.

But these are the same shops that don’t book enough jobs to keep the machine busy or even well-maintained with a preventative maintenance program.

Also, many skimp on curing and try to use a heat press instead of a regular heat tunnel dryer.

Then they wonder why their images look flat, have an imprinted texture from the press or don’t have ink cure wash fastness.

100% of the liquid in the ink and pretreatment must be dried for the image to last on the shirt.

While a belt dryer will always work better if you are using a heat press make sure that you are doing it correctly.

If you are using a heat press at least hover over the print for ten seconds or so before locking the press head down with pressure and heat.


Conflict Begins and Ends With You


Sorry for the rant, but I see a lot of shops that have conflicting results and are craving the answers but often it is staring them in the face.

“Are you using the tools you have in your shop properly?”

That’s the fundamental question I would be asking every day. A lion’s share of your shop inefficiency is caused by your staff not doing something right along the way.

For example, by not measuring your screen tension with a Newton meter, your press production staff may be struggling with that registration issue for hours.

Here’s another thing. Because you don’t measure, you don’t know that your underbase screen is at 14 Newtons, but your other screens are all over 20.

The registration will never line up.

To compensate, your printer cranks down on the pressure to squash the ink out to cover up the registration problem.

Now, that print is less opaque because half of it is driven through the shirt and onto the platen on the press. It’s double stroke time. On every color. With 100% dot gain.

Now, that job takes significantly longer to print and uses more ink. But hey, at least it shipped right?


That’s when the customer complains that the shirts don’t have that soft hand feel. A lot of the detail is missing too.


So while everyone blames the press operator for that thick, crappy looking print the fundamental problem in your shop is that the importance of measuring and maintaining decent tensioned screens.

You have to backtrack and find the source of your problems.

What fundamental skills are you ignoring today?



“Well done is better than well said.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” – Thomas Edison

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain


Need Pricing Help?


Price for Profit Cost Plus vs Value Models by Marshall AtkinsonPricing is a fundamental skill.  Are you doing it correctly?

Grab my eBook, “Price for Profit” and learn how to construct a screen-print pricing list that uses your shop’s math and production efficiency data.

The book walks you through the set up with easy to follow and implement ideas.

No more using the “average of the shops around me” method.  Do it right.

Click here and download yours today.

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