Inventory System vs Made to Order

I thought I would take a bit of time to talk about product creation, there are many ways to create products from making it yourself to getting it manufactured or drop shipped. Each of these is a viable option and totally dependent on skill, ideas and cost, but mostly its a choice as a small business owner as to your preference.

Personally I have my clothing and my mugs which are drop shipped, which means they are made to order by a manufacturer on my behalf and then sent directly to my customer. This has proved great for items that would cost me a lot to buy in bulk and it saves me space.

I order in my stickers and washi tapes as I don't have the space or machines to do it myself.

My other items however are different, my bookmarks, dice bags, tote bags, notebooks and character books are all handmade in house and I wanted to go over how I started making these things to order, why I chose the methods I did at the beginning and why I have now changed to an inventory system. Just to give you a little clarity and maybe a little help on the issue.

Made to Order

So made to order means as it says, you create a product that you photograph and put it up and when you get an order you make it up and send it off. Originally I went with this method as I wanted people to be able to customise their bags with different coloured tops and linings, this worked well for a while until I realised that when orders come in at the end of the week I was spending my weekend making rather than with my family. Keeping track on what materials I had became really tough as I needed to have some of everything and because I was reactive the time it took to keep resetting my workspace for different tasks started to take up a lot of time. I pride myself on creating as little waste as possible but this was hard when your cutting out single items each time and holding nothing in stock. 


  • Great for adding customisation to your products
  • Great for storage
  • Great if you have lots of time and a big work space


  • Time consuming switching between tasks and materials
  • More materials management
  • Longer dispatch times


A Mix of Both

Once I started making my character books and notebooks I realised I didn't want them to be customisable and so I could just print them out in batches. I was able to buy myself a large guillotine to make the cutting easier, which meant that I could just stock pile a few in boxes. I liked that I could just refill the boxes during the week so I started to implement changes. I took away the option to customise and design my bags based on colours that suited and found that I could make them quicker in bulk. I still however listed my products as having loads when in reality I had a couple of each this meant that in my busiest periods I was still making to order a lot.


  • Making in batch is faster
  • Having a few in a box makes busy times easier
  • Can still have customisations
  • Not having to switch between too many makes


  • Longer dispatch time or rushing to get items made
  • Erratic work schedule 

Inventory System

After having gone through both of these options, then moving house and having less active working space where I can leave things up and an incredibly hectic Christmas period I decided that now is the time to implement a proper Inventory system where the number of items on my shops reflects what I actually have at home. This means that now I can spend my time restocking items in batches which saves me a lot of time, I can dedicate full days to cutting, sewing, printing and making and know that the orders I get in can be fulfilled quickly and effectively within the dispatch time. I don't have to panic that I am going to have to work over the weekend or miss putting my kid to bed. 


  • Better time management
  • Quicker dispatch times
  • Better material management
  • Less stress
  • More things to post on social media


  • Items can go out of stock
  • More time spent updating inventory list
  • More space needed

My Thoughts

I am happy with my choices, making to order worked really well when I first started out, I had the space and was able to switch between job stations quickly. I could leave work out ready for the next day and I only had a few designs, but as my design collections grew it became obvious that I needed to make in batches and store them in order to maintain my home work life balance and reduce the stress and overwhelm of being constantly reactive instead of proactive. There are still some more things I can do to improve my system, one being finding an app that can join my Etsy and Shopify inventories so that they auto adjust saving me time. 

In the end however it is down to you and what you want to create, how its made and what it costs that will help decide how you create your products and what works for me may not work for you. If this resonates then I hope this helps and gives you some clarity.

Happy creating, Lauren

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