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The Factory, the Client and the Other Vendors: A Dramedy in Many Parts

I’ve always liked the phrase, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” When you hear it, you know what it means. You can easily visualize it. At Detroit Sewn, we live in this reality every day, but I’m not talking about numerous sewers working on a production order. Instead I’m referring to the handful of companies it sometimes takes just to get one job out the door.

Who are these companies? It depends on the job, but could include:

• A freelance pattern maker (if the client already had this step done before seeking us out)

• A fabric store/fabric mill

• Fabric cutter

• Notions retailers

• Screen printer

• Embroiderer

• Dye sublimator

• Fabric sourcing company

• Another factory

• The client, and sometimes, the client’s business partners/investors

That’s a lot of cooks. Everyone has a job to do, or three or four, and in a perfect world, everyone hits their deadlines and has items in stock and ships in time and makes decisions rapidly and everything is smooth sailing.

How often do you think that happens?

For us, there’s’ nothing worse than being at the mercy of another company. Oh wait, there is something worse: When the client is looking to us for answers as to why the other company isn’t adhering to their responsibilities.

We’ve had some rough examples of this. Once we had an outside cutter screw up the cutting of a job. We noticed once we began sewing. It took a lot of back and forth on our part, but the cutting company did refund the client’s money, including the wasted fabric, but because we set up the cutting job on behalf of the client, the client held us personally responsible and would not continue the job with us. We didn’t do it! And yet, there we were.

Another example was being at the mercy of an embroiderer who had our client’s job for weeks, and no matter how often we called or the client called, we weren’t getting that job turned around in any sort of a timely manner. It was stressful to us, because we don’t operate that way, and because we recommended the embroider, we looked bad.

If only we could do it all ourselves!

There are very few manufacturers that have the ability/capacity/skilled work force/insane desire to do it all, so we have to rely on other vendors. The trick is to find reputable ones you can count on consistently.

And then to determine how this vendor relationship is going to be handled.

In our earlier days, we handled everything on behalf of our clients. Sometimes we still do. But it’s not our preference. When we do, and something goes wrong with the outside vendor, somehow it always ends up a poor reflection on us. And for obvious reasons, we aren’t fans of this outcome.

Some clients enjoy creating relationships with the various vendors, and some insist on it, because they want the power to know what is going on when, negotiate prices, question the timeline, and have a say in the handling of issues, if there are any. I’m thrilled to have clients who want that kind of control, because they manage everything happening outside the factory, and while we may have to work around any issues, we have nothing to actually do with them.

However, for our clients who really need us to handle it all, we do, but we spend more time upfront making sure they understand that what happens at the vendor’s, stays at the vendor’s. We will ensure that instructions are clear, and expectations are known, we will communicate with them regularly and keep the client updated, but if those vendors make errors or don’t deliver on time, we cannot be held accountable.

Working with multiple vendors is about communication, expectations and organization, knowing when to let go of a stressful or inconsistent vendor relationship, and always appreciating the good ones.


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