By  on February 3, 1994

HIALEAH, Fla. -- Apparel contractor Ray Beder has projected a 10 to 15 percent sales volume increase this year for his family-owned business, no mean feat in an industry that is struggling to survive the crush of offshore sourcing.

Beder has some things in his favor. He is aggressive and he has taken advantage of his location -- Miami, the gateway to the Caribbean. But most important, Beder isn't afraid to lay out the money it takes to keep his company a leader in its field.

For example, the company will be spending about $300,000 to move into a 60,000-square-foot facility this year where operations will be centralized.

RB Apparel makes several products, from children's sleepwear, ladies' and men's knit tops (including placket shirts), pullovers, and bottoms of various constructions.

Because of RB Apparel's proximity to Miami ports and the Caribbean Basin, much of its production is cutting for offshore use.

But like others contractors, RB's focus has changed greatly because of the push for 807 production by domestic apparel companies. Eighty percent of RB's cutting today is for offshore use and the rest for domestic; 10 years ago, the opposite was true.

If the North American Free Trade Agreement expands to include parity for Caribbean countries, Beder expects his cutting business for offshore sewing to grow even more.

"By lowering the tariffs and making it easier for American firms to deal with [807 countries], then I assume more people will go there, and they will cut their goods in south Florida," he explains.

Like others, Beder wants some of that business for his company.

Up to now, operations have been spread out in an 18,000-square-foot sewing facility with 150 stations, a 25,000-square-foot cutting plant with 10 40-yard tables and a facility for corporate offices.

By centralizing sewing and cutting under one roof, Beder believes he will increase growth by 10 to 15 percent. He plans to upgrade the new plant more in the future by adding electronic spreaders, flotation tables and Gerber cutting machines.

The move also will bring management together under one roof, including Beder's wife Susan, vice-president of administration, and his two sons, Steve, vice-president of manufacturing, and Gregory, who is in charge of data systems and works in planning and development.Customers include Cape Cod, a ladies' wear division of Kellwood Co., and William Carter Co., among others.

The latest big modernization was the addition of Gerber's Accumark computer-aided design system last year. It was purchased as the first step in the creation of an automated cutting facility. Grading and mark-ing started as a one-scope system, according to Brenda Ross, director of pattern and marking systems, but, by the end of six months, had progressed to the need for a multi-scope system.

RB reduced the throughput time of marking and grading from six to eight hours to two to three hours with the Gerber system. Gerber's CAD system, says Beder, has "opened horizons for us. It helps us get goods out faster and it improved quality."

Throughput time from cutting to shipping is two to three weeks, approximately five days shorter than a year ago, says Beder. He attributes the decrease to customer demands and to the company's fully computerized system, which aids on-line balancing and known-standard-allowed minutes.

Production rates are as many as 60,000 units per week in sewing and as many as 200,000 units per week in cutting, depending on the product mix.

"We are moving to improve our total company efficiency, including quality and throughput time," says Beder. "We want to provide our customers with the Quick Response that they need so badly."

Equipment at RB Apparel's sewing operation includes Juki serging with chain cutters and back-latch attachments, lockstitch machines with underbed trimmings, O.G.M. air turners, Sussman hand irons with vacuum board, Hoffman pressers and a Sussman steam tunnel.

Sewing operates in a modular setup, which the company started three years ago. Operators were cross-trained when the company made the change, making it easier for RB Apparel to shift from one type of construction to another.

The company keeps up with the latest technological and operational developments with help from Jones, Riley & Associates, the apparel consulting firm it has worked with for the past seven years.

Their joint expertise, Beder says, has helped RB Apparel increase its efficiency through systems methods and updated equipment. "Without them," he claims, "we could not imagine being in the domestic cut-and-sew business, progressive in the areas of quality, throughput time and meeting customers' delivery dates."Beder says he plans to continue to improve product quality and efficiencies, which should, in turn, feed the company's growth at that 10 to 15 percent annual rate. "We want to be very important to the manufacturers who need our services," he says.

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