Shop Improvement Series: Problem Solving

Shop Improvement Series: Problem Solving

Quick. Name a problem that your business faces today.

I know you have one. Every business does. But what are you doing about them?

For many decorated apparel industry businesses most aren’t working on them as they are constantly head down, trying to crank out work. Any problem solving is pushed out to the magical “when we have time” land of unicorns and magical wishful thinking.

“Sorry, we can’t learn to do that better…we just don’t have the time.”


“Sorry, I wish we could solve that problem, but we don’t have enough people.”

So, shops hunker down and keep doing things the old way. In oblivious hell, until those problems rear up and bite you in the butt.

It’s the reason why you can’t do tiny lettering in embroidery, have to double-stroke everything in screen-printing, or have issues with pretreatment discoloring your garments with your DTG process.

Maybe your problems extend to the lack of sales, or why your website doesn’t rank better, or the reason why your art team doesn’t know how to choke an underbase screen.

Yep. Too busy.

But, I have some good news for you. You can change that.

It simply requires a shift in your attitude and the ability to develop a new problem-solving muscle. That’s what this article is about.

Why You Need This Right Now

Admit it. Things are little crazy around us.

While it may be true that it looks like the world is headed to hell in hand-basket, many businesses are looking at the future and wondering how to get out of this mess alive.

We need to improve things and we need to solve problems. Now more than ever. What was working only a few short months ago, might not ever work that way again.

No matter what you do or think or plan…nobody can accurately predict the future. Survival is going to mean that you need to develop the ability to adapt and change as new information becomes available. That recalibration is how you adjust the course to get you to where you want to go.

I don’t know if you have ever paddled a canoe in your life, but what happens if we only stroke with the paddle on the right side? It’s simple. We’ll veer off into unintended waters.

You need to be able to paddle on the opposite side to get the course straight and head where you want to go. Your business operates the same way.

Adjustments Needed

Those little tweaks are what keeps you on course.

Sure you have written standard operating procedures. But is anyone following them?

I’ve dug into a crazy amount of problems in my career, both in running shops and also as a consultant, and I can tell you that the majority of the time the reason a problem exists is that usually somewhere, somehow, someway, a step (or two) was skipped. It could be that you don’t even know any better.

They say practice makes perfect. But that only works if you are practicing the right way. Doing something a million times the wrong way won’t make you any better.

I have heard this forever in this industry: “we’ve been doing it this way for (xx) years.”

Ok. That’s great.

But is there a better way? An easier way? A new gizmo? Maybe a new consumable or piece of equipment? How do you even know you are doing it correctly, to begin with?

If something took six steps to complete, can you do it in five? Four?

What if you didn’t have to do it at all? Would that be better?

The Problem With Being “Busy”

The problem with being too busy is that you can’t dislodge yourself from a task and recognize that there is an opportunity placed before you.

Problem-solving first comes with the recognition that there might be a better method available. Can you get to that epiphany?

Even better, can you get to that epiphany before something costs you too much money, a client is upset with something that didn’t go right, or some other craziness rearing its ugly head?

Develop the Problem-Solving Muscle

What happens to muscles that aren’t ever used? They atrophy and weaken.

If you want to be ahead of the problems you have to develop the problem-solving muscles in your shop.

What happens to muscles when they are constantly used and stressed? They develop and strengthen.

In your shop, are you working on developing this problem-solving muscle every day?

Here are the top tips that you should be using:

  • Write problems or challenges down. Your floor managers and department heads have to carry a pen and paper with them at all times. When they see something that needs improvement, get them to write it down. Then, add it to a master list that’s on a Google doc or a whiteboard. Memories fail. You write things down so you can remember them later.
  • Talk to your staff. Here’s the best question you can ever ask, “If you could change one thing that would make your job easier and more efficient, what would you wish for?” Ask that question to each and every member of your team in private. Not in a group. Duplicate answers become a priority.
  • Ask managers on Monday what they are going to change by Friday to make something in their area better. On Friday, find out if it happened. No excuses. Their job is to elevate performance, not babysit employees.
  • Measure. Anything that can be quantified with a number should be measured and data collected if it can be easily obtained, and the data acted upon. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is true.
  • Keep a journal and photo folder. Record stuff. Your progress. Ideas. Whatever. It’s fun to find out where “we’ve been.” Document your journey. Write down what worked, but more importantly what didn’t and why.
  • No blaming. If you want everyone on board, you need to create a problem-solving culture. Part of that is the acceptance that mistakes happen. One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela who said, “I never fail. I either win or learn.” What are you learning today?
  • The answers are out there. It’s in the owner’s manual of your equipment. On a website. In a video. In a book. Somewhere in a blog. Shared in a group like Shirt Lab Tribe. The question is…are you reaching out for the answers? And, once you get them are you going to put them to use?

Here’s Your Challenge on Change

I’ll wind up this article with a challenge for you. It’s not about big, huge, enormous change.

Problem solving comes at the speed of 1%.

As in 1%, every day tweaking something to make it better. Imagine if everyone that works for your company decided to adopt this mindset and work toward solving your problems by doing something, (literally anything), differently to improve it.

By the end of this year, can you imagine how much better your business will operate? That culture and the attitude to be open to solve problems is going to be what makes the difference here.

All you have to do is start. Ready?


“If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.” – Isaac Asimov

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” – Jim Rohn

“The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.” – James Brown

Success Stories

Good news!

I have a new podcast and it just debuted recently. It is called “Success Stories” and on the podcast, I will be interviewing an array of creative, skilled, and successful people in the decorated apparel and promotional marketing industries.

New episodes will be released on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.

It’s available now on numerous podcast platforms, and we’ve applied to a bunch more. Yep. That’s how new.

I would love it if you would take a few minutes and check out the first episode. Here, I’m speaking with Danny Rosin and Robert Fiveash who own Brand Fuel. The conversation focuses on how they are pivoting during this crisis time of COVID-19, and what moves they are making in their business to adapt. I know you will really enjoy it.

Don’t forget to subscribe!

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