Thursday, December 12, 2019

Needlework Logistics

"This is the most complicated kit I have ever seen in all my years of business"
That is how the conversation started today with Access Commodities.  It was "last day to ship" on our agreed calendar and we were going over the Harmony with Nature course pack yet again.  What is last day to ship?  That is the backed up date from when I shut down for Christmas (and am out of town) minus the typical shipping length from Texas plus a two day buffer.  That is the last day that I can have anything put in a shipping box before they reopen again after the holidays and final year end inventory is done and they start shipping again.  So my next shipment from them will arrive around January 13th.  Yes, that is a month.  That is why the review of the joint spreadsheet was so important this morning.  That happens also in July every year as France shuts down for the month so once they open and the shipments start again, the first box to arrive is mid-October.  So if it doesn't make the July 30th cargo shipment - nothing comes until mid-October.  Now repeat that thought down the supply chain - silk to passementerie company to Access to me.  Silk and wire to gold thread company to me.  The number of spreadsheets and keeping track of what is what and what is in the dyepot and enroute to who is a logistics minefield.  OMG.

We had done it every week now for TWO years.  As soon as a panel was done on the casket, I would update my materials list in google docs so they could see what I was using and start planning - spooling a color for the number needed to see if it ran out.  294 elements in the kit and a few of them like the brass pulls are multiple elements which brings it to over 300 items.  300 items x 250 = 75,000 items that have to be individually packed onto spools, cut and knotted with more strands, put into larger plastic bags, labeled, etc.  And that does not include designing the threads and making them.  To give some perspective, a Frosting Box run typically has me packaging 13,000 items.  That takes about 6 months to do after a year of manufacturing time frame.  I have been packaging Harmony all year so far.

And we almost made it.  There was a ton of knowing laughter as so many points along the way roadblocks had been thrown up.  Halfway through we both flew to France and England to move stuff along faster with decision making, visiting the color vault to rename colors that had run out and reorder dye lots (see some of the reports from that trip here).  Half of the 'road blocks' I can't talk about as they are the minor disasters that happen to every company and would freak you out.  25% of them are of the shortage of labor type with now at least four major surgeries slowing the progress down to a crawl at some point in the two years.  Then there are the 'acts of god' that aren't mistakes, sickness or some other understandable disaster.  More on that later.

On that 2018 trip as I was at one company, which had just switched from a hard to understand dot matrix system for their orders/invoices to a new one and was having a hairy time getting it all lined up, we discovered a disaster.  I casually asked about the status of the purls.  I had ordered some 10,000 pieces.  The blank look was scary.  We discovered right then that my order had been lost in the spam filters of the internet and with the system change over making it impossible for me to track orders, neither of us knew.  We had just lost nine months of logistics and manufacturing time.  Ugh.

Today's status?  Well, one company will be working hard through the holidays to get me an item.  They aren't the original vendor as the original finally wasn't up to it.  When you finally realize you have to switch, it is painful.  Very painful as it takes awhile to get the new one up to speed and for you to sign off on the product.  But I know by the time the boxes flow again, we will be set with that item.  Then one missing part that had been exhausted in packing is at Heathrow this evening, so it is on the way and made 'last day to ship' to me.

We both banged our head on the table as we talked.  Au Ver a Soie, Access and I had pulled off a miracle and the last of the silks that I honestly thought wouldn't make it through dyeing were ready.  Had been ready for a week but the general strike in France had made it impossible to get it here for 'last day to ship'.  Once it arrives it has to be spooled down and then sent to me.  Are you kidding me.  National transport strike for a week and counting now!?  It will leave soon, but couldn't have predicted that.  I will be in Paris over Christmas and if I have to go get it and carry it back to the USA - I will.

Of course I couldn't have predicted half of the disasters that have befallen us along with way - but they aren't out of the ordinary.  It is ordinary for such things to happen in manufacturing.  I was once working on a heated jacket and the manufacturing of the remote control was in China.  Just before it was to ship to us in the US for Christmas fullfilment, a UPS flight went down in the middle east due to a battery fire on board.  Immediately all shipments of batteries in large quantities were banned on flights.  So the remotes had to be removed from their packaging in China, coin cell batteries removed, repacked and shipped to us in the US.  We were four months late to put them on a cargo ship retroactively.  We had to arrange a big truck of batteries to drive to the company location and had a massive 'battery party' to put the coin cells in the remotes with the little piece of paper and then repack.  So all of us in engineering and marketing spent a few days doing this.  It's not a lack of planning, it's just what happens.  I have learned not to freak out but to 'work the problem' and that is why I write these blog - so you know what is happening behind the scenes.  But there are days that I wistfully dream of a little ornament kit with four components.  Ha ha!!  That and I dream of stitching.

That is the truck with the shipping boxes.  They refuse to
carry it for me, so we have to unwrap the pallet and
bring 25 boxes at a time down the drive.
But sit back and think about it a little.  Each item of the 300+ items has to be ordered, tracked, made, discussed, shipped and packaged.  Counted and inventoried and kept track of where it is stored.  Access Commodities has been spooling for this course for over ONE YEAR!  Every week when there is excess time the spooling machine isn't doing someone else's order, a new color is picked up and run and put aside.  I haven't had the will to ask how many spools the machine can run in a day.   I think I don't want to know the answer!  Packaging has to be figured out, tested, ordered and labels designed.  Then there is the 'how does it get packaged and to the customer' process.  Boxes ordered to test pack and shipping box sizes calculated.

Where do you put it as it comes in?  Good question!!  Some of it stays at Access in boxes marked Harmony Casket and when I order, I mark down to take from 'Harmony Stock' on the standard order sheet as then they can go to the already spooled and saved silks.  It is sitting everywhere in the warehouse and they would really appreciate it if the class would sell out so they have room to move!

And just when I sat down to write this blog (Lamora suggested it as the behind the scenes is such an effort) - I got the call from the logistics company truck parked out front.  My order of boxes to pack this had arrived.  Today - 'of course' - ULINE sent it on a truck with a forklift.  That isn't what I want.  The guys in those trucks are only allowed to put it on the ground with their forklift on the pallet and then I am supposed to drive my forklift to get it.   Yeah... I don't have a forklift.  What I have is a very long driveway and a grumpy 14-yr old boy.  The driver was none too happy that I refused the pallet and my son and I did the long walk over and over and over with the packages of heavy boxes.  Now they are littering my family room and you can imagine my husband's sigh an hour ago when he came home, knowing that they all have to go somewhere and that a big pile of them means we are loosing our dining room and living room for a month.  And the days on the other end when I will beg people to help me load my truck for a week to take them to the post office.  My guess based on volume is it will take five trips to the post for the first shipment of this course.

As Lamora said today -
Just the effort to get all the stuff made and in one place is a book itself.