When should you hire a full time pattern maker? pt.2

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on May 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm / Operations, Patterns / Trackback

Wanting to center the focus of scaling your business growth pragmatically in hiring your first full time pattern maker, I decided to add a part two rather than leaving a comment on part one.

Rocio was first to comment and brought up what I was hoping someone would. She said adding a pattern maker is a good step once average weekly invoices of pattern services would equal the cost of a pattern maker’s salary. Her point of weekly invoices is good in that it eliminates companies who do short term product development although I would imagine that most companies fitting that profile wouldn’t have the financial wherewithal to consider the option.

Doing this sort of cost calculation of outside services versus what it would cost internally has been a traditional barometer but I wonder if it is a good one for two reasons:

1. Companies typically ration outgoing work, their actual need is greater than invoice history would show. It is easy to say they do that because they are cheap but it often has more to do with hassles (transaction costs) associated with assigning work. Either the package isn’t ready, a key person is out, a sketch isn’t ready, fabric isn’t in, somebody doesn’t understand, there are misunderstandings and projects are delayed. If you had a pattern maker in house, these issues are smoothed over on an ad hoc basis.

2. It is also more common that a company will make do internally with a pattern that really should be modified however slightly but doing a cost benefit analysis, figure it’s not worth sending out. It may not be but not having taken that path, they really don’t know what the savings would have been. One can estimate but let’s be frank; they mostly cannot know because the same skill set needed to assess the savings is the same skill set that can do the work -which is the whole point of this discussion in that they don’t have those skills in house. My summary conclusion is that one should reconsider using invoice totals as a make or break decision point. Perhaps when invoices amount to 65%-75% of what it would cost to bring someone in is better?

Misc thoughts:
Rocio and Esther both mentioned the challenges of a pattern maker assuming production duties which can’t be minimized. Optimally, this would be worked out. Your traditional pattern maker won’t want the responsibility of production manager but if you get someone younger who is panting for an opportunity and is otherwise sane, first hand experience with production constraints will make their pattern work awesome. You’ll save a bundle because over time, patterns will be made better at the outset with fewer revisions needed later on.

Rocio mentioned that a pattern maker with the skills to grade, make markers and manage production would be about $90K. This is an unfortunate reality in high cost of living cities but it could be substantively less in outlying areas, maybe as much as 30% less (she squeaks).

7 Responses to “When should you hire a full time pattern maker? pt.2”

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David S.
May 9th, 2012
8:48 PM

I’m not in the sewn product industry. I’m merely a hobbyist who finds the industrial side of sewing fascinating and often applicable to what I want to do as a hobbyist. But there’s an interesting similarity here with what I do, and the position my company is in.

I’m in software. I work for a relatively small company, but a stable one, with a nice product in a nice market niche. I’ve been arguing that we need to hire someone to particular internal tasks (or get an existing employee to do them, and hire someone to do what they currently do.) We have the skills internally to do them, and by-and-large, they get done. Not always quickly, not always as well, or as well documented, as we might like, but they do get done. The objection is that it’s not a full time work load, but only between 20 and 50% of one. (Hiring a contractor or a consultant for that much work would cost about what a salaried employee costs, and finding a part time person isn’t likely. And there are transaction costs there, too.) I’ve been arguing that while that’s true, there’s a bunch of big things that we’d like to do, but haven’t happened because they’re too big for someone who has other pressing tasks. My argument has been, and continues to be, that having a person who did the projects on the backlog, and took care of the day-to-day stuff (which is mostly fire fighting) would not only make everyone else enough more productive that it would be worth it to pay him to watch cat videos half the day, but that there’s a lot of work that we don’t know exists. Having the employee around to do it would mean that it got done, and we’d see improvements in the product, and in the support we provide for it, and that a better product is easier to sell and can command a higher price. I haven’t yet convinced the people that sign the checks that that’s the case, but I’ll keep trying.

Conor Neu
May 9th, 2012
10:15 PM

I’ve always thought that 60-70% is about the right number. Once you are spending that much on an outsourced specific position as a percentage of them as salaried worker, bring them in house. The extra 30% gets made up and more with the extra time they can spend on other similar tasks, plus the added value that comes from their knowledge that carries over to other workers and the product. As David says, even if they spend 30% of their time watching cat videos, it can still be worth it.

I don’t necessarily agree that the patternmaker has to become the production manager. Many argue that one of the main problems with larger corporations these days is the problem of promoting skilled labor into managerial positions. Some people just love what they do and are great at it, be it programming computers or making patterns, and are not good at managing people or products, or do not like or want to do so. Just because they become more senior, does not necessarily mean they need to be promoted to a management position.

Of course it is an option if the person is qualified and interested in doing so, but I don’t think that should be the default mentality.

louise
May 10th, 2012
5:28 AM

“their actual need is greater than invoice history would show.”

Also, would it be fair to assume that a contractor is potentially MORE expensive than an in-house resource? I would guess that a contractor has to build into their prices a buffer as a contingency against periods where they aren’t actually working.

Sarah_H
May 10th, 2012
6:58 AM

David S. Send me contact info. My husband John is a programmer, slated for retirement soon and looking for something to do roughly 3 days a week. He has been in computers almost from year 1. What set of skills are you looking for?

Alison Cummins
May 10th, 2012
8:55 AM

While it may be hard to get a permanent new hire for work that you’re already managing to get done, it may be possible to make a business case for a contractor for new work that you would like to but can’t because of resource limitations. When presented this way it’s easier to get a yes because there’s a defined business case and there’s a built-in limitation around a specific project. If the project goes well, they could be offered a permanent position that would improve all-around performance.

Ideally the new resource would bring in new skills, but if that’s not possible they could handle lower-skilled work while someone internally took on the new project.

Kathleen
May 10th, 2012
9:35 AM

Many argue that one of the main problems with larger corporations these days is the problem of promoting skilled labor into managerial positions.

I didn’t know this was a common problem. I’ve read it is a critical problem with the US Postal Service.

Some people just love what they do and are great at it, be it programming computers or making patterns, and are not good at managing people or products, or do not like or want to do so. Just because they become more senior, does not necessarily mean they need to be promoted to a management position.

I strongly agree, I’m one of these people who will quit when threatened with a promotion. More money, challenges, perks? I’ll take all that but being held accountable for the performance of others? No thanks. I don’t have those skills and besides, I just want to focus on my job.

When I mentioned a hybrid patternmaker/production manager position as a possible solution, my idea was that it be temporary. A lot of people have no problem hiring a production manager or supervisor but the failure arises in that they tend to look for a manager type person as opposed to someone with hands on comprehensive skills that are critically needed in the smallest of enterprises.

There is greater advantage to hiring a pattern maker who can assume some production duties because greater savings and efficiencies can be realized, which will make the financial possibility of hiring a production manager happen that much faster. The same cannot be said for the opposite. I see a lot of small companies who are making do with a production manager who doesn’t have the skill sets to increase efficiencies that would then permit the hiring of a pattern maker. A lot of companies get stuck at precisely this point, it seems more common than not and I wonder if the relationship is not coincidental. The growth of these companies seems to freeze or stall -until they become acquired, take on a fresh business partner or get out of business.

So yes Conor I agree with you and feel that way personally but I also see what could be a detrimental predominate pattern in companies with fewer than 20 employees. Or as in the case of my example from pt.1, 25 employees.

Rocio
May 12th, 2012
2:07 PM

Well, this conversation has certainly given me lots to think about, so here it is:

1. I think the problem a lot of companies face (not limited to our industry) is that they are simply NOT STRUCTURED to operate efficiently
Even if you have the BEST patternmaker in house, (without the proper company structure) this person may still not be able to find time to focus on patterns or production issues
We’ve had a few accounts who have hired a pattern maker to work in-house only to realize that the efficient management of those patterns (which is part of our service) can add up to a 2nd salary if they don’t have the proper mechanisms in place

2. Invoices amounting to 65%-75% of what it would cost to bring someone seems like a good starting point to consider adding another person to payroll

3. I think the challenge for a company nowhere near a garment district is that their options are limited:

A) When jobs dried up in locations outside of garment districts, anyone who wanted to stay in the industry MOVED to a garment district
If a company requires someone VERY experienced (who can assume responsibility for patterns and production with a minimum level of supervision or training) then their best bet is to entice someone to re-locate and make them an offer they can’t refuse (which will probably be something in-line with what they can already get in the high cost of living cities where remaining garment districts are)

B) I know that we all have to start somewhere, but if I hadn’t been working under the supervision of many generous production pattern makers and managers who were there to “catch me”, I could have cost my employer hundreds of thousands of dollars (regardless of my enthusiasm, youth, sanity or strong work ethic)

I’ve found that a “production patternmaker” who hasn’t worked in a company where they are accountable for production problems is not ready to take over the responsibility of being the ONLY pattern maker in a company…
This criterial will rule out anyone who didn’t have a minimum of 3 years experience as a Production Patternmaker for domestic manufacturers by 2005 (which is the year EVERYBODY made the mad rush to China)

While the long term gains of bringing patterns in-house are substantial, they may not be enough to recover from the losses of having a patternmaker without enough practical experience to handle production challenges and anticipate the outcome of their decisions

We all know that the ability to anticipate outcomes ONLY comes with experience

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