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Dealing with Storms and Droughts

(April 2013) posted on Mon Mar 25, 2013

How to deal with an inconsistent job flow without increasing your number of employees.

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By Craig Miller

Some lucky print providers have a smooth workflow. A manageable amount of work comes in the door and it’s predictable and profitable because the flow is constant and consistent.

For many of us, however, we see our business cycles varying from incredible highs to pathetic lows. My company, for instance, is in the middle of a two-month period where we have so much work we’re killing ourselves and working our people to exhaustion. Just six weeks ago, however, we had most of our production employees standing around without enough work to do. One reason for these near unmanageable ebbs and flows at our shop: exhibit work and signage for big tradeshows and the graphics for large events and architectural projects.

In the late 1990s, my philosophy was to overstaff. Money was good. The big jobs paid for a little standing around in the slow times, so we maintained three staff shifts throughout the year. We had a pretty good run of baseline production with a sufficient staff to handle the big projects. Then, of course, came the recession and we began maintaining just two shifts.

Today, we’re down to one shift – and having just eight hours of straight time a day to get everything done can be a challenge. It’s especially problematical when we land jobs requiring three shifts to complete. And one more variable has come into play this year: flu season. Our company was bit by the flu bug this year, which has exacerbated our staffing situation. As this column is written, I’m in the shop on a Saturday with a complete prepress, printing, and finishing crew on overtime, and we’ll all be here again tomorrow as well with no end in sight.

If you’re like us and you have the opportunity to take on more business than you can realistically handle, you have to come up with some options. Yes, you can certainly turn down the work, but turning down money when you need it is always painful. Your rejection can have long-term consequences – some of those companies seeking your services might be reluctant to call you again. So turning down work is an option we all want to avoid.