Friday, May 18, 2007

Production, How do You Plan Your Schedule?

When you go to a wholesale show, rather than selling the work that you have brought with you, you are taking orders. You may have some of the work already produced, in which case you just need to package it up and ship it out. But how do you know how much you can commit to and when you can deliver it to the customer?

It is something that was a puzzle to me for some time. But over time I began to sort it out. In part it came from the wisdom shared by others on discussion boards. And in part it came from my own experience in the studio. While I was getting ready for ACRE, I had a reader ask, "How do you plan your production schedule?" It was a great question, (thanks Loretta!) and one I did not forget. Since I am in the middle of filling some of those orders, it seemed like a good time to finally address it.

Rule One of wholesale. You set your schedule. You are in charge of when you can deliver the work. Everyone may want it yesterday, but buyers of craft understand that you are the factory. You are an individual who can only produce so much. And if your product is a good one, there will be demand for it, and they may just have to wait if they want it bad enough. Without this rule firmly implanted into your head, and every cell of your body (lol), you may find yourself to be an overworked, sleep deprived, stressed out artist, who is wondering what you were ever thinking when you decided to start selling your work. And every creative fiber in your body will have shriveled to a frayed and fragile thread. Not a place any one of us wants to visit.

So now you know the ground rules. You are in charge of your schedule. Where do you go from there? The next step is to get out your calendar. Start filling in all the commitments you already have. Are you doing a retail show? Block out the time you need for the show, for set-up, for packing, and for getting ready for the show. Will you need to get some inventory made? Block that time out. Will you be doing a mailing? Put that on the calendar. Give yourself a day, or half a day, to make that happen at the right time to make it effective. Do you have a vacation or other event coming up? Put that in. Start by figuring out what time is available to you to make the work to fill the orders.

So you have a calendar with days blocked out. Now what? Now you need to know about how much work you can produce in a day or a week. I prefer to look at a week. My day-to-day life needs as much flexibility as I can provide.

I know some of you are thinking, how do I do this? How do I know? It goes back to some of what we did before with the pricing. If your pricing is done correctly, you will be able to look at your day or your week and know about how much work you can produce in that time by a dollar amount. It may be $200, or $2000, or much more. It depends on how much time you have to commit to your work, whether you have assistance, and where your prices fall. This is a number that only you can determine. And it will take some experience to work it out. But fairly quickly, you will get a sense of what it is.

At the show, as I took orders, I would mark out the time needed to produce the order, based on the desired delivery date, and the dollar amount of the order. It did not matter what the order was for, as much as how much it was for, and how my calendar looked. A manufacturing facility has a production scheduler. This is the hat you are wearing when you plan out your schedule. I have orders that will ship in August, September, October and November, in addition to those that wanted the work as fast as I could get it to them. Those orders for deliver in the future were blocked out at the appropriate times on the calendar. This does not mean that I can't make the work sooner. But I know, if I have not done it before the time I have planned, I will have to do it then. And if I can get it done before then (in all likelihood), then I will be able to free up that time to fill other orders, or do some marketing to try and generate some more business.

Buyers that wanted work as soon as I could get it to them were scheduled on a first come, first serve basis. As a week filled up, they were given a date for the following week. The advantage to planning your orders this way, as well, is that you can doing your shipping for a week's worth of production on one day. As I completed the work for an order, I put it aside, with it's order form, and went on to the next order. When I had the work for a week done, I could create my invoices, call to get credit card information, and package and ship the work. This is far more efficient than going through all these steps each time you fill an order. You can stay in the flow of production till several orders are filled.

By being able to plan out my schedule like this, it has actually brought sanity to my life that doing retail shows does not always bring. I know what I am making, and how much to make. I just get it done, and ship it out, and then it is on to the next batch of orders. Or if I have time, I can go putter in the garden, or get the grocery shopping done,.....just basically try to live a normal life!

I hope this explanation helps to demystify scheduling production. It really can make your life more sane in the long run. If this is what is holding you back from doing wholesale, perhaps it is time to rethink that objection.

One more thing....don't forget to look at your upcoming schedule and see if you need to be ordering any materials to be sure that you have what you need to fill the orders. That is part of the planning process a factory will use as well. You are the factory, the scheduler, the procurement person,......etc. You can't make it if you don't have the supplies on hand.

1 comment:

catherien said...

Thank you, Judy. That was information I needed to know!