Sunday, May 16, 2010

The end of all things....


I think I've just about made the decision (for the moment) to put a halt on custom orders. While they have made up around 1/4 of my sales so far, I've decided they suck up way more time than they're worth.

I've had quite a few enquiries about custom orders lately. Often when I tell people I charge an extra $10 for a custom order, people seem to balk at it and change their minds because they find it too expensive. But really $10 is extremely cheap and I should charge a lot more for a custom order. I tell people the extra $10 is for extra materials and labour, but after you've subtracted the cost of additional materials from that, you're really only getting about $6 for labour. These are all the extra things I have to do for that extra $6, just to put it into perspective:

1. Extra correspondence. I usually have to send about 2 or 3 emails (sometimes more) to the buyer. Often it takes some email ping-pong to work out exactly what they're asking for - specific colours, plus often I won't be given the specific dimensions of their laptop eg. I might be given the width and depth measurements, but not the thickness, and I have to send another email to get that information.

2. Drafting a new pattern. I have to take the measurements of their laptop and re-size everything. It's not just a matter of tacking on a few extra cm, or taking a few extra off. I have to scale each part of the laptop sleeve by a percentage, so that's a bunch of extra calculations. For example, I have to work out how big to make the coloured canvas section, how big to make the flap, where to position the elastic loops and buttons so that everything is the same proportion as the original laptop sleeve.

Once all these calculations are done, I then have to mark all the pattern pieces out on paper and cut the pattern out.

3. Stress. I tell people to allow a week for me to make it for them. I fit this in around full-time work, plus a few sporting commitments, and when I have a custom order deadline, it feels like homework. Sometimes I come home and I just want to have a glass of wine and watch tv. When I have a custom order, that takes priority. I'd much rather make products when I feel like it and have them ready to ship when I get the order, rather than rushing around trying to get something finished in time. Also on the subject of stress, usually I don't have something the same size as the customer's laptop, so it stresses me out that I can't check the fit before I send it off to them. So far everything has been fine, but I still get worried that I mis-calculated something and it won't fit.

4. Extra photos. Even though the custom order looks pretty much like the original design I'm basing it on, I still take photos of the actual product for the customer to look at. I'm generally not as stringent with the quality of these photos, but they still take time. With the items I stock in my shop, I have stock photos of all my items so I don't have to take new photos every time I re-list something that's sold.

5. Setting up a new listing. Granted it doesn't take as much time as writing a listing for a new product, but it still takes time to load all the photos and copy the listing from the original.

6. Packaging and posting. Often the custom laptop sleeves are an odd size. I have a bunch of mailing envelopes I use to post the 13" sleeves so when I sell one of those I just grab one from the pile, package it up and off it goes. When I've got a custom sleeve which is bigger than what I usually send, it means a separate trip to the post office to try to find something big enough to post it in. This leads onto the final point....

7. Underestimated postage costs. My 13" sleeves are on that knife's edge, weight-wise. They're really close to 250g, which is the upper limit if you want to send something internationally for $9.30AUD. Often I'll forget that the custom sleeve is bigger and therefore heavier and it'll tip the total weight over 250g, which adds another $6 onto the postage. Usually the postage has already been paid for and I'll have to absorb the extra cost. There goes the extra measly $6 I made for making a custom order in the first place.

So, after weighing all this up, I've decided that all the time I spend doing the above things would be much better spent sewing up stock for my shop, or developing new products or coming up with new designs to screenprint. My shop is not going to develop and expand if I keep spending what little time I have to do all this extra work on custom orders that don't really pay off.

Ahhhh that's a weight off my mind!

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  1. Good vent Ambette and remember you're running a business so don't sell yourself short and remember to pay yourself for all of your time and effort! Oh and I love all of your work, you are one creative wonder.

  2. I think you are well justified dropping custom orders as they sound like a real hassle.

    There is a theory of business I read about a little while ago called 80/20. It basically goes like this: 20% of your customers will take up a disproportionate amount of time and energy, create the most problems and make you the least profit. Whereas the other 80% will not. (Interestingly you identify 25% of sales as 'custom' orders...)

    On top of that the theory goes so far as to point out that it will be the opposite for your most profitable and easy to deal with customers who will make up 20% of the other end.

    The guy who I was reading claimed that if you can identify the 20% of sales that are the easiest and most profitable you should drop the rest and concerntrate on that section only.

  3. I believe, in your case, it was a wise choice to discontinue custom orders. You certainly go through a lot to make a custom order. Your items are lovely.

    In my case, custom orders are fairly simple. My keepsake hearts are all the same size. A customer just picks a theme or color, or asks for ideas from me. As long as they give me time to cut, sew, and keep the line of communication works smoothly.

  4. Yep. I know, I know, I know. Totally with you.

    Wise girl. Great business decision.


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