The countertop business is somewhat like the stock market, with its highs and lows. Nobody likes those periods when the shop doesn't have enough work to keep everyone busy, so slow periods can be very challenging. Because you know they don't last for long, layoffs are not necessary, but you don't want to pay your employees to stand around doing nothing.
The slow period in the shop doesn't have to translate into you being without work. You're busy preparing the jobs or out on the sales patrol. This is where some creative planning comes into play. Believe it or not, these slow periods can actually make your company more productive as the busy season begins again. During this time shop organization, cross training and finding employees' hidden talents can take place.
Take a look at your shop. What do you see? Do you need more shop benches made? Do you need scrap racks? You get the point. What shop doesn't have needs? This is the time to take care of business.
The first step is to walk through your shop and take note of what needs attention. Develop a set of plans and have them ready to put into action when that time comes. It is important that your plans for shop reorganization be clearly communicated to your workers.
This almost sounds too simple to be talking about, but some of the simplest things in life cause us the biggest problems. For example, what if you told one of your employees to build that scrap rack? He sets out to do it and you start your daily activities. At the end of the day you return to find a rack that only holds 10 pieces of scrap and only those pieces that are 48 in. high. Oops! What are you going to do with that? Now you're really frustrated. You have been paying someone all day to build something that is completely useless. It does not have to be this way if clear instructions are given at the beginning of the project.
There are alot of small jobs that can be attended to during this period. Sweeping the dust off the shop lights, minor painting, cleaning the shop bath and tool maintenance are all worthwhile tasks. Start building that list now and you'll be surprised how long it gets.
Cross-training is a shop manager's dream. Slow periods are perfect times to develop a program for this. Perhaps you have a certain employee who you think may have potential in sales some day. Why not let this employee go with you on a sales call? You could let that individual learn how to price jobs and make follow-up sales calls.
Many shops have sanders or entry-level jobs. These types of employees may have potential to become key members of your fabrication team. Let them work alongside some of your more seasoned employees to see if that potential blossoms.
Do you have someone that can cover for you when you're on vacation or attending a trade show? You can avoid a lot of phone calls while you're gone if there is someone there that can do your job. (Additional points on delegation can be found online in the Surface Fabrication archives, July 2002.)