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Anatomy of a Rush Order
From "Top Speed"
By C.J. Mittica

Exclusive Online Case Study

Vote Against CopyBrand Fuel (asi/145025) and decorator Xpertees combined to print these T-shirts for the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families in under 24 hours.

Allison McLain will tell you that no two rush orders are the same. The general manager of Brand Fuel (asi/145025) handles her fair share of orders with tight deadlines. "Each rush situation comes with a new learning experience," she says, "where we can look back and create some efficiencies for the next time we are in a similar situation." In the case of an apparel order this past February, less than two weeks to get a company store up and running came down to a 24-hour race against the clock. How did Brand Fuel get it done? Let's examine.

T-Minus 11 Days: The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families hires Brand Fuel to produce an online store of merchandise. The Coalition has been committed to defeating Amendment One, a proposed Constitutional ban in North Carolina on any unions or partnerships other than marriage between a man and a woman. (This includes unmarried partnerships.) The group wants T-shirts stating either "I'm Voting Against" or "My Family's Voting Against."

T-Minus 10 Days: Brand Fuel brings the buyer to its showroom. "This was easier and quicker than ordering samples direct from the manufacturers and having to wait for transit time," McLain says. The client chooses a style and approves the color and sizes right away. Her request: 2,000 shirts with two designs, each a two-color front and two-color back.

From there, Brand Fuel's staff kicks into action. One member of the team works to secure volume pricing with a supplier, while another calls contract screen printers and asks if they could fit the project into their production schedule. "We tried to focus our attention on printers who were fairly local in North Carolina," McLain says, "in the event we needed to drive to the facility, pick up the shirts, and drive them to our fulfillment warehouse in Raleigh to save time."

It takes several calls before they found a screen printer who could – Xpertees Promotions, a contract decorator and distributor based in Wilmington, NC. Says McLain: "They are roughly two and a half hours from us, so worst-case scenario, we'd have five hours of driving time if we needed to pick them up in person."

For Xpertees, the decision to take on the order in such a small timeframe boils down to a number of factors, including order size, manpower capabilities and the quality of the customer it works with. How much business does it get from the customer? A first-time client may have unrealistic expectations for future orders. For Owner Shane Miller, good clients are worth the extra effort. "Brand Fuel is a wonderful customer for us," he says, "and we adjust when we can to help people out." A choked production schedule matters too. Not only does Xpertees need the available manpower and space to hold the tees, but "you don't want to really put somebody else's job in jeopardy to take a different job," Miller adds.

T-Minus 7 Days: Meanwhile, the search for a supplier yields a fantastic special from Dunbrooke (asi/50930). But there's a hitch: Brand Fuel doesn't do much business with the supplier, and credit terms aren't set up. The distributor has to do a credit card prepayment. "This was a major setback, as it caused the order to ship a day later than anticipated," McLain says. "That meant the screen printer would need to print all 2,000 shirts in less than 24 hours."

T-Minus 3 Days: The shirts ship on a Tuesday and arrive at Xpertees on Friday with little time to spare. Everything has to be lined up for it to work; something unusual, such as neon ink that's not in stock, can cause crushing delays. For an order of that size, Miller calls in two part-time helpers to have six sets of hands running the order. From start to finish it takes nearly nine hours, and the work force stays past 11 p.m. to finish the job. "You have to make sure you have the coordination factor," Miller says.

T-Minus 0 Days: All the dominoes fall into place. The shirts ship from Xpertees on Saturday and arrive at Brand Fuel on Monday, and the online store goes live on time. Orders begin piling in within minutes. Nearly 650 orders are taken by mid-week, and the store sells out of the main sizes within a week. Success. "In my experience, we are more successful with pulling off rushes when we think smart and play fair," McLain says. "Consider proximity, as that can play a major role. Treat supplier partners as true partners, and work together rather than asking for the world. When warranted, pay a premium to your suppliers to get it done for your client. Most importantly, even in a rush, don't cut corners."

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