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Scheduling -- It Can Make You or Break You
By Kitty Stein, Workroom Concepts

Republished with permission from Kitty Stein and Sew Storm Publishing

Effective scheduling will not only make your work easier and more efficient, but it will make you more money and happy clients too!

Even in a single person workroom, there are scheduling problems, which multiply as seamstresses are added. The immediate Band-Aid for over-scheduling and undisciplined promises is to work longer hours and more days. I personally do not believe in making it a habit of sewing/working longer than 8-hour days and 40-hour weeks to complete over-scheduled work. Sewing long hours is physically and mentally exhausting, which cultivates mistakes and reduces the rate of production.

We have chosen to sew for a living because we love sewing. We have chosen to make sewing a business because we need to support ourselves. In many cases, we have chosen to do this at home so we can be near our precious families, which is our greatest priority. Besides needing time to spend with our families and time for ourselves, we need time to enjoy the bounty of life, itself. Just because we are blessed to thoroughly enjoy the "work" we do, does not mean we're not allowed time for the truly important things in life.

Wise, disciplined planning of your workflow is the key to a less chaotic business and more enjoyable private life. Of course, you can never anticipate difficult fabrics, broken equipment, and all the other little "burrs" in the business, but you can organize your scheduling to make your daily operations more efficient and your commitments dependable.

PLANNING TIME:

Set a particular day and/or time period every week in which you sit down and do your paperwork and scheduling. Make this at a time when you will not be interrupted. I used to do all this on Friday because Monday was cutting day. I always planned to cut more than a week of production on Monday just in case we got ahead of schedule. The only jobs that were not cut ahead of time were the unusual, never-before-done jobs requiring a lot of concentrating and thinking.

INITIAL PAPERWORK

It is essential that you have your own workorders, whether you are doing the selling and fabricating yourself or you are a workroom to the trade. In the former case, it is wise to fill out the work order at the time the sale is closed, while everything is fresh on your mind, just in case you need one more measurement! However, that does not mean you should not go over the workorders completely again before cutting. If you work for designers who fill out their own workorders, it is absolutely necessary to check their workorders completely before you ever think about cutting their fabric. If you get into cutting a job and are short of fabric, it's your time that is wasted in putting the job away, tracking down the designer to order additional goods and then refreshing your thoughts and getting everything out again when the order comes in.

It is a good idea, especially if you have more than one seamstress, that you and/or your clients fill out a separate work order for each type of fabrication. Two seamstresses cannot use the same work order at the same time and it is less confusing to you if you are working by yourself. This way, it so much easier to lump like fabrications together. Also be sure to put only one main fabric on each work order. E.g. if you have two pair of draperies to be made of different fabrics, put each one on a separate worksheet.

When checking work orders:

RESERVATION POLICY

As a wholesale workroom, if you agree to reserve time for a job that is NOT READY, be firm with your requirements. You MUST have the completed worksheet FIRST before you schedule the job. Too often the designer says "It's only pinch pleats" and then you find out there are yards and yards of banding she forgot to mention. Give the designer the date by which you MUST have all materials to do the job to complete it by her deadline. Require that the client keep you updated regularly on the job status. If the client neglects to do this and it's not ready on the reserved date, then you have to bump it. Bumping a job all over the calendar is a time consuming headache so you do not want to make a habit of it. If your clients don't cooperate, take away their reservation privileges. You may also want to charge a reservation fee (prepaid and non-refundable) and/or levy a fine if the designer fails to keep you updated and you are therefore forced to work overtime to get the job done. This should be in your company policies.

SCHEDULE TICKET:

Too many workrooms have no idea when they are going to do which job. It is essential to have a visual accounting of your schedule so you and your client know when the job will be done. This alone will dramatically reduce the stress level of running your business.

The biggest problem in working with a calendar is job mobility. Too often jobs must be moved to different days and sometimes this happens many times for the same job. The system I developed is making small tickets for each job that are then pinned to a large calendar.

Cut a 5" 8" lined index card in half to 5" 4". Now cut on each line or on every other line. Using one ticket per type of fabrication per work order, put this information on these tickets: READY ORDER date; type of fabrication (use acronyms); total # units (widths, running feet, etc.); charge; due date, in RED for a firm commitment date; customer name; and wholesale client # (give every client their own # -- it's shorter than writing company names); or the name of the designer if employed by you (at a glance, you can tell which jobs are for your personal customers). Yes, you can get all this information on that little ticket!

When reserving time for NOT READY orders, turn the ticket over on the back, highlight it, and put the same information on the backside. Put the highlighted side up on the calendar until it becomes a ready order. Then flip it over.

LARGE CALENDAR

Use a desk size calendar approximately 17" X 22" with 2 " X 3" squares for each day of the week. So you can see 2-3 months at a time, cut 2-3 Styrofoam sheets to approximately 22" X 21". With pushpins, mount the calendar sheet on the Styrofoam lining up the bottoms. The extra space at the top is for extra pins. Mount the Styrofoam on the wall.

Use colored pushpins to mount the schedule tickets on the calendar. If you are working by yourself, each color can denote a particular customer so you will know when you have completed a whole job. If you have several seamstresses, assign a color to each seamstress or team. They can look at the calendar and know what they must complete each day. If you know in advance that someone will be absent for a day, use a black ticket with their color push pin so you won’t schedule work for them. If you have a large job, but it only has one schedule ticket, e.g. 15 pair of pinch pleat draperies, put blank tickets up with the proper pin color to reserve the needed days on the calendar. For the days you are closed, just X them out on the calendar.

WHAT TO SCHEDULE WHEN

You have to know how long it takes to complete jobs, e.g. in my former business, I knew 2 people could do 24 widths of lined pinch pleat in one day. However, when you're a small operation and you fabricate a large variety of work, this knowledge is partly from timing your jobs and partly from the "6th sense". The best rule of thumb is to allow more time than you think you need. Clients are always much happier to get their jobs early!

Always schedule like jobs together: if you have more than one customer ordering swags, do them together. Try to put together a whole day of work. Break large jobs up into one-day runs. Put all schedule tickets that are run together on the same pin. In each work area, have a shelving unit with at least five shelves and label each shelf for a day of the week. Put the cut work and work orders on the days that it is to be completed. If you get done early one day, then it's very easy to go right on to the next day.

The fairest policy is to schedule "first-come, first-served", with no preference to wholesale or retail clients, if you do both. Of course, people do have parties and want their work earlier than usual. Accommodate if you can, as long as the rest of your customers are done in an acceptable turnover time. Since turnover time should start from the READY ORDER date, that is why the READY ORDER date is on the schedule ticket. Do not promise a job unless you can deliver! Let me repeat that. Do not promise a job unless you can deliver! Not getting work on time, is the most common complaint I hear from designers. It is far better to turn down an order than to jeopardize your reputation or your health with excessively long hours.

By the way, clients will take "no" in the form of a "yes" for an answer. We all want something sooner than might be feasible, but most people understand. Just smile and say you will do it if they can come up with a team of Angels to help you! Then tell them when you can get the job done. You know when that is because you have looked at your calendar! If you do run into that persistent client, charge them a rush charge to work overtime. That will tell you how badly they really need the job.

I have one big caution here. Build a safety net around yourself by quoting dates that are 2-3 working days later than you have actually scheduled on the calendar. That way, all the unexpected crises we all encounter won't delay your promised delivery.

Being dependable and delivering your work on time is every bit as important to your business as the quality of your workmanship! Combine keeping your promises with your invaluable skill and knowledge, and you should have a good start on the road to success.

Workroom Concepts, 1997, PO Box 283, Clearbrook, VA 22624, 540-667-5939, Fax: 540-667-3170, e-mail: kstein@WorkroomConcepts.com

 
Web site: www.WorkroomConcepts.com

About the Author: Kitty Stein has been involved in the window covering industry since 1976. She has owned her own business since 1978, which she started as a one-person drapery workroom operation in her home. As her business grew, she formed a partnership, invested in specialized drapery and sewing equipment, and expanded into a storefront business. As a retail design center and wholesale workroom to the trade, her company employed decorators and seamstresses. After nine years, in December, 1990, this business closed and she returned to her home, once again as a one-person wholesale workroom.


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