Friday, February 27, 2009

Filling Wholesale Orders

Today I can get back to working on my wholesale order from the Craft Council shop. Its Friday and this is only my second workshop day this week, which isn't a great record. In the winter with the time it takes to warm up the shed, and the fact that I usually come out of the workshop dusty and dirty, I need to be able to dedicate a full day to make the effort worthwhile.

Receiving the Order: Most of my wholesale orders come in through e-mail, snail-mail, or face-to-face with the customer. As soon as I get the order I enter it into a word document that I have called "Ongoing Orders". Basically its a big table with customer names along the top row and product descriptions running down the side. In the cells I put the number of each product that the customer is ordering. The advantage of having all my current orders on a single table is that I can quickly see the total numbers of each type of product that I need. Every time I switch jobs or types of product it takes time, so if I can make all of the glass earrings, for example, that I'll need to fill 3 orders at one time its more efficient for me. As I fill orders I delete the rows and columns that I don't need anymore.

Inventory: When I start working on an order I'll print out my Ongoing Orders table and use it to go through my inventory. My inventory is strategically strewn around the house, although the densest concentration is hidden in boxes in the unsightly part of the basement. I rarely have everything for a wholesale order on hand, but I almost always have a few pieces. I assemble the product I have in stock in a box and make notes on my ongoing orders list of the remaining product to make.

Workshop: At this point I need to start in the workshop. Even though I'm the only Elfshot employee, I try to work in big batches, in stages, like an assembly line. I always make more than I need to allow for breakage, but also to maintain and build my inventory, which helps speed up the inventory stage of future orders. The farther away the delivery deadline the more extras I'll make. The longer I can work without changing tools or materials, the more I can get done and working in big batches helps that.

Assembly: For assembly, I move into the presentable part of the basement with the TV. Although some pundits argue that the very act of assembly makes the presentable part of the basement unpresentable. (see also, Observer Effect) Assembly involves the wirework on necklaces and earrings, epoxying on pins and cufflinks, as well as printing and applying hangtags and cards. I do everything I can to reduce the amount of time I spend with each piece and I'm adamant about only moving pieces one way up the assembly line. I never undo work that I've done. For example, if I have a pair of green glass earrings and I need two green glass necklaces, I'll never disassemble the earrings and turn them into the necklaces. It might seem like the quicker solution at the moment, but its not a good way to run a business.

Shipping: This is the part of the process that I always underbudget for timewise. Printing invoices and packing the product always takes longer than I anticipate. I almost always lose most of a day to shipping. If I can schedule shipping for multiple orders all on one day it is much more efficient, but often my delivery dates are staggered. I keep track of delivery dates and amounts owed on a 4 month wall calendar over my computer. Payment is net 30 days, so the calendar is useful in keeping track of which customers to check in on. The one exception to the net 30 days rule is for new customers, who I contact when the order is ready and arrange payment (usually VISA) before I ship the product.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Photo Captions:
Top, My Ongoing Orders table and some recycled glass earrings in progress.
Bottom, In stock product waiting for the rest of the order to be completed.

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