Monday, December 27, 2010

Travel Clutch Dilemma

Since Hong Kong's U Magazine featured my Travel Clutch Wallet as the Editor's Pick on one of their October issues, I have had a Travel Clutch Dilemma. I was not prepared for them to be so popular and sell so quickly!! It's an awesome problem to have, but, as I said, not one for which I was prepared!

When someone purchased a Travel Clutch, they were essentially buying a time slot. Each clutch requires 7-10 days for me to make it. Ok, that's not exactly accurate. If I started in the morning, I could cut, iron, sew, iron again, topstitch, iron again and package one clutch all in one day. Even with munchkin distractions, it's possible. If I do that, I'd make 5 in one week. So, not really ideal. Because I have a background in manufacturing, I have a tendency to set things up in assembly line fashion. If I do this with travel clutches, I can cut the fabric (linen and cotton) as well as the interfacing for 6-12 clutches in one day. If I'm having an awesome day, I can iron on the interfacing too. I finish sewing the clutches over the next two days. By doing it that way, I can theoretically turn out 6-12 clutches in one week (4-5 days).  This generally works out pretty well. Twelve clutches a week is the most I have been comfortable with.

My system was pretty good. I have a dry erase board calendar. So when a person ordered a Travel Clutch, I counted out seven business days and put their order on the board. Inevitably, the week fills up so those I have 6-12 to make that week. I make them all at once. Yes, it may mean that someone's order ships in 9 days and someone else will have a ship date at 5 days. It wasn't a perfect system, but it is how actual manufacturing companies schedule business. It allows the people to be the most efficient. And in this case, I am the people.

As is true with any type of manufacturing, you will get to a point where an excessive quantity takes away from the efficiency. My 'sweet spot' for Travel Clutches is 12. The week my store was featured in U Magazine, I had to make 20 in one week. The week just before Christmas, I had to make 24. The week before that, was 20.  I could keep going back, but basically from the time my Travel Clutches were featured, my life was CRAZY TOWN!! 

Each travel clutch has 13 pieces that have to be cut. That's 13 pieces from fabric and 12 pieces of interfacing plus 1 Heatbond strip. The week before Christmas, I had to make 24. Here's how that breaks down:

7 Pieces of cotton * 24 Clutches  = 168 pieces of cotton to cut
5 Pieces of linen * 24 Clutches = 120 pieces of linen to cut
1 Piece of twill * 24 clutches = 24 twill strips to cut
1 piece of heatbond * 24 clutches = 24 heatbond strips
12 Pieces of interfacing * 24 Clutches = 288 pieces of interfacing
Total pieces that have to be cut to make 24 travel clutches = 624

Then, I have to iron on the interfacing and heatbond strips. So that's 312 pieces that have to be ironed individually. Let's not forget the labels, so add 24 labels for a total of 336 pieces that need ironing.

Once the ironing is finished, I sew the labels in place. One sewn strip on each side of the label for 48 short lines.

Then I piece together the Clutch's pockets and compartments. It has 4 main compartments, plus the closure tab and pen pocket for a total of 6 items that have to be pieced together. Grand total for 24 wallets is 144 pieces. 

Then I have to turn 48 pieces inside out (the tabs and pen pockets). After turning those, I iron all 144 pieces again so I can top stitch them. And then I top stitch 144 pieces.

So far, this is all prep work. Once I've top stitched the pieces, I can finally start putting pieces together to make the wallets. Once they are all pieced, I sew fronts and backs together, turn them inside out, iron all 24 and top stitch the outside. It takes me an average of 10 minutes just to turn them inside out. It's a delicate procedure and if you rush it you'll rip a stitch or poke a hole through the corner. So for 24 clutches, that's 240 minutes or 4 hours just to turn them inside out!! Then I install the pearl snaps, iron again, package and ship.

So what that basically means is, I slept a total of 10-12 hours the week before Christmas. My mother-in-law watched my munchkin for me a couple days and my husband was home for the other days or I would not have been able to physically do it. I'd sew, and sew, and sew and go take a nap for 30 min to an hour and come back and sew some more. It was out of control.

It was also very unintentional. I was selling them faster than I could take down the listings. Which is eventually what I had to do, take down the listings. I would walk away from the computer for a few hours and come back to see that I had sold 10 of them. I felt panicked because I knew that people were buying them for Christmas presents and I knew it would be bad business to have to contact them to tell them I just didn't have time to make their clutch. As the time got closer to Christmas, I was afraid  people weren't reading the listings to see the time frame and were hoping I was going to ship in time for them to be Christmas presents. So I took down all of the listings. And while I sewed the orders I already committed to, I formulated a new plan.

The two questions I am most emailed about are "Do you have any Travel Clutches that are 'Ready to Ship?" and "When will my Travel Clutch order ship?"  It takes a lot of time to filter through and respond to emails, so these questions were taking up a lot of my time. Since I had not anticipated their popularity, I had not really considered that I could sell more than I could physically produce within my published lead times. Now I know that's possible. I also received some feedback that publishing the lead time as 7-10 business days is confusing. People were glossing over the 'Business' part of the phrase and wondering why I hadn't shipped their order within 7 days. It's more accurate to say that the lead time is 10-14 days.


  1. Beginning in January 2011, everything in the shop will be ready to ship. I will make 6-12 clutches a week and list them every week to build up inventory. I will make them from my most popular fabric choices as well as new fabrics.
  2. A customer will still be able to 'Build Their Own Clutch' and choose their own fabric. This has been wildly popular and I'd be foolish to take it away. Having everything else in stock will allow me to better manage the 'BYO Clutch' aspect. Lead time will be 10-14 business days. If my inventory is very low, or if my week fills up to 12 clutches, the lead time will be extended to 14-28 days. This change will be CLEARLY listed in my shop announcement as well as the individual listing. For good measure, I will also email the customer to make sure they are aware of the extended lead time and they will have the option to choose from a clutch in stock or cancel their order.

I am beyond humbled by this experience. It's hard for me to put into words how rewarding it is to develop a concept, take the concept to market and have that concept be wildly popular. You have no idea how much this success has blessed my family. I am blown away by how excited my customers are to find my shop and love my products. I have several repeat customers and repeat customers are always the best compliment. I am so thankful to have a website like Etsy that allows me to inexpensively take my products and ideas to market. This has been an amazing and exciting year in my family's life. While I am nowhere near perfect, I am a better person having experienced all the highs and lows of running my own business. God inspired the idea to open Owl Say Designs. He provided the means. He has put me in touch with people who have given me wonderful product and business advice. It is through His Grace, that my business succeeds and excels and I would be remiss if I did not place the Glory where it belonged.

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