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Communicating Your Way To Success

With over 35 years in the embroidery industry with particular emphasis on writing, education, and digitizing, Helen Hart Momsen is widely published in the trade press. Momsen founded and moderates the Embroidery Line (www.embroideryline.net), the longest continuously running internet forum for apparel decorators. A sought-after speaker for many years for THE NBM SHOW, Momsen has authored two ground-breaking books on professional embroidery, available at www.Helenhart.com.

Reflections on The Printwear Show season always bring to mind my many wonderful conversations with attendees, both in and out of the seminar setting. One thought that stands out as I reminisce is the importance of communication. I hear so many comments that lead me to believe that there simply isn’t enough of it going on. And when it does happen, it is often incomplete.

Communication is the cornerstone of what we do; after all, we are in the personalization business. It behooves us to ask enough questions to fully understand what the customer wants and, in turn, to educate our customers to the limitations and possibilities of embroidery.

But that’s only part of communication’s requirements. We also need complete understanding between managers, employees and owners, along with precise dialogue with our digitizers, whether in-house or independent.

There are a lot of words strewn along the path between the moments the order is first discussed and when it is completed and delivered into the hands of what we hope will be a happy, loyal customer. We need to make sure those words are exact, easily and completely understood by all who participate in the journey. Proper and precise communication makes for clear understanding, accurate instruction and perfect outcome.

Communicating with customers and staff

When the customer arrives with goods in his hands or an idea in his head, you are the professional who will guide him along the way. There are questions you need to ask in order that the finished product will be exactly what he wants. You will shine as the provider not only of quality stitching, but also of precise production in regard to garment choice, color, size, placement, thread choices and more. This is truly a case where more is better. An order form with room for every piece of information is a must. (See the order form I use at www.HartForms.com or www.HelenHart.com.) When the customer comes back with a repeat order, you should be able to access vendor information (including phone numbers, pricing and customer ID), design specifics, thread choices, placement measurements-—anything and everything that will make it possible to duplicate that order with minimum questions to the client. When it appears that you “remember” everything about an order, the customer feels important, and the goal is to always make each client feel like your only client.

This same information needs to be communicated to any managers, machine operators or staff who will handle the goods as they pass through production. Nothing can be more frustrating to a machine operator than to have no directions on design placement. The finishers need to know if the goods are to be steamed, folded and bagged or placed on hangers. How are shirt orders to be sorted? By size, name, color?

Efficiency is the name of this production game and you are responsible for seeing to it that the questions are asked and answered and that the information is further (and accurately) communicated to any and all who will participate in the process.

Communicating with the digitizer

When you are the customer and the digitizer is the professional, the same rules apply. It is no more up to your customer to know that different fabrics require different backings or what size hoop to use than it is up to you, the stitcher, to instinctively know that different threads require different density or stitch length, or what underlay is needed. Your digitizer should teach you what information she needs, just as any screen printer you employ on a contract basis should teach you how to communicate with your customer so the required information is secured to complete the job properly.

In my seminars, when the subject is thread, we discuss what is available for stitching; this includes metallic thread, heavier #30-weight threads and lighter #60-weight threads. We talk about how to use each thread to create the best effect and what needles to choose. Many are excited to learn that a simple switch to a thinner thread can make an amazing difference in the clarity and beauty of small lettering and details. Thicker threads can create dimension and character: a realistic tail for a horse or a fuzzy mustache for a cowboy.

We also talk about how more density may be required when using the lighter threads and less with the thicker, and how the thicker thread likes to mosey around larger curves and can misbehave when forced to turn sharp corners.

“So, should I tell my digitizer that I am planning to use metallic? Or #60-weight? Or a heavy, fuzzy acrylic thread?” Inevitably, such questions arise, and I am amazed to learn that veterans and newbies alike are dealing with what they assume are professional digitizers yet these issues often go undiscussed. The answer, of course is a resounding yes.  The digitizer needs to know where in the design the different specialty threads will be used. The target fabric should be discussed and any samples should be embroidered on the same fabric for which the design is destined in the final stitching.

Stock designs are digitized for the average, most commonly used, #40-weight thread, but may need some editing if metallic is substituted for a highlight, thicker or thinner threads are used for details or dimensional effects. It sure would be nice if we could order the stock design with our specialty threads included in the equation (and not pay an editing fee). But we learn as we progress in our knowledge of stitching when to alter the density or the stitch lengths to compensate for special thread choices. The sew-outs tell the story.

A professional digitizer asks the questions that lead to a quality design that takes into account all the variables. This includes not only the target fabric (a need-to-know for density, pull compensation and other design decisions) but also the thread. If your digitizer of choice is not asking the questions, there is something wrong with the picture.

There is a chapter in my first book Professional Embroidery: Business by Design (www.HelenHart.com), on communicating with a digitizer (“Speaking Digiteze”) and I have many times devoted my column to this subject, as it tells you what the digitizer should be asking. I am totally confused by digitizers who don’t ask the questions. This is definitely a situation where less is not more. When it comes to digitizing, the more information the better.

When you see your physician, he asks probing questions and recommends tests and/or medication. If you are doing the research and recommending the right pill or the necessary diagnostic test, I dare say you would consider consulting another physician.

If you are comfortable educating a digitizer who does not request pertinent information about thread and fabric, perhaps your present relationship will do. If you are not, you need to find a digitizer who will be proactive about communication.

Your digitizer should also discuss with you the copyright issues concerning your designs. Unless and until he transfers the rights to your custom design to you in writing, they remain the legal property of the one who creates the stitch file. Your digitizer should be aware of the legalities that affect copyright ownership. He should have a price that includes the transfer of those rights to the one who orders the design. If he does not know the rules governing the ownership of the copyright or if he tells you “it doesn’t matter,” you have a situation that needs to be addressed. Don’t leave the ownership of your designs to chance or to the whims of the custom digitizer. The custody of the designs you order should be clear: You should make sure they are legally part of your business and you should be free to sell/transfer them to your customer if you choose to do so.

Communication equals professionalism

Whether you are acting as the client or the contractor, there is information that must be exchanged in order to achieve the desired result. Your garment customer would not feel secure in your role as expert if you failed to gather all the pertinent facts to process an order, or if you left it up to her to guide you through the Q&A that would supply said information.

It is just as off-putting when the digitizer fails to secure the information from the embroiderer or when the embroiderer is placed in the position of having to know what to tell the digitizer so the design can be produced properly. It is your choice whether you continue to patronize a digitizer who doesn’t ask for the necessary facts to perform his service, or fails to discuss copyright considerations with you.

And a word to those who would like to supply digitizing, whether as an add-on to an embroidery service or as a stand-alone service: You need to guide your digitizing client though the information maze so you know every necessary fact about the target fabric and the thread choices. If you fail to do that you are supplying a “generic” type of service that offers nothing more than does an impersonal stock-design book. Custom digitizing is a personal service.  Ask the questions and secure the answers that make your design the answer to the client’s needs. That’s the difference between offering a personal service or an impersonal product. Service is the name of the game and communication is the key to providing the best service possible.

My hugs this month go out to my seat belt, and to all the people who helped deliver me from what could have been a fatal car wreck. I send hugs to the unknown firemen who cut me out of the truck and to the doctors and nurses who helped me endure what seemed unendurable, then tried to soothe away the memories of sounds that haunt me still. To all the people who prayed for me and kept me company during some dark hours and still, as I write this, make a slow recuperation manageable, I send thanks and enduring gratitude.

Please, wear your seat belt! I am here to write this column this month because I did.

—HHM