A big challenge of my made-to-order business is managing stock. I hold very little finished product. Instead, I have rolls of linen, and when something sells, we cut and make it.
I ‘guesstimate’ how much fabric I have left and adjust stock on the website accordingly. This is difficult if I only have enough fabric for one quilt cover. Do I make it a double, queen or king? What about pillowcases or a tablecloth? I keep a close eye on it, usually adjusting it weekly – but sometimes even daily.
If I held one or two pieces of everything in every colour option, it would literally cost me tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a chunk of my very precious cash flow that could be better utilised.
As the business has grown, so have the product lines and colour options. It’s got to the point where I can’t keep every colour in stock all the time and managing all these options is painful.
During peak seasons, when a lot of different things are selling really quickly, I live in a constant state of fear of selling something I don’t actually have in stock.
During the last few months of slow time, while learning to be a parent, I’ve been able to think about things. It’s amazing where your mind goes while rocking a cranky baby to sleep at 3am…
Keeping it simple and producing a high-quality product is really important to me. It also has to be fun. I shouldn’t stress myself out trying to manage and make a million different products. Make a few things. And make them really well.
Here are some of the goals / values I came up with when starting Mr. Draper. I’ve recently been reflecting on them:
- Make amazing products for a few amazing people
- Be fair and honest
- Choose your customers
- Don’t do debt
- Love what you do.
I have two linen suppliers at the moment - Merchant and Mills and Siulas. The dye process used with some of the Merchant and Mills linen is a garment / piece dye process, followed by an enzyme wash to create a faded colour.
This creates some unique colours and finishes but can also be inconsistent. Each roll is different as each roll is dyed separately. Colours vary more than a few shades. This makes it tough for people buying online. It has also led to some really annoying inconsistencies in the colour as the linen ages.
My newer linen, from Siulas, uses a yarn dyed process. The fabric strands are dyed before the fabric is woven. This gives a really reliable colour and so far is bulletproof in terms of fading and ageing inconsistencies.
As far as I know, I’m one of the few linen brands that use fabrics made by this process. Almost everyone uses garment / piece dyed fabrics. Yarn-dyed is more expensive, the minimums are larger and it’s harder.
But the colour doesn’t run; it doesn’t get splotchy. Two years on, my bedding looks the same as the day I made it. The only way you learn these things is through time and observation.
It’s with that thinking that I’m reducing my colour options and will begin working exclusively with the Siulas yarn-dyed linens. It’s only a very small percentage of products that have issues with the garment dye process but knowing there ‘could’ be an issue is not something I’m comfortable with.
This will mean less colour options in the short term. But after some reflection, I’m actually fine with it. Each colour choice I make should be meaningful and considered. I want to make a timeless product. It also reduces some of my inventory headaches and reaffirms in my mind that I’m producing the best product possible.
There are more business changes on the way to make Mr. Draper an even more innovative and interesting Australian brand. I’m so excited to be sharing this journey with you.
Until next time though. x.