Have you ever considered partnering with another company? For some that's a crazy idea. Why? Perhaps they are concerned about other companies discovering who their customers are or learning their trade secrets, or even how to split up the sales. These are valid concerns, but you may find partnering with other companies has more pros than cons.
We live in a volatile economy. Investing in large ticket items, such as a thermoforming oven or CNC router to use for a large job, can be dangerous. Some solid surface fabricators have considered setting up granite shops to continue to compete in the countertop market. This can be a very expensive proposition. Also, the medical field is using solid surface more than ever, and many solid surface jobs are going to be huge, requiring lots of material to be fabricated and installed with deadlines to be met that have cost penalties. If you find yourself in any of these circumstances, then working with another shop may be just the ticket.
For example, say you have the opportunity to quote a large commercial job, the kind of job that a CNC machine could pump out, but you don't have a CNC. Why not approach a company that does and let them know you need a price to rout out all of the pieces? The parts could then be brought back to your shop for your crew to assemble and sand.
Currently, the shop I work at is collaborating its efforts with other shops to complete a large job in a big metropolitan area. Because we are so far away from the job, our installation cost would have priced us out of the job. Conversely, the shop we are working with doesn't have the production machines we have, so their fabrication cost would have priced them out of the game. When we found out we both were giving prices to the same contractor, we decided to give a joint price and work as a team. In a situation like this, a clear contract outlining what each company is responsible for is vital. In this case both companies were able to place a fair bid helping both teams succeed.
It's not always about large shops helping out the smaller ones. There are times when even the large shops bite off more than they can chew. When this is the case, why not enlist the help of other shops and farm out some work? True, your margins on that job aren't going to be ideal, but sometimes it is better to break even on a job than to ruin your hard-earned reputation.
We sometimes will ask other shops to help with certain install projects. As mentioned in the beginning, there are some concerns all of us would have if we were to use another shop. I wouldn't use a competitor to install a kitchen top for a dealer, but there are those small commercial jobs that can be worked out.
A lot of it has to do with building relationships with other companies. Taking advantage of networking is very important. There are different ways to do this. We once held an ISSFA shop tour. Many shops visited. Eight years later, a fabricator that had visited asked us to help price a very large job. Or, when you attend the Surface Design & Fabrication Expo, think of it as a way to meet other fabricators. Build up a network. You never know when it might be of benefit. We met a very large fabricator from France at one show. Since then, we have established an ongoing dialogue that we feel could help both companies in the future.
So maybe you are a small shop without large machinery. If you are willing to network with other companies, you can have access to all the tools you need. When we first started, we didn't have a thermoforming oven. We used the oven at another local shop. We would price into the job their cost to bend our stock. It worked well for many years. Eventually, we were able to get our own oven. Perhaps buying our own oven right away would have been a poor financial decision. During our ovenless years we were thankful we had shops that we could work well with.
I think one of the most important things to consider when partnering with another company is to be discreet. Perhaps you're helping another company through a rough time that could be embarrassing for them. Keeping it in house is very important. Not discussing price is also important. There are many private matters to be discussed only between the parties involved. Protect another company's privacy like you would want your own protected.