Top 5 Things Restricting Your Workflow

Top 5 Things Restricting Your Workflow

Let’s talk about workflow.

I want you to picture in your mind a simple garden hose. It is about fifty feet long. Green. Coiled up on the side of your house or building. It is attached to the structure at the spigot.

When you turn the handle on the spigot, water flows out of the hose.

(I don’t know about you, but one of my all-time guilty pleasures in life is drinking out of a garden hose on a hot summer day. It is a simple pleasure in life that takes me back to mowing the yard as a teenager.)

The hose doesn’t have to be stretched out straight to work. In fact, usually, it is reeled up in a hose master device or coiled up on the ground.

The water will flow directly out of the hose at whatever velocity you set with the handle on the spigot. It is a simple cause-and-effect system.

Unless, of course, there is a kink in the hose. This directly restricts the volume of the water that can flow. I’m sure once in your life you have had to track down what has kinked up your hose.

What is the Kink In Your Workflow?

Well, water streaming out of a garden hose is the perfect metaphor for the workflow in your shop.

You want it free-flowing and gushing.

But, if you are like a lot of shops, that workflow hose has a lot of kinks in it. Every one of them governs the output and slows things down. To the point that there is just a trickle coming out.

Listed below are my top five kinks in the decorated apparel workflow hose. Check out the list and see how many show up in your shop.

  • Information
  • Cash flow
  • Employees
  • Equipment
  • Sales

Information Kink

Information. Whether it is missing or just plain error-filled, it contributes to the main workflow stoppage every day.

Do yourself a favor and start auditing and keeping track of every time an information problem causes a slow down in your shop.


  • Art Rework – your art team should be sending art approvals out and getting them approved without any changes. That’s the goal. Any time there is a change request, make a note of it. How can you eliminate that type of change next time?
  • Complete information from the customer. You don’t have the ship-to address. The sponsor logos are missing. They haven’t picked out a shirt color yet. An order isn’t a “real order” until you have everything you need. Is there a department or staff member waiting on something to be able to do their job properly? That is a classic hose kink.
  • Receiving hasn’t processed all of the incoming inventory from yesterday or even the day before. Are those mediums here? We have no idea. As much as production might want to get started on that order, it can’t do so until the inventory is completely received.
  • Do we have metallic gold ink? Are any 230 mesh screens ready to use? What other supplies are you waiting on in the shop to be able to do your job? Who is supposed to be ordering this stuff?
  • Nancy the shipping clerk is out sick. That critical job for the new client has to ship internationally. Who knows how to do that?

I’m sure you can relate. There are hundreds of these types of information problems in your shop every day.

Do your employees know where to find the answers, or do they simply just come to you constantly? How can you make it easier to resolve information-based workflow challenges? What do you need?

You should be keeping track of these and discussing solutions with your team.

Cash Flow Kink

Another workflow kink the hose is financially based. That’s right, you need money to operate.

An incredibly common problem is to be really busy with sales orders and not be able to actually complete them because the shop doesn’t have enough cash to buy shirts or supplies.

The financial strength of the company is directly tied to how well the business manages the money end of things. If you are not running your business properly it is easy to get over-extended.

If you have been reading the blog for a bit, you know I am a big fan of getting 100% of the money for the order upfront. Not Net 30, or a 50/50 split.

All of it now.

Why? Because this completely solves your cash flow struggle. You are not a bank. Your customers can easily put their orders on a credit card. Let Visa collect the money. If you need a bad guy to change your policy, blame COVID.

Thousands of other industries demand 100% payment upfront before anything happens. It is time that the decorated apparel industry adopts this as the norm.

Employee Kink

That sounds weird. But, employee problems are one of the biggest challenges shops face right now.

We can’t find skilled and trained employees to hire. Some of the employees in the shop have attitude issues. You might even have some open positions in your shop and that is causing a backlash with your workflow because there aren’t enough people to run the jobs.

You aren’t alone. The struggle is real.

I’ve written about employee challenges for years, but here are a few top tips to consider these days:

  • Work on Retention. Keep your workflow moving with an on-purpose program to keep your current employees engaged in their work and happy. Don’t take them for granted. Celebrate their efforts and keep working with them with training so they can enhance their skills and earn more money.
  • Have Clarity of Purpose. If you don’t talk about performance and expectations, most people will make up the story in their heads about what they should be doing. Do they instantly know “what’s next” or do they have to come to you and ask?
  • Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill. Yep. This still works. Sadly, you might not find that skilled craftsman that you can bring in and make a difference to your work team…but you can grow one from scratch if you just hire the right type of employee.

Equipment Kink

Do you have the right equipment for what you need to be able to do? Is it in working order? What is on the market right now that might work better?

A lot of shop owners are happy with the equipment they have. I get it. Maybe that is you.

But have you ever considered how upgrading the equipment you use could affect your output? Will you be able to accomplish more with the same labor? What is the annualized difference between what you are able to achieve now versus with newer technology?

Will that help you make more money or become more efficient? Don’t take my word for it, run your own math. Are you even thinking about this?

Sales Kink

Until something is sold, nothing gets done. Sales is the lifeblood of your business.

Yet, a lot of shop owners in the industry devote a lot more time of their day to the production end of the business rather than the sales and marketing side of things.

It is really common to read complaints about a lack of sales in the various industry Facebook groups. I often wonder if these shops operate with a business plan, a dedicated sales effort, and a true marketing effort that is based on obtaining new leads.

Today’s sales start about six to eight weeks ago. Every industry has a sales cycle, and ours is no different. Have you mapped out your sales and marketing workflow? Or, are you just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring or the website to work?

Want to increase your sales numbers? Think about these ideas to inject into your workflow:

  • Sales Frequency. How can you get your same customers to buy more frequently? What can you offer them? How are you marketing it?
  • Sell More Things. You don’t have to only sell them shirts. If they can buy a printed t-shirt or embroidered polo, they can buy a water bottle, leather laser-etched baseball hat, or some stickers.
  • Sell Better Items. Sure, you can sell bottom-level apparel choices to your customers. No problem with that. However, if you worked on upgrading the apparel blanks that you are recommending, higher profits will follow. You don’t have to stick to selling to cheap people.
  • Increase Minimums. Take a look at your production schedule. Is it jam-packed with low-volume, low-profit orders? Run the numbers on what if you started your minimum orders at a level or two above your current offering. What impact would that have on your top line and bottom line sales totals? Would that also help your workflow, as you would be doing fewer setups every day?

You Improve What You Focus On

For many shop owners, they wait until the end of the month or quarter to review performance. I’ve talked to some that don’t know how the shop performed until the end of the year.

Want better workflow? Start by really honing in on what is really happening in your company. Where are the kinks in your hose?

Identify them with the help of your team. There probably is more than one. Prioritize the most important or impactful. Then, unkink the workflow problem. Then, start working on the next one.

It is time to straighten things out!

“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

“The great thing in life is efficiency. If you amount to anything in this world, your time is valuable, your energy precious. They are your success capital, and you cannot afford to needlessly throw them away or trifle with them.” – Orison Swett Marsden

“It is easier to break bad habits than break them.” – Benjamin Franklin

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