I was discussing an earlier thread with one of my guys that was about how hard it is to find woodworkers that are competent. The conclusion we came up with was that since you can't recruit them you gotta build them.
On this same thread one of the conclusions was that it really didn't matter how things got done as long as they got done and the customer was happy. There is a certain simplicity to this that is hard to argue with.
Laissez-faire strategies work best, I think, when overhead is low or sales prices are high. Most of us on this forum have been in the industry for a few decades or more. As such we've all seen seasons that work was coming in the door faster than we could produce it and we were turning down more work than we took on. That's the economy for my shop right now. Based on the buoyancy of threads on the forum lately I suspect this is what it like for many of us.
A couple of years ago it was very different.
It used to be that when the prices of houses were going through the roof it was a good thing for our industry. Our customers were optimistic and perfectly willing to dump a bunch of money in their houses. Today the cost of housing is factoring into our ability to recruit and retain workers. A worker earning $20 an hour in my shop has to commit over half of his take home paycheck for a place to live. You can't go two blocks in my city without seeing a major hole in the ground that is one day going to hold another 600 desks. Those desks are going to be filled with tech workers who earn three times what my guys do. It's going to be hard for a cabinetmaker to compete with a software engineer for in-city housing.
I never would have thought an increase in the value of housing would work against me in this industry.
Enter the "sharing" economy.
People are willing to share their houses with total strangers. AirBNB hotels are popping up all over the city. How long will it be before Wall Street buys up every single family residence and convert them to AirBNB rentals? What will this mean to custom cabinetmakers in the residential market?
So now we have Uber cars everywhere. The Uber people contend they are just performing a public service by providing a source of income for marginally employed people. A driver for Uber gets 80% of the fare. How long will it be before Uber merges with Ford & Google to produce self driving cars? Why would they willingly surrender 80% of the revenue if the car can drive itself? What will a city look like if one car can transport 50 people in a day?
Back to Laissez-Faire cabinet shop management.......It's obvious that some really great and beautiful work emanates from that strategy. How many dollars are left on the table with this strategy? What would the cabinetmaking work force look like if these lost profits were instead rolled into higher wages?
"What would the cabinetmaking work force look like if these lost profits were instead rolled into higher wages?"
Probably a lot like my shop. I've been paying high wages for years - probably too high, as I haven't been able to show much profit. But I do have stable, committed, intelligent, hardworking employees. It's a pleasure to greet them each morning.
You gotta have good workers to get to good profits. To recruit and retain good workers they have to be well fed. To have well fed workers AND good profits you're going to have to find your cost savings in places other than wage rates.
So that means you have to leverage the labor minutes better. The key is probably to look at labor in terms of minutes rather than hours because the tasks actually consist of a series of minutes rather than hours.
Being top pay is relative. You don't have to compete with surgeon wages because the people you are going to hire wouldn't ordinarily be a surgeon. You only have to improve on what their peers are making.
With simpler systems for manufacturing, good mentoring and better choreography you should be able to make even someone with an English degree useful.
I think a lot of times we have jobs that leave our shop that could have been done quicker if we had a second shot at them. Without any changes to staff or machinery we could significantly decrease the manufacturing time if we had the job to do again. The only thing that can change under this scenario is how we manage our resources. The key therefore is in management.
All management is list management. The list may be in your head but it is still a list. If you write the list on the back of a cardboard box it's more useful than being just in your head because at least now others can help check things off the list.
If the list is on a database server then you can access the list with your i-phone from wherever you are.
We have a particular method of building drawer boxes that pleases our customers. We've been building it the same way for 15 years. About six months ago we formalized the processes in an effort to better teach them to a new worker.
None of the processes were inherently difficult but for a new person it was still a bit overwhelming. For many years we used the time honored tribal elder method of training. Some guy who had time would show you his favorite methods and work arounds.
The problem with this method of training was that how you were trained depended on who did the training. The outcome was also similarly random. The customer would eventually get a good drawer but sometimes we had to use extra material or unnecessary minutes to make this happen.
The biggest benefit from formalizing this list (that heretofore resided in the tribal elder's head was that we found five process improvements, two of which were fairly significant for other reasons. You would think that after 15 years we knew how to build this drawer box. The tribal elder certainly believed that he did.
In reality after 15 years and a formal list we not only got better at building it but we got better at training people to build it.
Better management will help you pay better wages and this can improveyour profit margins and how well fed your workers are.
There is also the "Don't fix it if it ain't broke" approach. This would be a much more simple approach which appeals to the Keep-It-Simple-Sweetheart crowd.
"What would the cabinetmaking work force look like if these lost profits were instead rolled into higher wages?"
Well, it might look a lot like it did 80-100 years ago, where a craftsman could support a family. Once upon a time, the tradesmen all lived in nice neighborhoods - nice and well-kept. They could buy their houses, send their kids to decent schools, support the churches and the bars. And they had the respect of the community - they MADE the things that made for a decent quality of life. This gave them self respect, and employment in the trades was sought and taught.
Somehow, the percentage skimmers got in and made their positions look so attractive (bankers, assessors, insurance salesmen, etc) that they supplanted the trades that actually provided a tangible product. At the same time, blue collar work became associated (union busting) with Socialism, which is associated with Communism, which was the Terrorism of the 50's and 60's, so then all tradesmen were to be regarded with suspicion as anarchists or worse.
The tradesmen of the time found it harder and harder to make ends meet (who wants to pay a Communist well? Damn Unions....), so they worked harder instead of gathering to find out how to get an image makeover, and the trades withered as a result. While Americans looked askance at those tradesmen, they learned to look up to the percentage people that succeeded so well that today, most American families are carrying close to $130,00 of debt in consumer bliss.
And they can find no one to fix their house. That they don't own.
Really it has more to do with demographics than anything else.
The demand for housing is low right now but it will go up.
For sure you have to use technology. Not to say that you have to emulate Ikea, which technology has a tendency to entice you to do. As people pay for craftsmanship even if they aren't exactly sure what they are seeing.
IMO it is about not introverting into the endless problems but to focus on the goals.
Cabmaker, I've also come to the conclusion that the Tribal method sucks. It produces inconsistencies and therefore increases costs. Developing a system, that is followed and constantly reviewed and improved, on is far better. Communicating that system is a challenge and I like the method often used in Japanese manufacturing. Ford is credited with starting it, Dr Deming with refining it, Taiichi Ohno with (nearly) perfecting it. There are several Japanese plants here. I've toured 3 of them. Each uses a slightly different approach. They all define what is to be done and how it is to be done. Often graphically, photos and few words. When a change, improvement, is decided on it is implemented as the way it is to be done, by everyone. No tribal systems allowed.
I have thought for a long time that we are our own worst enemy. We have competition from too many people that have a basic table saw and no overhead but their price is so it causes the contractor or end user to buy from them. I know myself, dealing in the commercial market, most of even my loyal customers will step right over my body to get to a lower price. Lets face it a 32mm box is 32mm box, you are not God's gift to cabinetmaking most times. Plumbers and electricians are required to carry a license yet any goon with a nail gun and a contractors saw is a cabinetmaker. They either don't understand the specs of a job or don't care. We need to educate the employees, yes, but we need to educate our customers too.
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