Business, Finishing Putting it All Together

Only your customer can guarantee that you are going to have a job.

The easiest problems to spot are those that are part of the actual finishing process. Application techniques, material, and equipment information are all available through a variety of sources, many of whom are your suppliers so you should already have a business relationship with these people. If they can not provide the technical help that you need, then consider an outside source. For some the thought of a stranger trying to help “fix” the company that you built is often hard to accept. Get over it. A new pair of eyes can view things from a perspective that you simply can not. There is no emotional connection. They don’t accept the fact that this is the way that it was always done. It could very well be one the best moves that you have ever made.

Analyzing Bottlenecks

You need to go out and watch the finishing process and see where bottlenecks occur and why. Look for double movements or unproductive processes. Since we stated earlier that material handling can consume more time than actually finishing it is important to have the necessary racks, carts, and dollies to get the parts through the finish room.

Check out the workflow through the booth. You need to develop a batch mentality. The size of a batch is dependant not only upon the size of the spray area but also dry times. The size of the batch is then limited by the number of drying racks, saw horses, dollies, and carts that will accommodate the volume of material you are going to put through the booth for a given drying cycle. From the finisher’s standpoint, the bigger the batch the more efficient the system since it will eliminate some material handling.

Fixing the Front End

As management this might be the hardest part of the equation to fix. This is the area that you have direct control of.

You probably know the weak points in your contracts. Take the time to fix them.

If your estimates don’t equal reality, adjust your estimates. It is much harder to adjust reality.

Realize that this process is like breathing, when you stop you wither away and die.

Developing Solutions

Each person in a shop should be responsible for their own quality control. They should view the next person after them in the manufacturing chain as their “customer”. Give their customer too many headaches and the customer might demand another supplier.

So much in the application of quality assurance is attitude. People have to understand that their livelihood/job and the livelihood/jobs of the other people they work with depend on their actions. When quality goes down usually sales go down and expenses go up. It is hard for a company to operate like that for any length of time. It is easy to blame others for a company’s problem, but the reality of it is that it is everyone’s responsibility. There has to be a team mentality. There are few organizations where everyone operates independently and where an individual’s action affects no one else. Attitudes are also the hardest thing to change. It is often easier to train a new person than change a bad attitude.

Preventing mistakes is cheaper than fixing mistakes.

As stated before, the entire finishing process should be considered a team process, so when it comes to developing a solution the input of the team should be considered since the solution will impact the team.

Implementing Change

The first step in fixing a problem is the discovery process. This is the learning process. Through it, we find out what the problems in our finishing process are and then how to correct them.

The second step is implementation. Getting people to reach this level is much harder. As the saying goes, “You can lead a finisher to water, but you can’t make him drink”. Arguably most changes are designed to make things better. The bad part is that they require…change. People are creatures of habit and don’t react well to things that require us to go outside of our comfort zone. Finish reformulations that might make them safer often require a change in the application process. When this happens you hear people complain. It seems unfathomable that we complain about something that will make us live longer just because we have to change the way we sand wood, but it happens and is a huge hurdle to overcome.

Change is inevitable and to be successful you must embrace change. When going thru the training process it is important to explain not only what the processes are, but why they are important to the person doing them. Someone is more likely to accept change when they understand that it will have some benefit to them. Saying that the wood requires less sanding or fewer coats of a higher solids finish should translate to the finisher as less work and less wear and tear on their bodies. Stress the work smarter not harder concept. Demonstrate techniques and encourage feedback. Make people part of the process; listen and react to their comments and concerns. Show people that success is a group effort and often it only requires small changes to receive major benefits.

Choose your first changes carefully. Start with the things that will make the most impact. This will not only be good for your bottom line but it will be good for morale. Along the way, you might discover that some things do not work as planned. Be willing to accept that and then change them. Your willingness to listen to people and accept and implement their recommendations shows them that you value their opinion and that they are part of the process. Empower your people, do not micromanage. Communication is the key. Don’t lose sight of the team.

Marketing Your Finish – The Best Thing That You Can Do.

Face it, the finish on your product is the first thing your customer sees and feels. It’s also the part of the project that protects the rest of their investment. A good finish will make you stand out, so don’t hesitate to point out the quality of your finish work. Highlight the quality of the materials that you use. Mentioning that your finishes meet, or exceed current environmental standards infers that you care about your people, the planet, and even your customers. Being a guardian of our environment is good business.

Those samples that you made can come in handy now by showing the range of custom colors and finishes that you can do. Samples that incorporate special effects are real eye-catchers, even if the project that the customer is discussing with you won’t incorporate any of these techniques. They do show that your range of skills goes beyond the ordinary and makes you an “expert” when it comes to finishes. It’s the red convertible that gets people into the showroom, even if they are only there to buy the white minivan.

Promote yourself. Most of you are proud of your work, so why aren’t you showing other people what you can do. Get pictures of your work and use them. Professional well-lit photos are great, however, even average pictures are way better than nothing. There are several inexpensive photo editing and publishing software packages that would allow you to make a simple brochure. You could print off small quantities on your printer or have it done commercially by someone like Kinko’s. The point is, just do it and get it out there. Don’t wait for perfection. Improve as you go.

Consider a website if you don’t already have one. It is a 24/7 online portfolio. View the internet as a communication tool, not as a sales device. You don’t need all of the fancy graphics and animations, just good content. Once again if you don’t have it done professionally, there is inexpensive software that can help you design your site and there are several inexpensive website building services. The most important thing you can do is get a web presence and then promote it. Put your web address on your business cards; attach stickers to your products, be creative but get the word out.

Only your customer can guarantee that you are going to have a job.