Monday, August 11, 2014

Is Embroidery Digitizing part of Colorado’s new moral dilemma?

Embroidery Digitizing in Colorado
Recently, Colorado passed some laws legalizing medical and recreational marijuana and we’re still figuring out, as a state, what it all means to local trade and living. Whether you are “for it” or “against it”, it affects everyone in some way or another and as a business owner, I’ve had to make some decisions myself.

Dispensaries in the metro area have popped up all over and, as businesses themselves, they are looking to market their shops and goods. This means that I’m getting calls asking whether I will do business with them to digitize their logos and help them find embroiderers.

You see, some embroidery companies refuse to do embroidery for or do business with, anyone selling marijuana, running dispensaries and/or paraphernalia shops, much like some of the banks and loans in town. Since they didn’t vote for the law and don’t agree with it, they turn those potential customers away even if it means losing a job. This is, of course, their prerogative… it IS their business.

For me, I’ve made my decision. (Just so you know, I’ve never smoked pot and I certainly didn’t vote for this law.) My business is embroidery, nothing more, nothing less. 95% of my jobs are corporate logos and I’ve very good at what I do. This issue has nothing to do with my feelings about the marijuana industry. I sell embroidery designs to customers that own businesses….period.

I’ve done designs for churches I wasn’t affiliated with, restaurants I haven’t (or wouldn’t) eat at, and political logos for people running for different offices on both sides. To me, refusing to digitize a customer’s logo because it’s for a pot dispensary is as stupid as refusing to digitize a logo for a bar because people shouldn’t drink. After all, they are both legal. For my business, that’s where the line is. You have to make the decision for yourself.

As far as embroidery, will you turn down a biker group because you don’t like them? A bar with a logo of a half naked woman? How about a meat packing plant because you’re a vegetarian?

It’s not my job to pass moral judgment. I do embroidery. That’s my job.

What do you think about this issue? Have you turned down jobs because of your beliefs?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Embroidery: Customer purchased vs customer supplied garments

Many embroiderers struggle with their pricing policies on several levels. What should my margins be? What is my competition charging? What garments/brands will I offer and what’s the most cost efficient way to get them in and turned around for my customer?

Another often pondered dilemma is whether to accept garments supplied by the customer for embroidery.  Many embroiderers struggle with this question and go back and forth, especially when they hit a snag.

Many larger embroiderers simply won’t do this. The reasons are many but the basics are:

·         Can’t make a profit on the garments if they are supplied

·         Can’t control the quality (many customers buy the cheapest they can find, which then effects the quality of the finished embroidery)

·         Can’t replace a garment if the machine tears a hole or otherwise damages it

·         Wreaks havoc with production - Many times customers will bring a “laundry basket” of different garments in for a design (or worse, many garments, all with different designs). Every garment sews differently and consistent placement can be a struggle on multiple garments. Production suffers and profit goes down.

Smaller embroider companies seem to be more willing to deal with these issues and will charge more on the embroidery side to make up for it. It’s up to you whether you want to accept customer supplied garments in your business but if you do, here are a few things (in addition to the ones above) that you want to consider making a few rules about in your shop:

·         Only accept clean, new garments….yes, customers will try to bring you old (smelly) sweatshirts that haven’t been laundered or team shirts that have already been worn (stained) for a few games. This makes your equipment dirty, can pound dirt into your needle plates and leave residue for your next orders making it difficult to keep other garments clean.

·         Make the customer sign a waiver acknowledging that they understand that you cannot be held responsible for garment damages and will not replace items.  Some embroiderers state a 2% or 3% waste policy on larger quantities. Make sure your customer understands your policy.  Believe me, it will not be profitable in any way to spend time and money driving around town (away from your business) to replace a customer’s garment at retail prices just so they can save a few bucks by providing them to you.

·         Most embroiderers will refuse items that are irreplaceable such as grandma’s quilt or heirloom handkerchiefs or baby christening gowns. Also, items that are extremely expensive or leather items. Not many embroiderers will sew a leather jacket back and punch hundreds of thousands of holes into a good leather jacket that costs way more than the embroidery. All it takes is one to tear a hole and all the profit from the job goes down the drain.

·         Make sure you’re charging for your time to go over multiple garment jobs with the customer about where the design location will fall on the different garments and thread color differences between the garment colors. Multiple garments usually means the design will need alternate colorways on certain ones to insure the design shows well. Also go over the garments with your customer and point out any flaws/stains so you aren’t blamed for them.

If you want to allow customer supplied garments, try it for a while and see how it goes for you. You may decide to re-evaluate your stance at a later time. At any rate, make sure it’s profitable the way you’ve set it up. We’ve all been there in one way or another, which is usually what formulates the policy in your shop.

NeedleUp Digitizing LLC is owned and operated by Donna Lehmann, a 20yr veteran of the embroidery/digitizing industry. She can be reached at NeedleUp, or  303-287-6633 for digitizing, consultation and private classes M-F.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Embroidery Digitizing - Educating the Customer

A few months ago, a promotional sales customer of mine (We’ll call her Sally) sent over a design to digitize for her customer for an event they were having. If you’re in the industry, you know the minute they say the word “event”, you have a rock solid deadline.

Artwork was sent over and discussed and digitizing began since we had limited time.  The design involved a main event logo and two sponsor logos and pricing had been quoted for such.

We had less than a week to complete the digitizing, get approval, send the stitch file to the embroiderer and complete the production. The problem was, Sally’s customer kept changing the design; major graphic changes. Every time the design was completed, it was sent for approval and came back with new art and changes. Sometimes there would be two or three in a day. On the third day there was another issue with one of the sponsors and they had been replaced so we had to add another design into the fray. Each time a change was made, the stitch count would go up (of course) and consequently the price of not only the digitizing but the production estimate the embroiderer had given them….and the clock was ticking!

Now, we were happy to make the changes but the customer was unhappy that editing fees were incurred and the embroiderer no longer wanted to stick with the quote they had given them for production…..understandable.  Sally just said, “Hey, that’s what they said they wanted.” But she never took the time in the beginning to explain the process and that changing the original art causes delays and editing fees. She didn’t even ask if this was the final art before starting the digitizing. Sally’s customer just figured they’d pay for whatever final design they ended up with and they expected the embroiderer to stick with the quote they were given regardless of the changes and final stitch count.

Had Sally explained the process to her customer better, we could have avoided the confusion, had no surprises and actually been more efficient getting her customer what they wanted. Things worked out in the end, we comped some edits and Sally paid for some also. We also worked to get the stitch count down on the design as much as possible so the production wasn’t too high and working with the embroiderer, we hit their event date. The customer was thrilled with their shirts.  All was successful.

It’s our job as professionals to make the customer happy and we do it every day.  But communication is essential to making things go smoothly.  Spend some time educating your customer about the process so they’re not surprised by the costs of their embroidery. If they’re still in the planning stages, explain to them that making major graphic changes to the design after digitizing only makes their costs go up. Changes they are making to the art need to happen at the graphic stage before digitizing.

After all, if you educate your customer, their order goes smoother, they understand what to expect and they’ll likely return because you made it work!

Of course, sometimes these things happen and can’t be helped. This is why a relationship with a good digitizing firm makes all the difference. Someone who is readily available to you and can roll with the changes so you can still meet your deadline.  NeedleUp Digitizing is that company.

It should also be noted that like most good digitizers, NeedleUp includes small edits and changes in the design process. Things like trims, color breaks, small text & coding changes and adjustments for sew-ability are all part of getting the customer a design they will love.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Embroidery Digitizing - The Learning Curve

Think back.  You’re at the embroidery show or in the sales office looking at purchasing your first embroidery machine and software.  You’ve done your homework on the internet checking different software capabilities and machine options.  The sales person is telling you how profitable and easy the embroidery business is and you’re nervous because this is a lot of money and you don’t know much about the industry. Even if you have some experience with the embroidery (in one way or another) you have no idea how to digitize a design.  Sales people will tell you that you can learn as you go, but in the meantime, the easy stuff can be auto-digitized in the software and if you come across something more difficult, there are many places you can send the design out to and get it digitized.

Any of this sounding familiar? Yea, I thought so.  I’ve been there. Not as the sales person or the customer but standing behind you at the show/in the showroom listening to what the sales people are telling potential customers. They don’t want to tell you anything overwhelming and scare you away so they say that it’s a simple thing of taking the art, running it through the software to create a stitch file, loading it into the machine, hooping the garment and selecting the thread colors. Then hit a few buttons and you’re literally “in business”!   I realize they are just doing their job but I’m going to tell you the truth.

The learning curve for running a successful embroidery business is substantial. The learning curve for understanding the process of purchasing quality digitizing is big. The learning curve for mastering digitizing yourself is huge! This is why most embroidery companies purchase their digitizing or hire a digitizer on staff. You have to be pretty big to have an on staff, full time digitizer, so today I’m just going to talk about purchasing your designs.

 Yes, there is a learning curve to purchasing your custom embroidery designs:  Your objective is to get the best quality at the most cost effective price in order to maximize your profit margin. Does that mean, just getting the digitizing as cheap as possible?  The short answer is “NO”.

Whatever your reason for getting into the embroidery business is, you must provide your customers with consistent service and quality they will come back for or, quite simply, they won’t come back, and you won’t have a profit margin to worry about.

Remember, you’re going to pass the digitizing cost along to your customer so this is not a production cost to you. However, if you’re simply buying your digitizing based on the lowest price, you’ll find there ARE hidden costs to you associated with this practice that will compromise your quality and service to your customers. Those include:

1.       Delivery time problems - when you have to have the design either redone or reedited multiple times to get it right pushing your job finish time back

2.       More fees later - Paying another digitizer to fix the design so it’s usable or companies that a-la-carte you to death on edits and second version sizes.

3.       Poor production times – the machine doesn’t sew the jobs efficiently due to poor pathing, unneeded color breaks and trims on the digitizing, driving up production time so much that it actually costs you money to do the job (see also #1)

4.       Customer satisfaction – No matter the machine, if the digitizing isn’t quality, you can’t turn out quality designs you’re proud to put your company’s name on. If you can’t get the job to them when promised, they will lose faith in your abilities. You’re trying to build and retain customers; do you really want to take chances with crummy, slow results?

5.       Poor communication with the digitizer – If you cannot talk to a live person about your design (or communicate with them because of a language barrier or time difference) it’s a waste of your time. I’ve been doing this a very long time, and when the design elements require adjusting for “sew-ability” or your customer requests changes to a design (and this happens all the time), you need to be able to discuss this with the person doing the punching. You can’t do that with a website.

6.       Inconsistent quality – Low/Cut rate digitizing companies have many digitizers on staff. It’s a draw which one will be given your design to work on each time and you can’t speak to them directly so one time the design may be OK and the next horrible. They may be using auto-digitizing softwares that don’t work well, inexperienced digitizers and many times they don’t even sew out the designs they’re creating before sending them on to you. (Caveat: Just because a company says they’ve been in business, digitizing for 20 yrs, does NOT mean that the actual person doing your work has been digitizing for that long).  You DO get what you pay for!
I cannot stress enough how important it is to build a relationship with a reputable digitizer who you can talk to directly. One that you can trust to give you reasonable pricing, consistent quality from years of experience, and someone who understands production, pathing and the need to sew out every design for quality before sending it to you.  You need a digitizer who offers personal attention and makes you look good with every job you do for your customers.
NeedleUp Digitizing is owned and operated by Donna Lehmann, a 20yr veteran of the embroidery/digitizing industry. She can be reached at, or  303-287-6633 for DIGITIZING, consultation and classes M-F.