Hiring employees with the magic combination of being either experienced or trainable as well as prompt, dependable, self-motivated and willing to work for a rate you can afford has always been a rare commodity. In recent years the standard practice of hiring more personnel to increase production has taken on a whole new set of challenges.
For quite some time now we have been forced to deal with a shrinking work force, due to an unemployment rate at a 25-year low, which has dramatically reduced the number of qualified people looking for employment. Furthermore, the idea of adding employees loses more luster when you consider that a minimum wage employee comes along with a $20,000 annual price tag! All the while, a healthy economy continues to push consumer demand to record levels.
When you explore the options, the most logical solution is to concentrate on increasing the efficiency of your existing labor force, as opposed to simply increasing it.
Digging a subway tunnel with pick axes, shovels and an endless line of workers wouldn't be considered efficient, and this mentality doesn't get any more efficient when applied to fabricating window treatments. Our industry dates back many years and, as in most industries with a long history, many old habits seem to linger on. Unfortunately not all of these habits are good ones, and it seems the bad ones are the ones that take the longest to die.
"Shucks, we've been doing it that way for years, and it seems to get the job done," are words most of us have heard on more occasions than we'd care to remember. Obviously, this way of thinking stands in the way of a company's ability to become more efficient. Until recently, the practice of manually building most window treatment products has gone unchallenged. This has resulted in what may be referred to as a technologically challenged industry.
It started slowly, but gradually this outdated way of thinking is being phased out of our industry, and a new era of automation is rapidly replacing those outdated production methods.
Technology and automation have made our everyday lives easier by streamlining our efforts, and making many things we do more efficient. Fabricators worldwide are capitalizing on these advances and applying today's technology to their window treatment production.
Thanks to a few pioneers, there is a whole new generation of highly efficient and affordable machinery available to the fabricators of today. Automated machinery, when properly matched to the fabricator's individual needs, can radically decrease man-hours per unit. Used properly, many companies have experienced labor savings up to and above 33 percent. In some cases these machines cost less than the annual cost of one minimum wage employee.
Beyond that, the benefits are not limited to just personnel costs. Automated machinery reduces the square footage requirements of fabricating factories, decreases delivery time which results in increased sales, lowers production costs which increase profits and, in most cases, the products' quality is increased because reducing production time allows more time to be devoted to inspection and quality control.
There is one aspect of today's economy that works in favor of the fabricator and that is competition between lending institutions. With the economy strong, there is plenty of money available and interest rates are bordering on the ridiculous.
Many companies are opting to acquire machinery through leasing. Using leasing as a vehicle to get a factory started, or updating machinery, with little or no layout of capital is making it possible for companies of all sizes to benefit and expand. Capital is a commodity that many feel is best reserved for expenditures such as inventory, advertising, marketing and numerous other things.
As the practice of "hiring" machinery to promote efficiency becomes the norm, our entire industry stands to reap the benefits. As we move into the new millennium and rely more on automation and become less dependent on labor, the products we make our living on will become better and better. Automation will enhance the stability of these products. Production will be faster, and with fewer mistakes prices will remain competitive and the level of customer satisfaction will certainly increase along with profits. It's time to stop working harder and start working smarter.
Bob "Tex" Svajda is national sales director at LTL International Inc., Dallas, TX; (800) 533-3371.