New Store Layout! Hope you enjoy!
May 13, 2021
I'm a person who has always been interested in organization and processes. I love to hear about how people do things, I love to come up with my own structures for my home, my life, my work. So it should come as no surprise that I've been wanting to write about our weekly process in the shop for a while now.
In early 2020 we decided to change our cycle from a 3 week to a 2 week cycle. The pandemic increased our demand and we needed to produce more product faster to keep the shop from being bone dry for too long. So Steve and I made some changes. The schedule was hard to keep up with, but then we added Avery and things got a bit easier. With some trial and error we settled into a good workflow that allowed us to drop inventory every 2 weeks, reliably. So today I'm just going to talk a bit about what our 2 week cycle looks like!
Seems odd to start there, but hopefully it will make sense in the long run. I won't start with the drop itself, but with the Sunday after an inventory drop. My husband Patrick and I run to the workshop on Sunday afternoon and start shipping prep. Usually there's about 200 or so orders by this point. I start printing and sorting them all while Patrick and Steve start building boxes. Many boxes. Oh god, so many boxes! I sort all the orders by box size and start buying postage. I usually aim to have most, if not all postage bought by the end of that day (with the exception of combined orders). As I buy, the other 2 start pulling orders for small boxes. We usually do this for about 3 or 4 hours on Sunday to give us a good head start on Monday.
Monday - Get to work and KEEP SHIPPING! We started on Sunday, but now it's time to really dig in! I'll print and sort any additional orders that came in after the printing the day before. I get things bought while Steve pulls more orders until Avery arrives. I take care of the combined orders and we get everything in boxes. Yay! Then we spend time getting those mountains of boxes wrapped, taped, stickered, and bagged for drop off. It's a 3 person job and we do our best to get as much as we can done before lunch. If we've done our prep right the day before this usually goes pretty smoothly! Then me and Steve run to the PO to drop stuff off at the docks and PRAY that they scan it in for tracking. If we're lucky enough to get all the shipping done before the end of the day (4 PM), we get to do some pouring! YAY! But any pouring we do will be pulled either that night by Steve (if he's bored) or the next morning by me and Steve.
Tuesday - First thing, if there's any toys that need to be pulled from molds we do that. Avery doesn't work on Build Week Tuesday, so it's just me and Steve. This works pretty well because we have two pouring tables and two vacuum pots, so with just two of us in the workshop we get a lot done! We both pick a firmness of silicone to work in and generally stick with that firmness all day. I like to do Soft on Tuesdays because Avery and I share silicone pitchers and she uses the Soft when she's in the workshop.
We have close to 200 molds at our disposal, so me and Steve just go ham on pours on Tuesday. No rules, just right! Well, that's not true. We do have one rule. The house rule. "A Tyv in every pour" Yeah, because Tyv is our most popular model we make sure we're always pouring Tyvs if there are free molds to use (we have 5 smalls, 5 mediums, and 3 larges in the current shop). Steve and I spend the day chatting and pouring our hearts out. We try to pull any toys that are ready before the end of the day and everything else gets pulled in the morning (or later in the evening by Steve if he gets bored). Anything that gets pulled gets tossed up on the photo screen for quick pics to share with Twitter!
That evening I go home and begin trimming toys. As I trim toys they get added one by one to a big spread sheet where I track what we've made. The spreadsheet is very important and we'll come back to it later. Once they're recorded they get sorted into bins at my home. Here's a look at what that spreadsheet looks like:
Wednesday - Another day of pouring! Me and Steve start the day by pulling any toys leftover from yesterday. As they're pulled we pile them up for photos then drop them into transport bins. Avery usually shows up after we've already finished this part. Once toys are pulled we GET TO POURING! Steve picks his firmness and I stick with Medium so Avery can do Soft. Sometimes we do themes, sometimes we use inspo, sometimes I throw requests at the other two, but mostly we just fly by the seat of our color pants! Wednesday can be a bit chaotic since there's 3 artists and only 2 pouring tables and vacuum pots. We do a lot of juggling. We're all looking forward to having more space and our own pots and tables in the new workshop, but for now we make do. We pour until we run out of molds, then we pull toys that have cured since they were poured in the morning and keep using the molds! Much like other build days, we try to pull as many toys as we can by the end of the day and the rest are left for the next morning.
Anything pulled that day goes home with me in bins. I spend my evening trimming and putting toys on the spreadsheet again. Forever trimming!
Thursday - Avery doesn't work in the office on Thursdays and I also try to take a day away from pouring to catch up on some important tasks. Usually I'll go in to the workshop in the morning to help pull the previous day's toys and to ship any orders that have come in so far during the week. I drop the orders off on my way home and spend the rest of the day doing random errands (like checking up on the new workshop progress) and mostly trimming toys and getting them on the spreadsheet. There's a LOT of toy trimming that goes on. A LOT. I'm a stickler for trimming, so I don't let anyone trim inventory items except myself. Other folks can trim Little Fellas and squishes, but only I trim the toys. Sometimes Steve does pouring on Thursdays, but I don't insist upon it. He deserves a day to relax! I also take time in the evening on Thursday to check the spreadsheet and write up a breakdown of all the toys we've made so that we know what we need to focus on for the end of the build week. Too many medium Ceelas? Not enough soft Fornaxes? Completely forgot to pour any Ziqs? We'll get it figured out and fixed!
Friday - The end of our build week has come! All three of us are in the workshop pouring on Friday, so it's a circus again! Avery sticks to Soft, I stick to Medium, Steve fills in the gaps as needed. If we have too many soft toys made he'll do Medium and vice versa. This is a day spent busting out as many last minute pours as we can. We PUSH! Silicone gets EVERYWHERE! Sometimes things go wrong in the shop and we lose our minds trying to clean up messes! Friday is a wild day for sure! We try to empty as many molds as we can before the end of the day, but most of the time I end up coming by later in the evening with my husband and we pull the last of the toys with Steve. (We play RPGs with Steve, his roomie Brandon, and our friend Felicia on Friday nights and we try to arrange it so that build week Fridays are at their place so we can help pull stuff when we come over to hang out.) I then spend every amount of extra time I have on Friday after work (between game night) TRIMMING MORE DAMN DONGS! Below you'll see a photo of the bins we use to store and transport our products. I probably trim about 9 to 12 bins worth of dongs for each drop! My fingers get TIRED!
I stay up into the wee hours of Friday night trimming as many of the last dongs as I can. The more I work on Friday the less I have to do on Saturday.
Saturday - No matter how much I work during the week there's always leftover work for Saturday. If I'm lucky I've kept on top of it all and there's not too much Saturday work! But it's not unusual to have at least 3 or 4 hours of work for this day. Most of it is finishing the trimming and putting the last of the toys on the spreadsheet. But in addition to the last of the trimming and sorting we also start WASHING! We spend time washing a handful of the sorted toy bins on Saturday night and laying them out to dry in our office. Starting this process on Saturday means we don't have to wash quite as many toys in one go on Sunday night. We usually have about 11 to 14 bins of toys to get washed for photo days.
Sunday - And now I rest! Sort of. If I'm lucky. This is usually the one day of the week I don't have too many shop obligations and I get to sit around and rest. Or draw. Or watch TV. Or find some other shop work that I was supposed to do but didn't. Sunday night always ends with washing another batch of toys for Monday photo day. The toys we wash on Sunday join the batch we washed on Saturday night and they all get carted off on Monday.
Monday - This is the week we drop new inventory into the shop! But before we can do that we have to photograph ALL of the drop toys. I gather up all the toys that were washed on Saturday and Sunday night and haul them all back to the workshop. Once there I start organizing them onto the photo table so they can get their pretty little pictures. I organize from small to large, soft to firm, starting at the bottom right corner of the table. Steve keeps the clean toys on his left, grabs them one by one to photo them, then passes them to me on his right. I sit at a table and check them for flaws (any that I didn't catch during trimming) and bag/seal them immediately. Avery trims the bags as I seal them and they get piled into bins.
Once Steve finishes photographing all the toys he wanders off to the other side of the workshop to start working on pouring toys for the next drop. Meanwhile, Avery and I start sorting, tagging, and organizing the bagged toys. Every toy is matched to the SKU I created for it on the master spreadsheet. Each toy gets a sticker with its SKU and each photo of that toy gets tagged with that SKU. Then I hand them off to Avery who sticks the "Made by" stickers on them and puts them into their final inventory bins. This usually takes most of the day to complete.
That evening my husband and I will wash the final batch of inventory toys to haul back to the workshop on Tuesday.
Tuesday - Photo day again! Same as the day before, we line up the toys, take their photos, get them into bags. Steve wanders off to pour more inventory while Avery and I organize and tag the last of the inventory. All the properly labeled photos of the products going into the drop get put onto an SD card and given to Avery. She'll take them home and edit them for the drop. Bless her, I hate that part and she's so much better at it than I am! With all that work done I head home and rest (or find other smaller shop work to do). By the end of the photo days our bins are full! (Okay, this is a photo of the empty bins, but...just imagine them very full of inventory...)
Wednesday through Friday - Okay, here's where things get less organized. Once all the photos are done I don't usually go back to the workshop for the rest of the week. Well, that's not totally true. I do go in on Wednesday morning to ship whatever orders are waiting in the queue. But after that things get a little loose. Here's a look at the usual way we spend the rest of drop week.
Steve - Steve will always help me with shipping when I come in for that. Often times he'll do more pouring, but I don't really expect him to put in full hours on that sort of thing. I mostly expect him to have a relaxing rest of his week.
Avery - Avery gets to edit all the drop photos on her home computer. She has the flexibility to get them done at her own pace while being able to balance her family responsibilities. As long as she has all the photos done by Thursday afternoon (which she always does), I'm happy! She drops them off whenever she's done.
Me(esh) - Ha ha! What DON'T I do on these weeks?! This is my flexible time where I do any number of the little random things needed for the shop. These things include (but are not limited to): sculpting new products, editing comparison photos for new products, setting up promos like giveaways, checking our molds to see if any need replacing, checking inventory of all the supplies we need for the shop (mixing sticks, pigments, boxes, etc.) and ordering more when needed, drawing promo art, trimming Little Fellas and squishes, packaging Little Fellas and mini eggs, running errands (like paying contractors working on the new workshop and having meetings with lawyers), designing merch, sorting and inspecting incoming merch, making hand-made merch, writing blog posts, etc. There's no end of things I need to do for the shop. Literally. It will eat every bit of free time I have if I let it (and I usually do).
Patrick - That's right, my husband (who has a full time job as a video game programmer) also contributes to the work on drop week! It's his job to compile the listings for the drop. He does this with a program he's written that takes the info we put into the master drop spreadsheet and auto generates listings from it. He double checks them once they're generated, makes sure all the mishaps get priced properly and any other mistakes get fixed, then he attaches all the product photos once Avery drops them off. He is amazing and I am so grateful that he does this part <3
And once all that work is done...we drop new inventory on Friday at 4 PM Central time! Why that time? Well, it's when my husband gets off of work and it's a nice easy way to mark the end of our work week. Except it's not quite the end for me...After the drop I'll spend about 2 hours answering emails and helping customers. I try to wrap that all up by 6 PM so that I can have time to unwind and hang out with our friends for Friday game night.
Saturday - This is mostly just a day of answering emails and helping customers. Thankfully, there's not too much of this, so drop weekend Saturdays I get to rest most of the day! Hooray!
And then it starts all over again on Sunday...
That's pretty much how it goes here at Strange Bedfellas! This is a little glimpse into the regular routines we go through every 2 weeks. There's still a lot of other stuff I didn't mention that goes on in whatever gaps we can squeeze it in to.
Stuff we didn't mention includes:
-Mixing silicone! Whenever we get a new shipment we take the time to get out our electric mixers and give each new bucket a powerful mix. This is incredibly time consuming, but goes much faster when Steve's roommate Brandon helps us out.
-Printing things! This is pretty much all handled by my husband Patrick. We have 2 filament printers and 1 resin printer in our printer shack and he is the master of them all. We frequently need to print new models, updates of old models, mold shells of all shapes and sizes, and other miscellaneous shop things.
-Finishing things! This is also a Patrick job. Anything that gets printed needs to be prepped for molding, which includes sanding, spraying, and acetone baths. I am very picky about the surface on our toys, so this is a lot of work to do.
-Molding things! Wow, a lot of this is Patrick work, eh? Despite having a full time job he does a LOT of work for the shop. He took over making all the molds a while back and I could not be happier! I hate making molds and he loves it. He can usually make a lot at once, so I let him work his magic. But I'm always there at the end to trim and tidy up the molds before they go into use.
-Making masters! One last big job that Patrick takes care of is making resin masters for our models. He uses a pressure pot and urethane resin to pour copies of all the toys we make. These are used later when we want to make more molds of a given toy. Urethane masters are sturdy and last longer than the printed masters we start with. I'm not keen on using the pressure chamber so much, so this is another Patrick job.
-Cleaning things! This job usually gets left to Steve since the workshop is in his home. We all try to keep our stations clean and tidy, but someone's got to clean the floors and take out the trash, and that's usually Steve (or his roommate Brandon if he's bored). This will be a lot easier to spread out across the crew once we move to the bigger workshop. One little extra secret weapon we have to keep production up is Steve's sister! She's retired and lives in a different state, but she's our dedicated cup cleaner (for a majority of our mixing cups). We box up cups and ship them to her, where she cleans them and ships them back. We pay her for her time and in return we don't have to spend any of our free time (you may have noticed we don't have much of that) cleaning cups. Yeah, it's worth the cost to ship and pay someone else to clean cups, believe it or not. And even though we send off most of the cups to Steve's sister, we still clean a surprising number of cups in house, usually in the evenings. There is no escaping the cups!
-Twitter promos! Y'all probably notice I do a LOT of talking on Twitter. I enjoy it very much, but it's absolutely still a job. It's a surprising amount of work to line up the toys and take pics during the build week. I do a little bit of editing to those photos before posting so they don't look horrendous (thanks, camera phone). Answering questions and interacting with folks is a lot of fun, but it's largely done in my down time after work. Sometimes it's done while I'm at work! I love doing it, but it's still work.
-Customer service! We are very fortunate to have a lot of awesome customers and customer service emails are usually a breeze! But they still take a lot of time and attention to answer, and I have to find places in my schedule to take care of these things. It's important to stay on top of emails, even the ones that don't require immediate action, and I try my hardest to be good about this.
-Working with artists! This is a surprisingly time consuming task, but one I love doing. I love finding all sorts of artists to work with to create promo art for the shop. That requires a LOT of communication and setting up descriptions and reference files. I'm fairly terrible at this stuff because I get very nervous about talking to artists I admire and I'm so scatterbrained that it can take a lot of time to get proper refs together. But all the artists I've teamed up with have been amazing so far and I'm so excited about future prospects!
So I think that's it. That's all I can wring out of my brain at this point, anyways. Running this business is a LOT of work! It's work that is very rewarding and I'm happy to say pays my bills and the bills of the wonderful friends who work with me. It's an amazing experience to grow something like this and to interact with such a beautiful and wonderful community of collectors and customers. To wrap it up, I'll just share some various candid photos from the shop. I'm so ready to move into a bigger workshop, but I'll always cherish the memories we're making where we are right now!
Shipping day! Sorry for the weird edit, I don't like to share photos of the personnel unless they agree to it first. Here's a look at shipping day in progress. Blue Ikea bags hold taped and packed boxes ready to be dropped off. The towers of boxes next to them have been filled and are waiting to be wrapped. Beneath the edit are Steve and Patrick hard at work filling more boxes with orders.
Piles and piles of used cups waiting patiently to be sent off to Steve's sister for cleaning. This is maybe a week's worth of cups. All that silicone is set but still somehow so messy!
This is one of the inventory tracking sheets I put together for use on build week Fridays. It gives us a quick glance at what's been made already and what we still need. Anything that's got a purple highlight is a model/size/firmness that we could use more of. If you're pouring in soft you look for gaps in soft inventory and if you're pouring in medium you look for gaps in medium inventory. (I was being lazy with this list and didn't count out the wand toppers, vibe sleeves, or eggs.)
And I'll end the post with another weirdly edited photo. There's secret stuff under those logos! This is a look at the curing table half way through the day. These toys have all been poured and are setting as we make others elsewhere. Once we pour toys we usually move them over here out of the way to set up so that we can keep using the pouring tables. Then we start pulling all of these by the end of the day (if they're set). This table is also used for shipping, photo day organizing, and any other assorted non-pouring tasks we need to do.
I hope y'all have enjoyed this peek into our weird, wild world! Thanks for reading!
November 23, 2022