Cutting Tool Engineering
July 2013 / Volume 65 / Issue 7

When business slows, time to tweak

By Keith Jennings

Many customers are back to emphasizing price over delivery, getting multiple quotes and not automatically sending us the work. This cycle requires an eventual tightening of payroll costs, expenses and operational activities. While a slowing cycle presents its own management issues and concerns, it still should be a productive period, offering shop owners and managers an opportunity to tackle matters often postponed during a boom.

If you’ve read my previous columns, you’re aware our company has been busy, adapting and evolving to stay competitive. In the course of many staff meetings and discussions, numerous good ideas have been mentioned, but with the workload, few have actually been implemented. This is mostly because we just didn’t have time to tackle them all.

In our case, we’re also into fabrication work, with its own demanding requirements outside the scope of machining. In other words, there’s always something that needs to be reviewed, updated, cleaned, finalized or any host of other past-tense verbs.

Lately, I’ve even returned to a couple of desktop stacks that emerged from previous brainstorming sessions. It’s taken quite a while, but maybe there’s time to complete these projects once and for all.

Good managers are able to shift gears and take maximum advantage of all business cycles, up or down. During a downturn, it’s their job to ensure shop personnel aren’t twiddling their thumbs, but are keeping busy with other important tasks.

Although many shops remain busy, if not swamped, there does seem to be a consistent theme among my contacts at other shops that work is steady, but not at capacity. This describes our current workload. While it’s been nice to see several large jobs finally get completed and shipped, the backlog isn’t filling up as fast. Of course, continuing to market and brand your shop makes sense and should never stop, but, regardless of that effort, sooner or later the economy slows and the demand for machined parts declines.

When this situation happens, what’s on your project agenda? In my case, I’m updating the employee manual, expanding the safety program, experimenting with cryogenic tool treatment, working with vendors on new supplies and products, training or cross-training employees and performing needed machine maintenance. Updating the official company map to reflect our new plant layout and security system is also a priority.

These tasks commonly get put on the back burner because they don’t take precedence over a robust workload. Of course, some large companies have enough staff that these items get immediate attention anyway, but smaller shops don’t have that luxury because most duties fall directly on owners and managers. My guess is you’ve got a few of these items yourself.

Even though a booming economy makes us happy and we love the rush of metal chips flying, phones ringing and pallets of parts getting loaded as fast as they can be machined, there’s a positive side to a slow cycle. Using it to peel sketchy employees, trim unnecessary costs, train, maintain, update and tweak is a good thing.

If you’ve got a breather for a while, make the most of it and complete something that is incomplete. Meanwhile, in addition to my usual management duties, I’ve got some gates out front to fix, a contact list to update, old files and brochures to discard and a family picture to hang. They’ve only been on my to-do list since the last boom started. CTE

Jennings%2cKeith.tif About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at
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