Don’t RUSH me – the risks associated with rush orders

You want it (expletive deleted) when?

Rush orders are here to stay. In a perfect world, they would not exist, but alas, this world is not so perfect. And the next one isn’t looking much better.

For most instances, the client is driving the date. Distributor, you need to manage these expectations. Supplier, you need to educate the Distributor and communicate accurately, timely, and thoroughly. Sometimes a fast No is better than an extended Maybe.

Let’s examine rush orders “behind the scenes.”

There are a finite number of production hours which limit capacity, not to mention inventory and component levels.

In order to keep machines running and production employees busy, suppliers attempt to schedule all jobs as orderly as possible. They might be running the same item (different decorations) at the same time for efficiencies. They might be scheduling certain jobs for certain staff or machines. And they are constantly matching the schedule to in hand requirements.

Oops, let’s back up. A job may not be run without paper proof approval, and the supplier is waiting for that approval. The slot to run the job may be lost to another job with an approval. Of if the proof approval is waived out of necessity, then the expectation of imprint issues is at risk. Why is there never enough time to do it right but always enough time to do it twice?

If the supplier is efficient (or at least busy), they may have no available time for a new rush order without bumping a scheduled job. Or they have to schedule overtime hours to accomplish it.

Now let’s can look at the rush from the beginning.

(Some suppliers have even developed a reputation for 24 hour service. Wait until the client asks if it can be done sooner!)

Can you produce 1,000 widgets with a two color decoration in five days? The supplier has to check inventory and schedules. Once the supplier says yes, then you go back to your client. At this point, there still is no commitment from you. Someone else might place a confirmed order for all of the widget inventory. The supplier has to choose between the two. So inventory can be an issue.

Some products require special components which are not ordinarily in stock. They might not be purchased until the formal purchase order is submitted.

When you placed the original request, the supplier tentatively slotted the production on the fourth day. They were able to rearrange schedules. This rush order requires a certain number of our machines and then additional hours of assembly labor. But a firm commitment is needed to revise schedules and procure all needed supplies.

You come back and place the order, with a paper proof requirement. The completed proof is sent within 24 hours, maybe even the same day. Now the supplier waits for an approval. From your perspective, the supplier is still in the five day time frame. But as each precious hour and day pass without an approval, the supplier has to make decisions on the production schedule.

The art is approved. The supplier commits to the schedule, with no margin for error. And things happen. The production equipment can break down temporarily, staff may be short, or any other unexpected situations arise.

For those who think Murphy’s Law applies to rush orders, there is another law of production known as O’Reilly’s Law – Murphy was an optimist.

Hopefully the supplier gets it done. And then the freight carrier does not lose it, deliver it late, or otherwise mess it up. Typically the freight requirement may be overnight service. All parties need to recognize these associated costs.

Throughout this process, constant communication is an absolute necessity. And responses cannot be delayed, as each delay imperils the eventual delivery.

Then the supplier asks for the basic bread and butter business from you. The response is sorry, but you are five cents too high for that business. You only need this supplier for the rush service. (Thank you, Larry Stadtmiller, MAS, for driving home this point to the author years ago.)

All of the above factors are what drive surcharges for a rush order besides expedited freight. So please don’t be surprised with higher prices.


Be honest with the actual need date.
Respond promptly to all supplier requests.
Understand the production challenges and communicate them to the client.
Manage the client expectations.


Communicate, communicate, communicate (timely and honestly).
Try not to schedule at the last minute.

3 thoughts on “Don’t RUSH me – the risks associated with rush orders

  1. Carl Deutsch

    Harvey, thanks for reminding us all of the “back office” details regarding rush orders. I thought I understood all of the stress that is caused to all parties in this situation; however, you added points that I hadn’t previously considered. Thanks again for the valuable education. Have a productive (and non-rushed) day!

  2. alenegeed

    great information. We have to educate our clients each time. The suppliers who advertise the 24 or 48 hour rush service don’t make it clear that this strictly the PRODUCTION time and does not include time to get the paperwork processed, to proof, and ship time!


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