Monthly Archives: September 2014

How to Make a Good Soft Goods Tech Pack

Have an idea for a bag design and want to get quotes from a soft goods manufacturer? One of the first things they will ask you for is the “tech pack” for your design, so they can make a sample of the bag to see how complicated/time-consuming it will be to produce. The tech pack generally consists of three things:

1) Sketches of the design concept with material call-outs. For simple designs, this can be a simple three-quarters view sketch that shows the front, side and top. Additional sketches may be needed to show how a pocket opens or other such details. Be sure to include stitch lines.

Example of Bag Sketch

Example of product sketch with material call-outs

2) Orthographic / elevation drawings with dimensions. I take pride in providing our suppliers with very detailed drawings that leave little room for guesswork. This forces me to think through all the bag’s details in advance of sharing the concept with the supplier, which in turn helps the factory produce samples quicker and easier.

Example of Bag Orthographic

Example of Detailed Orthographic Drawings

3) Bill of Materials (BOM). Again, the more detail you can provide here, the better off you will be. The factory may use other materials for the initial sample but it will always be clear what you are intending for the final product.

Example of Detailed Bill of Materials (BOM)

Example of Detailed Bill of Materials (BOM)


How long should the tech pack be?
Most of my tech packs are three pages long, one page for each item above. More complicated designs may require additional pages to explain some of the details and features. There is no limit to how many pages you can include, but in my experience, the more concise you can make things, the better.

What software do you use?
We do all of our technical drawings in Illustrator. I’m quite reliant on using its “Smart Guides” feature to quickly align objects, to find intersections and anchor points and to see measurements as I draw. I first draw everything full-size on a large artboard and then scale it down proportionately to fit on a letter-sized piece of paper. There is also an Illustrator CADtools plug-in that helps with dimensioning and material call-outs.

Besides the orthographic drawings, we make our BOM in Excel and then share it all with our factory as a multi-page PDF.

How do you show updates and revisions?
After you receive your sample, you’ll probably want to make some revisions. I’ve found the best way to do this is to clearly mark everything that is changed on the next version of the tech pack so that the sample maker can quickly see what needs to be done differently.

Do you have to create a pattern?
No, thankfully in bag design, you do not have to create the pattern. The sample maker figures this out based on your tech pack.

What if I’m unsure about what materials to spec?
If you don’t specify the materials, the factory will tend to use either what they have lying around or what they can get at a good price. In other words, they’ll use what’s easiest for them and not necessarily what’s best for your design. Therefore, I always try to specify something. If you have a sample of a material but you don’t know what it is called, send the sample and ask them to find something similar and include the “Sample Fabric A” in the BOM until you have a better name for it.

Is collaboration lost if you are being so “prescriptive” and “detailed”?
While we designers revel in concept development and iterative prototyping, you have to remember that factories make money from production, not sample making, and therefore every effort to streamline the sampling process is greatly appreciated. Expect collaboration to take the form of factories offering suggestions on how to make your design more efficient to produce.

It took me awhile to learn this. My first job was making bags for Arctic Zone, whose biggest customer was Wal-Mart. We constantly made samples without nary a grumble from the factory because they knew a huge order was the pay-off. With small companies, like Po Campo, there is no assurance of a huge order, or any order for that matter, at the end of the sampling process, so factories are much less interested in endless sampling. I have found working relationships best if we can get to the final prototype within 2-3 rounds of sample making.

Do you prepare the tech pack the same for both domestic and overseas manufacturers?
Yes. With native English speakers, there is less risk of things getting lost in translation, but I have found the importance of a concise tech pack to be the same regardless of where the factory is based.


Any other questions? Please leave in the comments below. Do you do things differently? I’d love to hear from your experience, as I’m largely self-taught.

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How to Use Google Trends to Select Keywords

I was recently updating the product descriptions, page titles and meta descriptions on Po Campo’s e-commerce site to be more search engine friendly.

The first thing I did was research keywords in Google’s keyword planner to find product types and descriptions with the coveted combination of high search frequency and low competition. Po Campo makes a niche product, which means I don’t expect people to search for products like ours a thousand of times per month. Rather, I look for words or phrases that are searched for about a hundred times per month and have a “medium” competitive rating.

Occasionally you find yourself with a few options of keywords that describe the same thing and are similarly appealing from a search frequency and competition perspective. One example of this for me was how to describe the synthetic leather on our bags. “Vegan Leather”, “Faux Leather”, and “Synthetic Leather” are all searched for a decent amount of times and have a low to medium competitive rating. So which should I use in our product descriptions? A mix or stick to one? To answer that question, I checked with Google Trends.

GoogleTrends

By comparing similar descriptions for fake leather, I learned that “faux leather” is clearly trending, so I updated all of our product descriptions to include that phrase.

With all else being equal, try using Google Trends to understand where the popularity of certain keywords is going so that you don’t choose keywords that are going out of favor. Plus, it’s fun!

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The Value of Offering a Lifetime Guarantee

Po Campo offers a lifetime warranty on its products, which is kind of unusual for a fashion oriented brand. We started doing that in early 2013, despite not drastically changing our products to go from 3 year warranty to lifetime warranty. Does that seem odd? Keep reading.

Like must industrial designers, making quality product is important to me. Nothing upsets me more than the thought of bringing crappy things into the world that end up in a landfill after a few months. But how do you know you’re making quality products? This is trickier than I thought it would be.

Since the word “quality” is subjective, defining and specifying it isn’t straightforward, especially in soft goods where there a lot of places to cut corners or make substitutions. With every production run, I learn something new about what to source or specify because something new goes wrong. And often times what goes wrong is not apparent at first, only when products are used a lot and don’t hold up. Then you have justifiably angry customers, which upsets me because I feel I owe my customers more than that.

What I realized last year was that even though it bummed me out to hear about problems with the bags, we were really dependent on learning about the issues so we would know what to fix on the next production run. Some people will tell you if they’re having problems on their own volition, but a lot of people won’t tell you and will instead just think you make junky stuff, which is the last thing I want to happen.

I thought to myself, “How can I find out about every and all problem our customers are having with our products?”. Then it hit me: a lifetime warranty!

Since implementing the lifetime warranty, the number of returns and emails have definitely gone up, which is exactly what I wanted to happen. One or two issues that I thought were minor or rare turned out to be more common than I had expected, so we made fixing them a priority.

Now that I’ve accepted that everything is pretty much a work in progress, I’m focused on constantly iterating to make all our bags better and better. Eventually we will get to the point where returns are few and far between. We’re working towards that.

If you make your own products, how do you learn about people’s experiences with them? What kind of warranty do you offer, and why?

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How To Get Your Product Into Stores

It’s common nowadays to launch your product on Kickstarter or a Shopify store, but neither of those options were really around when I launched Po Campo in 2009. Getting our bags in physical stores was our main sales strategy when we were starting out.

That first summer, Po Campo was available in about a dozen stores in Chicago, which was a good start and we really have just built on that. One of the most common questions I get is “how do I get my product in stores?”. Well, this is how I did it!

 

Step One: Make a List of Stores to Approach
I made a list of about 20 shops that I thought Po Campo would be a good fit in, based on where I and my friends liked to shop, since we were my intended consumer. I also thought about which brands were complementary to Po Campo, in terms of style and pricepoint, found out where they were locally being sold and added those stores to the list. Small, independent shops are much easier to cold-call and get into than larger chains, so start there.

Step Two: Research
Before you start walking into stores, do some research on how to build out your sales program with wholesale pricing, minimums and terms. To find this information out, I asked store owners and other product companies about what they do. I have found people to be very helpful and forthcoming with this information, so don’t feel weird about asking. Specifically:

  • What is your wholesale price? This can vary by product category and industry. For bags like mine, the wholesale price is half of the retail price (this is called keystone).
  • What is your minimum opening order? Is there a minimum reorder? This is usually based on a quantity (e.g. minimum of 10 pcs) or a dollar amount (e.g. minimum of $500). Based on my research, I chose to do a minimum starting order of 6 pieces, so enough to make a decent Po Campo display but not too much to make it seem like a big commitment for a small shop, who doesn’t want extra inventory lying around with no place to store it. We don’t have a reorder minimum because we want our retailers to feel free to place special orders for customers.
  • What are your payment terms? The basic options here are:
    • Due on receipt (pay right away). The faster you can get paid, the better. Our first orders were pretty small (less than $300), so most shops were okay with starting out this way. You can use Square or PayPal to take credit cards right away; the ease of credit cards more than makes up for the cut the credit card companies takes, in my opinion.
    • Net 30 (pay in 30 days). This is pretty standard but I suggest doing a credit check before you give anyone product as it is practically impossible to get it back if they don’t pay. Old school credit checks require the store to first fill out a credit application, then you contact their references to see how good they are about paying on time. The process feels antiquated (although effective), so now Po Campo uses Cortera, which costs money but is quicker.
    • Consignment (pay when the product sells). Small shops love this because it is essentially risk-free for them but that puts all the risk on you, plus it is a pain in the butt to manage. Therefore, I wouldn’t even offer this option and focus your attention on stores with enough cash to buy the product outright.

 

Step Three: Build Your Materials
Put together a (preferably one page) line sheet with:

  • Product drawing or photo with item number, dimensions, brief description, color options (if any)
  • Retail and wholesale price
  • Minimum order amount
  • Order deadline
Older 2010 line sheet on left, latest 2015 line sheet on right

Older 2010 line sheet on left, latest 2015 line sheet on right

I’ve found that it is immensely helpful to have a sample with you, even if it isn’t perfect. Samples about 90% of the way there are good enough.

A lookbook or catalog is nice but not necessary when you are just starting out. At this stage, you are the best representation of your brand. Introducing your product in person does more to sell your brand than a lookbook ever could.

Step Four: Start Selling
You’re ready to start going door-to-door! This is great practice for honing your pitch and learning how to clearly communicate the most interesting aspects of your product/brand. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be hard on yourself if your first visits are clunky. Here’s what I did:

  1. Find the owner/buyer and ask for a few minutes of her time, or schedule a time to come back. You’ll really only need 5-10 minutes.
  2. In a few (rehearsed) sentences, tell her about your brand and why you designed the product the way you did. Let her play around with the sample, answer her questions, go over the items on the line sheet.
  3. If she seems interested, ask for the sale by saying something like “Can I get an order going for you?”. It may seem a little confrontational, but trust me, it’s necessary. Few people will just say, “This is great, I’ll take 10!”.
  4. Leave your line sheet behind, maybe with your business card stapled to it, so she has a concrete memento of your visit. Get her email address and send her an email later that day to thank her for her time and to confirm her order or suggest an order based on what you talked about.

And if she says she’s not interested? You have to train yourself to hear “not yet” whenever you hear “no”. Jot down why she said no (might just be timing or wrong color) so you know when to go back to her in the future. Then move on to the next store on your list.

Okay, that’s it! In some ways it feels like a numbers game, in that you’ll get a new customer for every 4 qualified stores (or whatever) that you visit. Try to make your pitch a little better every time by listening to questions people have and noticing what they are responding to, both positively and negatively.

Good luck and share your experiences!

 

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