Behind The Scenes – Production

For those of you who don’t already know, I (Sierra), make all of the jewelry here at Manic Trout in my Austin studio. Over the years, I have brought in various artisans to do piece work for me, but I always make to sure to finish each piece as a way to ensure the high standards you are used to with the jewelry.

The question I am most often asked is how I manage to do this, so I thought I would share the how today and with it, a bit of the why.

We’ll start with a little business lesson. I design 4 collections a year and each collection is made up of 12-24 designs. When I design a collection, I know that about 20% of those designs will sell the most (this is a basic rule in business, 20% of your product line generates 80% of sales). I know that a few pieces of the 80% are ones that I designed intentionally to spark interest a bit more than the others. These pieces have the role of grabbing attention with their fun color, a super unique design element or a mixture of both but they may not sell like gangbusters. The others that are not flying off the shelves may just be less loved than the 20% and cannot compete. I never know exactly what it is that makes the 20% the winners, but I’m happy that I at least normally hit that mark.

To launch the collection I need the prototype which when I finalize the design is usually the first “sample”. Samples are used to photograph, to send to magazines, to be on display at trade shows and all of that awesomeness. Depending on how many reps or or showrooms I’m working with and if I’m using a pr firm at the time, I create additional sample sets of the entire collection to give to each of these outlets.

Over the years, I’ve had to produce 5 or 6 sample sets of each collection to just get out there before I even launch, but some years if I’m not working with any of these, I only have to produce the initial sample set, it just depends on where I am focusing at a given time. This also gives you more insight into the sample sale that I hold twice a year. It’s why there are tons of some designs available in that sale and so few of others. Now you know that they are available in waves of the seasons as I will receive them back from an outlet all at once and list them in the next sale.

The day of the launch, I try to have the jewelry room stocked with at least 5 of each piece in the collection, so that I can quickly get the first round of orders out. Once inventory begins to lower, I will be able to get a feel for which jewelry will be the 20% big sellers, and which will be the 80% ok ones.

I will then plan future production based on how pieces perform. So some designs I may want 10+ pieces on hand at all times and some only 3. This can be influenced by press hits or like when Penelope Garcia was wearing Manic Trout on Criminal Minds last year. I worked with the show many month before the episodes aired, but I only knew which pieces the show had, not the final decision of what she would wear. This is common with tv and press, you really have no idea what the end result will be. Preparing for it can only be done to a certain degree, but you do know the options you sent usually, so I knew to keep an eye on the inventory of those pieces and to be ready to produce more quickly.

Now I’ll explain why I try really hard no longer over produce. I may not be working with precious gems, but I do work with gemstones and find it better profit wise to not keep more gemstones than needed in the studio. Basically I want to have on hand enough inventory and materials to fill orders for a few weeks, knowing I can order more materials as needed. Note here that sometimes I see a gemstone cut in a limited run or where I can only by a limited amount. In these cases, I will purchase a large enough amount of the stones, for say 25 to 50 necklaces and just deal with knowing that I may sell out that design fast. Also, loose gemstones can be resold (I have a surplus shop on Etsy for that purpose) for what I bought them for.

Here’s why it’s much, much better to have an overage of raw materials than jewelry that has not sold. There have been times when due to the (finally passing) trend of flash sale sites, I have been required to have a high quantity of specific finished pieces on hand for an upcoming sale. As the turnover/ship time is really quick on these and the quantity needed higher than what I keep in inventory, I would have to purchase the materials and make larger than normal quantities of each design before the sale.

These partnerships, like everything else, had their pros and cons. The pro being that you could make a quick, large profit really fast. The con was that if not all of the jewelry sold, you were stuck with it. Typically, I would be approached by a buyer for one of these sites and they would have already selected the designs they wanted. Almost always, they would have picked only the pieces that are the most exciting colors and unique designs and ignore the sparkly neutrals (which are what most women actually wear). This unfortunately would mean that I would in the end be left with inventory that I knew would not sell quickly. The up side is that I learned this early on and would try and direct the buyers to what I knew sold, making the situation better for everyone involved, but overages still happened.

As risky as these situations could be, they taught me a few invaluable lessons:

  1. How much inventory I was comfortable sitting on.
  2. As I was producing thousands of pieces of jewelry in a couple of weeks, made me even faster at making it.
  3. How to batch production the most efficiently, schedule out the work and be very aware of realistic time limitations.

Thanks to years of learning how to be fast and efficient for large production from flash site sales, I now batch like this:

  1. I create a list of everything that has to be made and all materials needed.
  2. Any materials not in stock are ordered.
  3. All charms and gems/beads are gathered in paper bowls. I have been using these for years as they stack well, keep everything contained and are easily replaced if they get dirty or loose shape.
  4. All metal pieces are drilled, filed and polished.
  5. All loops are made on either side of hole in each bead, 1 gemstone/color at a time.
  6. The materials are divided into a separate bowl for each individual piece of jewelry. The bowls are stacked by design and then style, so all animal necklaces together in a stack, with the River Water Necklaces in their own section of the stack, all hoop earrings, etc.
  7. The findings are brought to the table for the stack I am going to complete. Chain is cut, jump rings are made and any specific to whatever stack I am working on things on completed.
  8. Each piece of the stack is put together.
  9. When all of the stacks are complete, their bowls are all gathered on a different table where the jewelry is wiped down and inspected.
  10. Stickers are printed, applied to bags and the jewelry is packaged.
  11. All jewelry of a design of is placed in a clear baggie and stored in wooden boxes on shelves in the jewelry room. The boxes are organized by type (necklaces, earrings, M) and color.
  12. The inventory tracking binder is updated.

I spend usually a few nights a week in production on stocking the jewelry room. The above list can take weeks to get through if I’m working on dozens of pieces. I work best after 7 or 8 pm as I have few interruptions and will usually work until about midnight. If I have custom orders, a big wholesale deadline or the holidays coming up, I will add nights to my production calendar and it sometimes is every night, but not usually. When it is every night, there are usually many band aids and blisters involved. I have a tv in the studio for production nights and will have series on Netflix while working as it’s typically repetitive work, but enjoy it

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