We are asked quite often, “why can’t you give me a firm completion date?” While that seems like a simple question, the answer, I’m afraid, is quite complex.
Let’s start by looking at one of the “big box” manufacturers – you know the ones with their names on big buildings all over High Point? For them production scheduling is pretty easy – they make X number of each item every year. For example let’s say they make a chair they call Susie. They know that it takes their team 10 hours to build a Susie and, most likely, they have one production line that makes nothing else but the Susie or they make a few similar chairs that all take about the same amount of time to build as Susie does. Scheduling production to build a Susie is pretty easy – they simply mark off 10 hours per chair and count the number of chairs on order – voila they have a production ready date!
Now let’s look at our fun operation. Most of our customers shop with us because we are able to offer such a wide variety of styles – both from our own catalog as well as custom. Additionally we allow our customers to customize each item and we specialize in COM.
Let’s say we build a chair very similar to the Susie but we call ours Jane. Jane is very much like Susie and, like the other guys, it takes us 10 hours to build. But… our colleagues that build the Jane also build a bunch of other styles. And they build the Jane is a bunch of different variations and with various customizations. Some of those can be built in 10 hours but some make 11 or 12 hours to complete, depending on the customization.
Offering such a wide portfolio means that one team does not build only one style. So while the Jane may only take 10 hours to build, the item that is line in front of the order for the Jane may be a custom item that takes 20 hours to build or maybe it’s a custom item for which we do not have a set time required to build. You see where I’m going with this.
Add on the fact that we are 100% COM. While cutting fabric may seem like an easy task, when you consider the pattern, stretch, width, etc of each fabric you realize that each item must be hand cut and altered based on a number of factors. Compare this to the big guys that can “stack cut” a dozen Susie chairs at one time – we cut each Jane one at a time.
So in short, our biggest strength (being able to customize and custom build) is also our biggest weakness. It allows us to engage with you on some really fantastic projects but it also causes us to have a non-linear production schedule that changes every hour. If the order up first gets delayed, it pushes all other orders back. If we get lucky and save time on a build then that speeds up all the subsequent orders.
It’s a very thin tight rope we walk but we wouldn’t have it any other way! It just takes a lot more planning, head scratching and communication, but in the end it’s worth it!