When Workload Is Low, What Do You Do?


From original questioner:

When work is slow because there are not many jobs out for bid, what does your shop do?

What do you do to keep your employees busy after they have swept the floors, cleaned up the clutter in the shop, and cleaned the break room?

I know this is a terrible problem to have, but our work load is slow right now. We have jobs that are on our schedule to be built, but those are far enough in the future that the walls are not ready to measure on the job, so we can not start millwork yet.

Looking for ideas to fill the times we have like this. Any input is appreciated.

From contributor Bo

Clean and organize everything.
Throw out all the junk.
I just took 2-3 days out of a busy schedule to do just that.
Stuff you don't use is just taking up valuable floor space.
I'm working on documenting procedures for all jobs/tasks in the shop.
Get the guys involved in those procedures.
For example: how to set up the edgebander.
Do you have one procedure or does each guy do things a little differently.
Lot easier to teach a new employees how to operate and set up machines if there is only one way to do it.

From contributor La

I keep a list of TODO projects. That way if there is a break I don't have to remember them all. Typically: Go over the tools clean, lube, take care of anything that has been delayed when real busy. Organize, clean all the corners, vacuum the walls and ceiling. Make shop cabinets to hold stuff. Make new shadow boards if it has been long enough that things have changed.

From contributor Je

1. Cut all your standardized parts that you can and have them ready for assembly when you get the work.

2.Take the time to build shop jigs and storage options that you always need when your busy and don't ever get around to doing.

3.Pull preventive maintenance on all your machines.

4. Catch up on paperwork and any education you may need.

From contributor pa

You and your people go out and glad hand, promote, advertise, sell, promote, market, stuff envelopes, pass out fliers until you have something to do...

From contributor ca

What Pat said.

Get out there and photograph old jobs you have done. While you're there do a quick tuneup on the cabinets. You'll want to do this anyway so the photos will look good.

This is a twofer. Not only do you get a chance to document your old projects you have a reason to get in contact with all of your old customers. All you need to do is tell them you want to step up your marketing and at least one or two of them will have a job that needs to be done or know someone who does.

Use these photos to leverage social media. Houzz, Pinterest & Facebook are the new watering hole. Remember that if you want to hunt game in Africa all you have to do is find the watering hole. They will come to you.

From contributor Ja

What would your suggestion be to a commercial millwork business owner (not casework but cabinets that are built to actual wall dimensions, no filler panels) that says they do not want to advertise because "that will bring us a lot of customers that we don't want to deal with" like the "I have a broken door on my kitchen cabinets, can you make me a new one?"

The owner said he doesn't want the "hassle" of residential work because we are a commercial shop and we only want to work with general contractors. "They know where our shop is", and "it is better if people don't know where we are", etc... ?? I don't really understand the logic behind those ideas?

I thought that if you are a business owner, you want to do everything you can to bring in new customers. Get your name recognized so people will think of you first when they need some work done in your category of specialty? At least that is what I learned in my business classes when I was in college.

I have been doing what I can lately to increase my knowledge of how other cabinet shops operate, different equipment, everything I can find.

Since we are not a "casework" manufacturer, it is more difficult for us to cut out "stock parts" for future work. We have typical sizes for a few pieces, so that could be somewhat beneficial to us. Lately I have been wondering if we need to start migrating more of our work to typical casework type specifications so we can be more competitive on jobs.

What type of work do the majority of your shops do? Are there many shops out there that supply "custom" sized millwork anymore, other than a residential cabinet shop?

Have you noticed potential customers calling who are looking for custom work? Just curious if there is still much of a demand for custom work, or if people are more interested in a functional cabinet, that looks nice, and won't fall apart once it is installed.

From contributor Ma

I'm just a one man shop so it's been awhile since I've seen any down time. But...

1. maintenance items, lube saw, check for true, check level on working tables,clean,etc.
2. Go through my pieces accumulation and anything I don't have a plan for take down to the local school wood shop and donate it.
3. Update website and facebook pages with most recent photographs.
4. Build furniture to sell on consignment at local furniture stores. Give them a wholesale price so they make something.

From contributor La

Since we are a commercial work only shop and everything is made to order, we don't cut ahead. Even if we made things like kitchens where there are standard sides etc. it would run against my manufacturing philosophy. There are always other things that need done. In addition to the shop projects already covered doing some promotion, like Pat said, is always a good idea. As for the thought that it will bring in undesirable work, you don't have to do it! Pick your poison.

From contributor pa

"that will bring us a lot of customers that we don't want to deal with"

That comes from a policy put in place because of painful experiences. This always happens when you do something new. I wonder if this does not create the life cycle of a business, because they are not willing to change from successful policy. The other day I was listening to a talk by Steve Ballmer talking about the one trick pony idea and how it relates to a business.

I think the main job of any business is sales/marketing everything else is a distant second.