When Cinda Boomershine started her handbag company in 2004, people scoffed at her mission to make products in the United States. Buyers at trade shows actually considered it a strike against her company, cinda b. "They made me feel like an idiot," she recalls.
Now, as the Made in the U.S.A. movement picks up speed, those people praise her for her homegrown poly-nylon purses, bags, and duffels. Cinda b makes all its accessories, which run from $12 to $179, at its Fort Wayne, Indiana, headquarters. Sales have risen an average of 53 percent over the past two years and are projected to top $8 million this year. Meanwhile, one of Boomershine's main competitors, Vera Bradley, makes many of its bags overseas (that's sooo 2009). Boomershine shared four ways cinda b stays competitive:
1. Design backward.
Cinda b's team members will reverse engineer a popular bag's design, tweaking it for easier and faster manufacturing. To make a "cell phone wristlet," which could hold a cell phone, credit cards and cash, they looked at similar bags on the market to determine a competitive price, then sketched out their ideal version and reworked it for the fastest, most efficient sewing possible.
For instance, instead of the three pieces of fabric in the initial design, cinda b simplified it by using a single piece of fabric that would wrap around the bag, eliminating unnecessary seams and sewing time. And that lowers labor costs. On another bag, a decorative piping around the outside was replaced with ribbonlike bias tape to cut sewing time. "We design it so we can manufacture it for the price we want," says Boomershine.
2. Organize yourself.
In keeping with the ethos of lean manufacturing, cinda b relies on a companywide calendar to coordinate the workflow, deadlines, and projects. Boomershine holds weekly meetings at which everyone gathers around a calendar covering an entire wall in the conference room. She uses colored sticky notes to flag important dates such as when product lines must be finalized, upcoming purchase orders, shipping deadlines, or when new products will arrive in showrooms.
The team reviews upcoming projects as well as things that fell through the cracks--and why. The result: a unified effort that leads to less scrambling and fewer costly rush orders. "The more efficient you can be day to day, the lower the price," Boomershine says.
3. Focus, Focus, Focus.
Cinda b created a design advisory board to provide feedback on new bags: thirty women from across the country who love fashion and aren't afraid to speak their minds. Do they use that interior zipper pocket? If not, cinda b eliminates it--and the cost. Would they buy that bag for the price? Would they pay $2 more for a bag with a different clasp? Nearly every product in the line has gone through this review process to eliminate unused features or add new ones to make bags that will really sell.
4. Stay close to home.
Cinda b reduces costly mistakes, back orders, and overstock by locating its factory under the same roof as its offices. And unlike with Chinese factories, which generally require large orders, having a local factory lets cinda b test smaller quantities of a new pattern or design to see how it does in stores. "We're not gambling as much as we would be if we went overseas," says Boomershine.