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Does optimization=boring shop job?


Before thinking of stepping things up a notch, I went in person to deliver a whole ton of resumes for a shop job. Phone calls are coming in...all today for some reason.

I never refuse an interview, I really enjoy them (especially shop tours). Went to a place that is all about optimization. Good sized office staff, time studies in the shop, good degree of automatization, very structured.

Was told I would be ideal for their custom dept--went and checked it out, and I have to admit the work looked boring as heck. Nothing compared to the fancy hoodboxes and mantles I'm used to making. And on top of that, someone else drafts things, I'd never get to do it.

They are a big machine, over 2000 kitchens sold a year. Organized, friendly, etc. But do I really want to make thick plant-ons all year? For sure no.

Asked what they do with items like fancy hoodboxes--they tell people to go to a millwork shop. They say it isn't profitable.


5/27/15       #2: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...
Rich Kuban  Member

Website: closetexperts.com

Jeez, Mel, what do you want? You go on about how disorganized and inefficient your recent employer was. Then you have a chance to join an outfit that apparently has their act together and it's boring? I'll bet this place is constantly looking for ways to become more organized and efficient. You should be impressed they identified you quickly as best suited for their custom department.

You visited a BUSINESS not a hobby. Honestly, I think you want a job where you can be disruptive and listened to more than anything else. Funny thing is, that may be how they achieved the throughput they have. Would be interesting to see if Paul Akers would hire you.

5/27/15       #3: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...

I see how it comes across that way--but I think it's a legitimate question that I may have rudely formulated.

"Is all the very interesting to craft stuff on the non profitable side of things?" Is probably better way to formulate it.

5/27/15       #4: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...
Rich Kuban  Member

Website: closetexperts.com

"Is all the very interesting to craft stuff on the non profitable side of things?"

I cannot even make sense of the question...

5/27/15       #5: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...
Paul Downs

As a business proposition, high volume with small variation is a winner - it can be performed by less skilled workers, as they are able to master a limited set of skills. Kudos to the shop that knows exactly when to step away from unprofitable work, and can still keep busy. Instead of focusing on the shop floor of this outfit, look carefully at how they are marketing and closing deals, as they have clearly figured out how to keep busy - which is the hardest thing for a small shop.

5/27/15       #6: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...
Mel Member

Thanks Paul! I guess it's a question of delayed gratification. Indeed there would be more to learn in the long run.

Craft is fun, but not in a mess. The visit sprouted the question of is it either/or--my 12 years in the workforce is perhaps half or a third of most people here. So lots of things are new to me.

5/27/15       #7: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...

I'd love to be a designer/maker of product. There are a few that succeed @ it. Need a very good PR department. Much safer to master the mundane & make a buck. Store fixtures offer a little more variation than kitchens but it still comes down to making a buck.

5/27/15       #8: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...
Tim Schultz


The world of chaos does offer some big opportunities when you consider that the work is already priced for chaos. The simple fact that chaotic shops can stay alive means there must have been a lot of extra dollars available initially to subsidize the stupid.

In a low margin industry it does not take a lot to double the margin and there could be quite a bit of money if you could do that. The approach to take is to figure out exactly what the weak spots are, all of them.

Your competition sets your price for you. If they insist on dusting two out of every five dollars with a flamethrower you only have to dust one of them.

Your edge could simply be in communication (or some other policy that you are in control of). Your edge might be that your company can retrieve previous lessons where others can't. We are, for example, building a piece of furniture today that is similar to something we built a couple of months ago. We haven't done this piece enough times for it imprint in our lizard brain so it was helpful to be able to refer to our notes, much like an orchestra member referring to sheet music.

5/27/15       #9: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...
David Waldmann  Member

Website: vermonthardwoods.com

"Is all the very interesting to craft stuff on the non profitable side of things?"

We do a fairly high quality product. For many years I wondered if the main reason we were about the only ones doing stuff the way we were is that we were the only ones willing to make as little profit as we did.

As time went on we got tired of not making enough money to buy anything but rust buckets to drive and food from the dent dump, we started raising prices. Turns out we didn't lose any business. In fact we started getting busier.

The bottom line is that, IMO, how crafty or automated something in has no effect on whether it's profitable or not*. After all, look at Sam Maloof or any number of other "famous" woodworkers, glass artists, metal smiths, etc, etc. As Paul said (paraphrasing) you need to be able to sell it. If you can sell something at the right price, you can be profitable. That's what business is all about.

*however, the more people you have working, the more potential profit there is. There are less highly skilled workers available, so for ultimate volume you will need to use machines or processes that reduce the necessary skill level to that which can be done by the available labor force. That does NOT mean you cannot be profitable at a high skill low(er) volume craft type business.

5/28/15       #10: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...

Tim and David--this is encouraging. I'm thinking about this a whole lot.

So here goes...

1) I know a contractor that makes a living being the guy that gets things like hoodboxes and mantles outsourced to him by high efficiency shops that don't want to deal with it. Can't be 100% unprofitable.

2) I had an interesting conversation with the owner of the previous shop that asserted that he loves his custom dept. but has trouble making money off it

3) Having worked in that dept. I sincerely think that the reason it is not making money is methods based and not value of goods based.

Simple thing--Tim, as you mention, notes on a previous build are golden. Good notes taken once take time, but then reduce time on every subsequent build. A few builds became my pets as I was the first ever note taker--reduced build times on a few items from 1 to 1 1/2 days to 3-5 hours.

4) These builds may not have been frequent enough to justify an office staff/optimizer to input data entry/cognition on and extrapolate revenue--but an efficient floor person with a good basic mathematical foundation, and a sales package idea base to include it in a full project, may justify the resources for it?

I really don't know... You folks would know better for sure. This really is a good honest question to the hive mind without preconceived conclusions.

(P.S.--interview for junior drafting for a cabinetry shop Monday... all training provided for right candidate. May have happy-danced when no one was looking... don't tell anyone tho ;) )

5/31/15       #11: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...

I have many visions of the perfect optimization of my shop. surgical clean, robotic precision.

However my current reality feels more like borderline chaos - everything comes together just in time but seems like just barely!

Sometimes I wonder if I fear getting my process too optimized because it will become boring. Even if 'boring' means steady, reliable, easy, profitable processes, something about creating features for high-end clients from a shop that probably looks like a junkyard to most third-party observers.

Installations occur nationwide and also have a lot of chaos. Ideally I wouldn't even be doing out-of-state installs, however the lure of the challenge and adventure is too strong for me to resist. Clients sometimes order too late in their construction process, so we have to rush order things, make trips and deal with the chaos we find at jobsites in different cities/states.. It can be brutal, but rewarding.

5/31/15       #13: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...
Mel Member

Happy to report that I have recently toured a shop that incorporates optimization/order/structure and has fun work!

The nature of the fun is variety--every project is something new.

Thrilled :)

6/9/15       #14: Does optimization=boring shop job? ...

Think I got the answer to this question: it depends. I saw a bread and butter kitchen cabinet manufacturing plant--no specialites. This place brought up this question.

So yes, indeed, it wouldn't be the most optimal brain food for spun little shop creatures. Valid, good idea, nothing wrong with that, but not for me.

But optimization in an all specialty area? Heck yes!

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