Silver lining at the end of a crazy year

Author Keith Jennings
December 01, 2009 - 11:00am

If you’ve made it to this point, it’s safe to assume you’re still in business, making parts and pressing onward. Maybe your shop is making fewer parts than a year or so ago, but machining something is better than nothing.

While many shop owners and managers would like to forget about 2009 and the stress that went with it, going through the experience had its benefits. Chances are you’ve made changes to your operation that are difficult now but will reap rewards later. You’re probably operating leaner, having cut some nonessential expenses, cross-trained employees to handle additional functions and tightened control of inventory, among other activities. These types of changes are healthy for all companies and should better prepare them for the next few years.

Managing a manufactur-ing business isn’t for the faint of heart, and the unfortunate reality is that many shops are out of business. However, if you’ve managed to survive, the result could be a market with fewer competitors. When the economy and U.S. industry, in general, comes roaring back, your effective management of the past year or two will have prepared your shop for a great comeback with increased opportunities.

Any improvement is likely to be slow and steady, but a growth trajectory nonetheless. As a result, you could find yourself getting busier, perhaps with many new names on that backlog and a greater degree of diversification than you’ve had in a while. As your customers slowly awaken and begin to produce products again, you’ll hopefully be sitting pretty and known as a go-to shop. Are you ready to take that role? If you’re like most shop owners and managers I know, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Are there other benefits to be gained in 2010 as a result of this part year? Yes. As things progress next year, you may need to add more qualified employees. This should be easier than in previous years because there are more high-quality candidates seeking employment. I’ve accumulated quite a database of highly skilled people who would be a great addition to our shop. Many have relocated and are anxious to get reestablished.

Another positive is it’s a buyer’s market for good equipment, whether new or used. Assuming you have decent credit and the wherewithal to make an acquisition, carefully selecting and adding the right equipment can make your shop more productive and competitive in 2010—and beyond. Rates for credit and financing will remain very attractive throughout next year, and taking advantage of the situation may offer the opportunity to obtain the most affordable equipment in years.

After experiencing such a dramatic year, I’ve tried to share some ideas and techniques to help us all get through the difficult times as well as the good. Hopefully, those techniques made some sense and even worked for you like they did for our shop.

In spite of what 2009 had to offer—or took away—there’s a silver lining for those who remain. We will certainly continue to add value to our customers’ projects and validate the superior quality of North American-made parts. Your ability to navigate through the downturn also validates your knowledge and experience and ensures U.S. manufacturing isn’t dying as many have predicted, but getting better.

After witnessing the creativity and stamina of my fellow machine shop partners, I’m motivated to persevere and keep improving. Stay the course and let’s have a great 2010 together! CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, laser cutting, metal fabrication and metal stamping. He can be e-mailed at 


Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.