Local Production: Staying Close To Home

Apparel manufacturer TLM Industries defies demographic trends by maintaining production in the U.S.

If it weren't for the fishing, Tim Mossberg might never have come to Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Mossberg owns TLM Industries, which produces embroidered uniforms for convenience store chains. "The toughest part of embroidery and sewing is finding the work force. That's why so many companies turn to inexpensive labor overseas," says Mossberg.

In Atlanta, Mossberg had trouble finding a skilled textile workforce and keeping good employees once he found them. In contrast, Fort Walton Beach had once been a base of operations for large clothing manufacturers like Vanity Fair. When these companies moved their manufacturing overseas, they left behind a trained, skilled and available employee base.

Mossberg transferred TLM's operations down to Fort Walton Beach, moved into a factory, and hired 20 or so workers at his factory and another couple dozen who work for a domestic contractor. Mossberg explains that manufacturing locally is simply the best way for him to do business.

Like many U.S. manufacturers, TLM has experimented with outsourcing. In the mid-1990s, TLM bought finished goods for its clients in factories from Japan to Guatemala, but problems soon arose. "We started having delivery issues," says Mossberg. "We had problems getting the sizing and the colors correct. As a result of these quality control issues, our prices started increasing rather than decreasing as it should for an imported product."

Making the garments locally gave Mossberg more flexibility and control over the end-product. And on average, the company introduces one new style per year.

With its own production facility and nearby contractors who can be called on when demand spikes, TLM can go from sold out to fully restocked in four weeks, though typical restocking times average two weeks since the company's running order of raw goods usually prevents product shortages. By eliminating the costs of transporting, storing, loading and unloading, Mossberg says TLM can offer its clients a uniform that costs the same price they would pay for a competitor's imported product.

TLM aims to distinguish itself through flexibility and personal attention. For example, TLM started a warehouse program, a kind of self-storage system for steady clients. "The average convenience store employee works with a company for just 72 days, so employers constantly need to replenish their stock of uniforms, but they never know what size their next employee will be," says Mossberg. "To solve this problem we stock two to three months of goods, manage their inventory for them and keep their full size range available so that they don't have to worry about replenishing their stock."

Though the warehousing program is an added expense for TLM, the cost savings it gives TLM's clients generates loyalty and goodwill. "If the client warehoused clothing themselves, they would have to hire people to manage and hold their inventory. This program saves our clients quite a bit of money and keeps them loyal," says Mossberg. "I don't think we've ever lost a warehouse client."

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