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Struggling to get mass customization off the ground? Automate this.


You’re eager to delight customers with product customization, but how do you do profitably? What’s the secret to making customization at scale, a.k.a. mass customization, efficient and cost-effective?

mass customization

Imagine no longer having to place all your bets on what will be trendy 12-18 months in advance. Instead, your made-to-order production responds in real time to match consumer demand.

Of course, you first have to build a mass customization system.

You may have already identified a few pieces of the puzzle. Applying lean manufacturing principles to custom production, for one. An ecommerce site that supports custom orders is another.

But the more you think about it, the more gaps you see in the strategy. Logistical head-scratchers. You wonder whether you’ll get a return on investment. 

Ignore those for a moment. We’ll come back to them.

First, consider that the vision of mass customization is more than 30 years in the making. We’ve made a lot of progress toward realizing this vision. 

Know that your brand can take part. Then you’ll be ready to wield the modern automation tools that bridge those logistical gaps and make it work.

First, embrace the vision of mass customization.

In Stan Davis’s visionary 1987 work, Future Perfect, Davis insists that a future is possible in which production processes can generate an infinite variety of goods and services, uniquely tailored to customers.

That future is now.

Technology has made it possible to automate orders and production to the point of acceleration and consistency required to make mass customization work at scale.

Automation allows us to respond to, rather than attempt to predict or engineer, each customer’s unique desires.

Mass manufacturing requires placing bets on future demand.

In a traditional mass manufacturing business model, a design team places bets on what will be trendy the following season. Designers settle on multiple designs to produce.

Take the shoe industry, for example. The factory begins production of one line of shoes, halts when the order is fulfilled, then sets up for the next. It takes six months or so to produce all product lines.

After all that time and all those resources, even following the best sales projections, the brand will inevitably:

  1. Underproduce, fail to satisfy demand and leave profits on the table or have to place a new bet on a second production run.
  2. Overproduce and dispose of excess stock or sell it off at a deep discount, eating into profits either way. (And contributing to environmental change.)

This system, necessary as it is for most brands, is costly and frequently wasteful. We accept it as “the cost of doing business.”

But we do this knowing that there is a more efficient system. We just have to build it.

Mass customization responds efficiently to real-time demand.

In contrast, a made-to-order model (another way to say mass customization) allows the brand to come much closer to matching output to demand.

It’s built on lean manufacturing principles of consistency and waste reduction as well as related values, primarily, letting consumer demand “pull” the process.

In our shoe industry example, the factory is set up with stations, each of which handles one component of each shoe. 

Driven by demand, the production process might assemble one pair of white shoes with red laces, and then a pair of red shoes with black laces, etc., as orders come in.

It was built this way for the purpose of pulling resources as needed, as desired by each customer. The result is far less waste, greater profitability, and delighted customers.

And the question is not whether you need automation to make this work. You absolutely do.

The question is what to automate.

Next, automate the holes in your mass customization strategy.

A lot of this process cannot be handled manually at scale. It’s why so many product customization programs have failed after disappointing customers with unreasonable delays.

Here’s a typical scenario.

A brand has built into their ecommerce site a slick product configurator tool that allows consumers to mix and match colors, designs, etc. They have their factory set up to produce any available combination of components.

Custom orders start to roll in.

Problem #1: Their OMS (order management system) is not built for custom.

These OMS systems are built for typical large batch production. 

The brand needs to create SKU’s for every permutation or variation that can be assembled. Otherwise, it’s struggling to process the purchase of customized SKUs not yet produced.

Problem #2: Their MRP (manufacturing resource planning) system is not designed for small-batch custom orders.

It doesn’t know how to translate orders into production instructions. And it isn’t properly planning for materials capacity, purchasing, etc. 

For personalization, brands need to figure out how to add variable personalized data (letters in a name, logo artwork, etc) to those orders. These platforms were not built to support this and therefore it is a laborious process to support that is not scalable.

More often than not, it’s these handoffs between processes and systems where the unforeseen problems lie. 

These are just two examples of numerous holdups that occur when systems don’t communicate well with one another, requiring human intervention and causing slowdowns.

Smart planning that creates a logical flow between these processes is always a good place to start. But in this case, logistics alone is not enough to overcome these challenges. 

Only the automation made possible through integrated software can accelerate these handoffs enough to make mass customization efficient and profitable.

One software platform to patch all the holes: Silhouette™.

Follow two rules of thumb when building a mass customization system: make sure your software is designed for it, and don’t use multiple platforms when one will do.

Silhouette, built for product customization from start to finish, fits the bill.

• Its online configurator allows users to easily customize the product at the point of sale.
• Properly prioritizes and sorts custom orders automatically.
• Translates orders into print-ready, machine-readable files to initiate production.
• Supports resource planning for small-batch custom production. 

It’s one platform that anticipates these holes in mass customization plans that many brands just don’t see coming.

It integrates with other software well, such as some of the most popular ecommerce platforms. But as a configurator and order management system, it also eliminates the need for other types of software. This reduces handoffs and the risk of process gaps.

Also, this software offers an even greater benefit: JTB Custom’s deep expertise in all things related to mass customization.

Let JTB Custom set you up for success.

Our software is built on that wealth of hands-on experience.

We started on the manufacturing floor, learning the issues and identifying the solutions needed to run a profitable mass customization program. 

We developed Silhouette to automate these solutions, creating seamless customization programs from the factory floor all the way back to the front-end configurator consumers use.

With this software, brands who doubted they could ramp up their customization programs have discovered it’s more than possible. 

Silhouette is the key to making customization profitable.

Let’s get started making mass customization a reality for your brand. Talk to an expert today.