Thursday, December 22, 2011

Efficiency Startles Yarnie Company Owner into Action

Over the past several weeks, I have been in negotiations with two local companies who have warehouse capabilities beyond what I can do.  Both companies have some different services to offer, and I will wind up working with both of them in the end.  This business, Wool2Dye4, has grown quite a bit in the past two years, and this means handling lots more inventory.  We receive it and check it off a list, then lift it and put it in place.  We label the outside of the box, then we open the boxes, take the yarn out and remove the mill labels, and replace them with our Wool2Dye4 labels.  Then, we stock the shelves or close the boxes again, and if there is any need to shuffle placement around, we lift them again and move them around.  Considering that a box of skeins weighs 44 pounds at a minimum, and cones up to 70 pounds ... well, it is a physical job requiring strength as well as attention to detail.

In the eight months since I moved the company the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I have had two packers/stockists who both had to be let go.  Oddly, both claimed they had no idea why they didn't last, and one, unfortunately, was a friend whom I kept on as an act of friendship.  Sadly, he didn't seem to think as much of our friendship and it ended badly, I am sorry to say.  This last incident clarified my thoughts about hiring more employees to handle stock and warehousing, and through a circuitous route, I came to consider two different options for both warehousing and the labelling of all stock as a new alternative.  It is wonderful when opportunities fall across your path, and you actually recognize them as such! Advantages include no physical labor for me or my assistant, a freeing up of current space for better use, and paying for this as a service rather than employee wages.  I have had both packers file for unemployment benefits, and here in Virginia, you can receive benefits without having to prove you could perform the job!  Pretty amazing, really, and very disappointing, especially over the one whom I had considered a friend.  I cannot tell you how many conversations I had in my mind, but, of course, can never actually say out loud.

Yesterday I decided on a part of the upcoming change, the warehousing, stock labelling, and sample creation.  I am going with a local sheltered workshop, a non-profit which employs physically and mentally challenged individuals.  Twice I have been to the site and both times been so impressed with the attention to detail and pride in workmanship.  Nothing like what I have just experienced with people who sought out a job and then slouched through the days.  I feel so happy about this decision.  In addition to getting all of this work handled, I am able to give back in a small way to the community.

The efficiency part, though, is fascinating to me.  For years, I have created a process for each of the elements of my business.  Samples, for instance, have undergone quite a change from the original little wound bits of yarn round individual cards printed with the yarn specs.  I think we had 12 yarns at that time.  Today there are 39 yarns in the permanent line, 9 special purchase yarns, and 5 or 6 retirement yarns.  We are about to add 8 new yarns in January 2012, too!

Yesterday I was asked to come over and help revise the process of assembling my wholesale sample pack.  The most recent incarnation of the wholesale sample pack has been a layering process, two columns on the front and two on the back, in a 9x11 bag with a sticky closure.  For me this presentation has been cumbersome, so I absolutely understood the need for a new way to pack all the samples into one bag in a way in which the new packers could accomplish this, and which would be pretty.  (I have a running joke, which is actually quite serious, and I frequently intone, 'Here at Wool2Dye4, Rule Number Two is Make It Pretty!'  If a new employee ever asks what Rule Number One is, I know they were listening.  This former friend, most recently disengaged, never thought to ask that question!)

So, they asked me to create a wholesale sample pack and timed me.  Of course, my fingers were fumbling and it definitely did not look very pretty.  Then the first modification came: using a piece of cardboard as a center sort of spine and glue dots to affix two of the sample baggies at a time.  That worked better, so we tried that.  Again, I was asked to create the entire packet from start to finish, and I didn't do too well. So we three tossed around ideas, until the simplest and most efficient idea of all came to one of them.  The new idea was to draw a single line down the center of a piece of card stock, and, using round clear stickers, affix two sample baggies at a time, working from bottom up.  It made a spectacularly pretty, very neatly arranged set of samples.  All these years, and I had never thought to try this!

They break down all jobs into a process and study the movements and method until they come up with an efficient way to perform the task.  This includes much more than making samples, but in handling a large number of stock boxes and the contents, how to stack and warehouse them for efficiency.  The next study will be about shipping efficiently from other countries, and there are some very exciting possibilties there, including some non-traditional approaches.  More on that later.

Suffice it to say that coming into contact with these people has made an impact on my thinking.  I realized that I no longer have to have total control over every aspect of the business and can learn to use the expertise of others, and to to trust the people whom I hire to handle that.  This was brought home very suddenly on the day of their visit to look over the business.  I was interrupted for about fifteen minutes, and when I returned, the President of the company asked me, 'What would you do with your time if we took away all the responsibilities of the warehouse?'  I started to stutter, and couldn't form a complete sentence.  Those who know me well will surely not believe that, but it is true.  My mind was racing with flashes of marketing ideas I have stewing around in there but no time to turn into reality, of the new website almost ready to go but caught in a limbo where I just cannot move it forward, of the letters unwritten to customers in response to theirs to me, or just the very time to consider new ideas.  The eMails alone used to take up three or four hours of each day, and in the past month, I have been distracted and my attention sidelined.  So there I was looking like a dummy, unable to answer that simple question, but this guy recognized that my mind was busy, busy, busy with the possibilities.  That was the moment I knew they were onto something which would help me and allow the business to grow.  It would mean that I would have to give up micro management!  I am very good at that, but in my own defense, I do feel that without control of the processes, the business could never have grown as it has.  Oddly, though, I felt a sense of relief come over me, and that was one of those Bingo! moments in life when you know that a good idea has just occurred and it is time to act and act well.  So, I moved forward and it is all about to come to fruition.I had another Bingo! moment seven years ago when I started Wool2Dye4.  I just paused to reflect on that realization that hit me, and immediately turned my thinking towards how I could make the idea work.
Through my life, many opportunities have fallen across my path, and I've followed a lot of them.  While all were not good, I have learned how to let the bad ones go.  Right now, though, I am sure I am onto something which will allow my business to grow in a healthy way, and allow me to enjoy it much more.
It's a good time to be coming to a new realization, isn't it, with the new year approaching.  I am corny and like making resolutions and writing lists, and taking care, and for anyone who is reading this right now, I've got to say that these little oddball preferences for order are key to growing a successful business.  You have to like what you do and how you do it.  You have to be happy with your choices, have the guts to look hard at how things have always been and take the chance to make a few changes.  That is where I am just now, and I feel it is the right place to be. 


SpinalCat said...

This is so exciting! Way to go, Sheila!

Cakewalk Yarns said...

I am so grateful to you for sourcing staff from your local non-profit. This is how we make the wheels turn again...

eka said...

Congratulations! What a powerful realization and opportunity.

phaedra96 said...

This is my first visit to your site; via Knitting Today. I have to say I am impressed with your decision. We have people(one the son of a very close friend) who work at our local grocery store. They are neat, clean, careful and caring. Go for it. You will never be sorry. Aaand-never hire friends. Ever.

Yarnie said...

Thank you for the comments here and the private eMails on this post. And, for the advice. No more friends as employees! Promise.

ThePaintedTiger said...

Good for you! Excited to see what you do with all your new-found time.