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30 Tips to Streamline Your Decorating Business

Even the busiest of decorators should make time to evaluate procedures and make production as efficient as possible.

Being more efficient is the goal of any business owner, yet day-to-day demands often detract from taking a deep look at operations. “We all live in a crazy world,” says Rob Dubow, owner of Dubow Textiles (asi/700107) in St. Cloud, MN. “The decoration world is a crazy, busy, multitasking world for everybody. Sometimes we get lost in the forest.”

So, for the next 30 days, this challenge will help you focus on the trees by giving specific activities you can either do or start in one day to improve productivity.


Do you know how your shop works? How jobs are set up and broken down? Where the problems are? This is a good time to find out.


Do nothing. Don’t throw away your whole day, but spend a few hours watching the flow of operations. Observe the entire process, from receiving orders to sending completed projects out the door. In essence, be your own consultant.


Map your core processes. Look at each part of the production process. Map out the steps involved. This can help pinpoint breakdowns, as well as give you a roadmap on how to train employees.


Create a spaghetti diagram. Follow a decorator around and map out where he or she goes for the day, or map out your own day.


Look for bottlenecks. Have your employees record down time, either when they take a break, or every time something isn’t happening the way it should – like when a machine operator has to go to sales with a question. What stops the human side of the formula?


Start fixing the bottlenecks. This will be a long-term process, but you can start by identifying a step you can take today to fix the most pressing issue.


Talk to your employees. Ask each one: What’s your number-one problem? This will give you an outline for further improvements.

A cluttered shop is an inefficient one. Not having supplies in their correct spaces wastes time. “I’m a big proponent of having a really clean shop,” says Terry Combs, a printing industry veteran and consultant. “That’s a real reflection of who you are.”


Declutter. If something for one department is located in another space, move it to where it belongs.


Look at your floor flow. Are there items in the way? If there’s a filing cabinet on the shop floor that the production employee has to walk around, that’s wasted time. Move it out of the way.


Organize your tools. Relevant tools should be near the machines and employees who need them. Create an area for everything, from inbound goods to threads, inks and more.


Create an inventory management program. You can do this with existing software, or your own shop’s system of keeping track of what’s missing and when you need to replace items.


Invest in multiples. Having only one tape gun, for instance, means your workers waste time waiting for it to be available, or going to find it with the last person who used it.


Clean up. Run a printing shop? Make sure the inks are being cleaned up immediately. Embroidery? Put thread back where it belongs. Task an employee to do this daily.


Organize your jobs. Do you make sure employees have everything needed when they begin a job? If not, considering investing in rolling carts, which can be moved around the production line easily.


With customers demanding faster and faster turnaround times, it’s critical to look at your production schedule. It’s not enough to estimate how long a job will take. You need to know for sure. “It’s a constant math problem,” says Marshall Atkinson of Atkinson Consulting. “And it’s an accountability problem.”


Work backward. Start the day with the tenet that every job needs to be produced completely one business day before it’s supposed to ship. Then figure out the schedule from there.


Time it out. Spend the day documenting how long each part of the process takes. How long is set up? How long is production? How long is finishing?


Set up a chart. Based on yesterday’s timing, create a chart that accounts for how long a job takes, from the beginning of a project to tear-down. Every minute should be accounted for.


Create a schedule. Once you have that chart, start dropping in orders. It may not be your ideal schedule, but it’ll help you identify where time might be wasted and help you improve.


Look into pre-registration systems. If you have one already, is it working for you? Is it being used properly?


Once your shop floor has a better flow, concentrate on the order process. Communication, shop experts say, is critical. “A lot of people are inefficient because they have to stop and ask, ‘What does this mean?’ on the work order,” Atkinson says.


Examine your work orders. How do you curate them? Do the people who have to do the next step in the workflow know what to do? If not, change your process. Nothing should go on the schedule until everything on the order form is complete.


Cross train. Set up a system to cross train your employees on other duties. If your sales department doesn’t know what goes on in your art department, how can they effectively process an order?


Use color mockups. Make sure they include the proper information: design dimension, colors, position. Is everything getting properly labeled? This will help cut down on errors and time spent asking questions that can be answered in the beginning.


Improving operations doesn’t just mean looking at the shop floor. It also means delving into your business practices and performance.


Create standard operating procedures. Then write them down. Outline the expectations you have for jobs and how they’re completed. If you already have these, review them to see if they need to be updated.


Set performance rules. Do you have a policy for break time? Cellphone use? Outline expectations for employees. If you already have these rules, update them.


Write your employee handbook. Or update the one you already have. Make sure every employee gets a copy.


Train your staff. Set up some formal training for your employees on these new or updated rules and procedures.


Standardize your pricing. Create an official, branded pricing grid that can be shared with customers. If you already have one, make sure it’s up to date.


All of the changes you’ve made won’t help if your machinery isn’t working, or if your employees aren’t on board.


Know your financial position. This isn’t just a one-day project, but it’s important. If you’re financially savvy, spend the day going over your books. If you’re not, spend the day interviewing experts who can help you.


Schedule performance reviews. Set aside a half-hour to meet with employees about how they’re doing, and what they can improve upon.


Focus on maintenance. Set up a meeting or phone call with your machine vendors. Talk to them about maintenance requirements, recommended servicing and any concerns you might have about your equipment. Use these to create a maintenance schedule for each piece of equipment.


Get your employees involved. Set up an incentive system that rewards employees who meet certain elevated metrics – such as increased production over time.