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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

* We have regular team meetings and plan for the most efficient queues for work. You have to be serious about not only nesting prints, but also grouping similar media to cut down on media changes. Another important variable is having the staff only when you need them. For example, it doesn’t do you any good to have finishing staff standing around and waiting for the prints. Understanding printer and finishing timings becomes critical in efficiently staging staff.

When it comes to deadlines themselves, we’ve developed the concept of “comfort deadlines” and “drop-dead deadlines” for times when we’re faced with being under capacity. Too frequently, we’ve found, customers indicate when they want their product as when they need it. In reality, these are two different concepts.

So, when workload is heavy and deadlines are tight, we ask our project managers and CSRs to have a heart-to-heart conversation with their clients. We don’t want to meet one customer’s comfort deadline at the expense of another’s drop-dead date. Knowing the ultimate deadlines we must meet allows us to be creative with comfort deadlines.

In addition, we’ve tied prices to delivery-of-files deadlines. Several years ago, we began providing our customers prices contingent on when we received print-ready files. All too often, our capacity problems are a result of customers delivering files late. As a result, we’re forced into taxing our capacity due to the limited amount of time that’s then available to complete the project.

So, we look at our anticipated production queue and we give customers deadlines based on that information. If they get us files by x date, their price is A or standard pricing. If, however, their files arrive after Y date, their price is A plus 25 percent. And if their files arrive after Z date, their price is A plus 50 percent, and so on.

Call up the reserves
Finally, there’s this idea: The American military maintains reserve armies. When the US found itself in two wars and badly undermanned, the reserve was called up. I, too, wanted a reserve “production army” to call up when we need them, so our company recently began the development of a reserve staff.

Sewing is the first production area we’re trying this with, basing it on the idea that retired people and stay-at-home partners and spouses have the time and could use extra money. We’ve identified a group of women through their common church and their love of sewing. Some of what we do will fit into their existing skill sets; other things, like doing double-sided gigantic backdrops, do not. Some of our material is bigger and heavier than they’re likely accustomed to, and I doubt if any of them have sewn F-channel beading onto fabric either. So we’ll have these women come in for paid training; they can work alongside our skilled commercial sewers and learn by doing.

Our plan is to be able to bring in one of our reserve sewers after an employee has worked an eight-hour shift. This way, we’ll not work our employee into the ground and we’ll avoid overtime. All of the “reservists” will be 1099 subcontractors, but they’ll be under our roof and under our supervision. If it works, we plan to replicate this plan with other departments – CNC operating, hand trimming, prepress, and printing.

With our current storm-and-drought reality, we simply don’t have the ongoing regular production to warrant large-scale hiring. But if we want to avoid turning away good work and good customers, we have to come up with options like these to successfully complete the big projects and garner more work.