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Hold the Phone—How to Handle Rush Apparel Orders

Hold the Phone—How to Handle Rush Apparel Orders

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If your distributorship or decorating shop was a 24/7 establishment with  rotating shifts, rush orders most likely wouldn’t be an issue.

Your business probably doesn’t operate that way though—but you work in an industry climate where rush is already the norm, plus the new consumer expectation: Thank you, Amazon, for your “you ordered it five minutes ago, and it’s here” kind of service.

The good news is that your company can handle rush orders with ease, if you plan ahead. Here are seven simple ways to master rush orders.

1. Cross-train your staff to pitch in when rush season hits.

No doubt, all year long you’ll encounter periods of rush orders, but if you’ve been in business long enough, you know when those happen on the regular, say in August right before school starts or late November and all of December for the holiday rush. To prep for those times, cross-train your staff so they can all pitch in when you need to print or embroider a slew of “need-it-yesterday” orders and get them out the door.


2. Be realistic about saying yes or no.

While it may be in your nature to say yes to every order, pause for a moment and consider some numbers. What’s your average production rate per hour for embroidery? How long does it take you to digitize a left-chest design or burn screens?  You’ll need to know those time frames so you can realistically add a rush order to your roster. In addition, when that client calls, have your list of questions ready. For example: Do we have the blanks you want us to decorate in stock? Are we embroidering a left-chest design or a full hoodie back? Are we digitizing the artwork? Where should the order be shipped? Then, work backward from the in-hand date to see if you can commit to the order.

Your friendly bottom line: If your clients don’t come through on their end, their rush job could be delayed.

3. It’s OK to say “No, but what about ...”

It happens to every distributor or decorator at some point: A customer will show up with a job that you just can’t fulfill. Smart sellers will always advise you to offer a solution based on what you can offer. Let’s say your regular client asks you to embroider a left-chest logo on 750 polos by the end of the day. While you may be tempted to say, “Are you kidding?” offer a palatable alternative: Promise 250 shirts by day’s end, and the rest completed the next day. For each job, consider the most viable option that will work for your team and your customer.


4. Plan ahead with your team.

Some shops actually designate a team member or two to be the point people on rush orders. Whether or not you decide to do that, it’s important to make sure all of your staffers know what’s expected when a rush order arrives: details about the job, deadlines or the amount of extra labor required to complete it on time. That means that no matter who takes the order, those critical details will be included on the work order to move it through the pipeline. In addition, get your team in the mindset of getting ahead where they can on rush orders: For example, if it’s a screen-printing order, mix the PMS ink colors in advance. Anything that you can do while you’re waiting to move onto the next step is a step in the right direction.

5. Get on the same page with your clients.

It’s super professional of you to let your clients know what obstacles you might have to overcome to fulfill their orders. That’s also why your shop’s rush-order point people should check in with your production staff to ascertain whether there’s overtime or other added costs they’ll need to pick up. Before you start the job, itemize any extra charges plus your standard rush fee and ask the client to sign off on the work order. In addition, on that same order, ask them to acknowledge that they’ll uphold their end of the deal, such as providing information, approving art or dropping off blanks by certain deadlines. Your friendly bottom line: If your clients don’t come through on their end, their rush job could be delayed.

Your shop’s rush-order point people should check in with your production staff to ascertain whether there’s overtime or other added costs they’ll need to pick up.

6. Then, stay in touch with your clients.

That is, talk to them on social media, on the phone, in person and via e-surveys. Find out what their challenges are and how you might be able to help them avoid rush orders in the future: One way is to help them plan our their year by quarter, if possible, so they can decide on their decorated-apparel needs as far in advance as possible. Plus, kudos to you if you watch industry trends or reach out well before holidays or other occasions to prompt your clients to start thinking about their future needs. That’s why if you approach your customer around the time they want to buy, you’ll increase your chances of success.


7. Brainstorm with your staff.

When you’re not in a crazy rush period, sit down with your team and talk about the pain points in your company’s process for handling rush orders. Are your customer service reps familiar enough with your production schedule to comfortably fit rush orders in, for example? Are there recurring challenges that you could mitigate by changing something in your workflow? Ask staffers to note down issues they encounter along the way to bring to these group-thinks.

Taking on rush orders can definitely add dollars to your bottom line, especially if you tack on a reasonable rush fee. However, you need to handle these quick-turn jobs in a way that doesn’t overtax your team. With a little planning, rush orders could be one of your business’s new best friends.

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