SewForward is a cut and sew studio providing high quality small batch manufacturing, while providing job training and employment opportunities for people facing difficulty in the workforce. SewForward is part of the East End Cooperative Ministry.
SewForward loves to help small businesses grow. Our monthly newsletter, Creative Crossroads, provides tips to help you improve your business.
In This Issue We Explore:
Overcoming Objections to Equipment Upgrades
Are you fumbling along with outdated and improper equipment? This is the first in a 4-part series about equipment upgrades.
Use the right presser foot.
Customize your Packaging
Make your packaging as interesting as your product.
Overcoming Objections to Equipment Upgrades
A colleague who makes bags out of heavy canvas recently upgraded from a home sewing machine to an industrial. She said the new machine went through her heavy fabric like butter. This was the same way I felt when I stopped cutting upholstery foam with a kitchen knife and bought an electric carving knife. Sometimes in business, we fumble along with inadequate equipment and supplies never realizing how much an upgrade can improve our product and increase our efficiency. Unfortunately, we still hesitate because of money, or fear, or a lack of knowledge. How do you overcome these obstacles and move your business ahead?
Price: My friend’s upgraded machine was a big purchase, but sometimes we are working with old outdated equipment and materials, when an upgrade is less than $100.00. When I first started my drapery business, I discovered an essential tool was a staple gun. I went out and purchased a hand staple gun. I very quickly discovered this was slow and ineffective. Then I bought an electric staple gun. Better for stapling valances to the wood headers, but this would never work for upholstering headboards. Finally, I saved my money and finally purchased an air compressor and air staple gun. These rocked my world. I upgraded in stages because money was tight, but sometimes the upgrades you need are inexpensive. A great pair of scissors for sewing can cost less than $50.00. A cordless drill for cabinet making is about $60.00. A soldering iron for jewelry is less than $30.00. If money is so tight you can’t even afford these small upgrades, then it’s time to raise your prices and put the extra money aside for the purchase.
Knowledge: Sometimes businesses don’t upgrade their equipment because they don’t know how else to manufacture. Businesses aren’t working in a bubble; your competition has probably struggled with the same issues and possibly solved them. You should stay on top of new ideas and techniques in your industry through trade groups, trade magazines, online articles and even books. If something you are doing doesn’t feel like it is working, it’s taking longer than it should, or the final product isn’t great; take the time to research new production methods. Very often new and faster production includes the need for better and specialized equipment.
Fear: Fear can be the number one factor in delaying your upgrade. Maybe, you had a hobby that grew, and you are selling some pieces to support your hobby. Well, if you’re selling anything you are running a business. So make that hobby supporting business, the best it can be. Maybe, you are afraid your business is growing and you think you aren’t ready for it. Guess what, you get to decide how big and how fast you want your business to grow. Once you’ve improved your product, raise your prices and sell fewer items for more, resulting in less work.
Now that you’ve overcome your objections to buying new equipment, the next article in this series will explore when it’s time to purchase. Check it out in our July issue.
Sewing Tip: Use the Right Presser Foot
As mentioned in the article above, sometimes an equipment upgrade can cost very little, but have a big impact on your final product. Using the right presser foot for your projects is one of those little upgrades. Most sewers are familiar with the standard presser foot with a wide center and two equal sides, used for straight stitch and zig-zag stiches while hemming, stitching in the ditch, sewing together seams, and putting on zippers. Unfortunately, sometimes the foot drifts, doesn’t get close enough to the zipper teeth, or falls off a heavy seam. There are varieties of specialized presser feet, which can do so much more than the standard foot and improve your sewing skills. Here are a few of SewForward’s favorites. Compensating Foot - Made to sew even stiches on seam edges, it comes in a right or left. One side of the foot is hinged and the other side is thicker. When sewing with it, place the hinge part of the foot on the seam and the thick part on the flat edge of the fabric.
Piping/Self Welt/Cording Foot - This foot also comes as a right or left. It has a single hinge and is for making self/welt or cording used in upholstery, pillows and garment seams. The single hinge allows you stitch right next to the cording. These feet can also stitch zippers if you prefer not to purchase a separate zipper foot.
Non-Stick/Teflon Foot - Leather, plastic and vinyl tend to stick and not easily glide through standard presser feet. A Teflon foot slides across these types of fabrics, allowing for even stitching and no bunching. They are shaped the same as a standard foot, but can also be purchased as a piping foot.
Rolled Hem - Designed to do a small rolled hem on decorative fabrics. This foot is tricky to use and requires practice to get it right.
Invisible Zipper Foot - Half of this foot sews over the zipper’s teeth to push them out of the way so you can stitch as close as possible to them.
Edge Guide Foot – This looks like a standard presser foot, but has a thin piece of vertical metal that runs in the seam edge when you are top stitching or edge stitching. This also comes as either a left or right foot. If you’re working on a home machine, you can usually buy kits with a bunch of different feet in them. Industrial machine feet are higher priced, so evaluate what type of stitching you do the most before investing in new ones. Whatever type of machine you use, specialized presser feet will improve your sewing and increase your production.
Customize your Packaging
Not too long ago I ordered beads from someone on Etsy. When I received them, they were in a pretty bag, neatly tied, with a free gift and the sellers’ business card. I think I paid about 10 dollars plus shipping, but felt like the seller really cared about me. Would I return to her site to buy again? You betcha. Packaging is big business and can set you apart from the competition. If you are shipping your items in plain cardboard box with some bubble wrap thrown in, it’s time for an upgrade.
Your actual shipping box can be the same boring beige, but what goes in the boring box should be something your customer is excited to open and explore.
Start by evaluating your color scheme. Every business should have signature colors, and no more than 2. Think about some famous brands you can immediately identify by their colors. Starbucks - green and white; Coca-Cola- red and white, FedEx - purple and white; and Target - red and white. Your customers should be able to identify you by your colors and be excited to see it arrive.
Evaluate your box size. The product should fit neatly in the box and not be so squished it looks terrible when removed. Don’t fold up an item that isn’t meant to be folded, just so it will fit in the box. On the other hand, don’t ship a necklace in a box meant for something much bigger.
Think about creating a custom box that sets you apart.
At Johnnycupcakes.com, they sell t-shirts packaged like food. Along with ice cream and push up pops, they also package them like takeout burgers and TV dinners. The packaging is so clever, who cares what's inside it.
If you can’t afford a custom box, what about wrapping paper. Wrap your box up like a fun gift with some pretty twine. Print some stickers with your logo and use that to close the wrapping.
Make the inside of the box as nice as the outside by using colored shredded paper or decorative tissue paper. If multiple items go in the box, make sure they don’t shift around while in transit. Use the inside box lid to add more advertising for your business. Add your mission statement, a funny cartoon or a positive message.
Add your own custom note. My daughter subscribes to Stitch Fix, a curated clothing service. Every box she gets has a handwritten thank you note in it explaining each item of clothing and why it was chosen for her. You can have the message printed, but make it customized by adding the customers name and signing each card. It doesn't have to be long, a even a one-line note will make the customer feel like they are special and you appreciate them.
Throw in a gift if you can. Do you sell custom cloth diapers add a decorative safety pin.
Clothing, how about a little mending kit. Masks; a bag to put it in. Accessories for animals; a treat for the pet.
Don’t include items you already sell, and don't invest a lot of money in handing out free things. They should cost less than a dollar and you should be able to buy them in bulk. Stickers are incredibly popular right now and are like free advertising because customers put them on everything from laptops to water bottles.
Lastly, ask your customer to buy from you again. Provide a coupon and incentive to return to your website or refer a friend.
Here's a short list of what NOT to put in your packaging:
Packaging that significantly increases your shipping costs
Recycled materials that have someone else’s info on them.
Plastic bags without warning labels
Anything with a strong smell
An excess of plastic bags
About the Author:
Sydney Hardiman is the Sewing Program Manager for SewForward, EECM's Cut and Sew Studio and workforce development program. She has over 20 years of experience in the design industry and is the author of over 50 articles about interior design.
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