March 21, 2007

Big Box Technical Designers

Several years ago (was it really that long ago), I learned a very important lesson. I was working on a private label program for a Big Box retailer, company X. The technical specs they sent us were fairly straight forward. There were a few wonky measurements, but we forced our samples to spec.

As a patternmaker/pseudo tech designer, working on a private label program for a large account, I worked under the assumption that the BIG company knew what it was doing. Their specs were gospel and they could not be adjusted. You meet spec or you risk losing the account. This was true for another private label program for company Y. However, company Y's specs were superior (in other words they worked out of the box).

With any private label program, you take a selected sample and adjust the patterns to meet spec. You re-sew the sample in production fabric and submit it to the company's technical design department. The technical designers will go over every measurment and construction detail. They have the power to cancel the order if you don't meet spec. Usually, the first sample is rejected and you have to submit a second with corrections. (This is especially true if this if the first time on a new private label program). Needless to say, there is a lot of pressure to meet spec the first or second time. There is a lot riding on these samples.

So we submit our sample (with forced spec conformity) to company X. We received back our audit reports with required corrections. The weird thing was that the technical designers changed some of the required specs (now some were really wonky) and they insisted on construction/pattern changes. The construction/pattern changes would have affected several things, especially allocations and labor costs. Private label programs operate on slim margins, and our in-house manufacturer would not agree to the changes. The measurement issues didn't make sense, proportionally.

What to do? Here was a high dollar order and we wouldn't be able to meet spec. The only way to solve the problem was to call the technical designer at Company X and explain the situation. I expected them to reply, "Meet spec or we cancel the order."

To my surprise, the technical designers agreed to allow some of our measurments and construction details to pass. I don't think I explained too much. It was more like, "It would be easier for us to do things this way."

I learned something very valuable that day. If something isn't working, present an alternative - it just might be acceptable. I also learned that the technical designers for Big Box retailers don't know everything.

The reason this experience came back to me is because I am facing a similar situation, except I am the technical designer on the other end. As part of my consulting, I am helping to develop a new style in China. It is a difficult style, so I expected the first samples to have a few problems. Unfortunately, the samples had more than a few problems (some minor, some not). I wish the Chinese factory understood that it would be ok to present an alternative. I could see they struggled to meet my spec, so they forced it (and didn't really succeed). Not sure how this will be resolved....

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