Keep It Clean

A well-organized shop can save you time and money.

It seems like a no-brainer: Keeping your shop clean boosts morale, impresses customers and increases productivity, among other benefits. That’s why Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images (asi/702505) was initially surprised by how often clients would praise his spotless showroom and polished production area as an anomaly in the industry. “I was shocked,” Potter says. “I didn’t understand that we weren’t the norm. It’s one of those things that you don’t believe until you see it.”

Industry veteran and trainer Joyce Jagger, known as The Embroidery Coach, has seen it countless times in the decorating shops she helps. “I go into so many businesses where everything is so jumbled up,” she says. “They have no idea where anything is. It’s just a mess.” Jagger acknowledges the difficulty of sticking to a system amid the chaos that often descends onto a busy shop, but she maintains that organization is key to a successful business: “Your place needs to be neat and clean at all times. Sometimes that’s hard when you have a [decoration] business, but it’s totally necessary.”

Potter actually hired a part-time employee, who works 25 hours a week, to keep his shop clean. When A&P was a smaller operation, he would designate a couple of hours for employees to clean up their individual work spaces, and used a professional cleaning company three times a week to do the rest of the cleaning; but as the shop grew, a different solution was needed. “Our staff tries to keep things neat and in order, but they don’t have the extra time to scrub things down and dust,” he adds. Their productivity enabled him to create the new part-time position.

Some decorators will claim that they’re too busy for cleaning, and that it’s too expensive to pay someone else to do it. However, Potter counters that it’s time and money you’d be spending one way or another. “It’s an investment into your business,” he says. “They’re not looking at the full picture.”

A dirty shop could lead to spoiled merchandise, and neglecting your equipment and building upkeep is a recipe for costly repairs down the line. Potter says he prefers to spend money up front to keep the shop clean, rather than “get blindsided” by a ruined shirt order or broken part. With embroidery machines, presses and other decoration equipment such a big investment, why wouldn’t you be willing to spend some time and money maintaining them? “That’s like buying a nice car and not getting the oil changed on time,” Potter says.

Ellen Delap, a Texas-based professional organizer, says being messy comes at a cost for businesses. “Clutter is time-consuming,” she says. She argues that when an employee’s task is disrupted searching for a particular tool, it’s as if the company had to buy it all over again in terms of lost productivity.

Another issue to consider is safety. Boxes and other clutter are tripping hazards. Sharp tools not stowed properly are another potential danger. “How many people throw scissors or knives on tables, then throw apparel on top, when it would have been just as easy to put them back in their cup?” asks Potter, who used to work in an industrial setting pouring metal and doesn’t take OSHA regulations lightly. “People think that there’s not a lot of safety to worry about [in the decoration business] … but there’s a multitude of ways people can get hurt.”

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to keep a neat and organized shop has to do with presenting a professional and competent image to your clientele. Potter remembers being praised by a customer once because the apparel he’d ordered didn’t reek of cigarette smoke, a problem the client had with his previous decorator. Being clean “speaks volumes about who you are as a business,” Potter says. “It’s appealing to customers. They know that the apparel they receive will be clean and folded neatly. If they want to take it out and wear it right away, they’re not scared they’re going to catch something from it.”