Ben Cole  

Cole Brothers

Dealing with problems is part of running a granite shop. It seems that problems happen almost daily.  But I like to divide these problems into two categories – good problems and bad problems. Now when it comes to work, I would classify “not enough work” under the bad problem category, and “too much work” under the good problem category. But as sure as the sun rises, too much work is a problem and can be dangerous for your company and its goals.

My company is currently going through one of the busiest periods of work we have ever experienced. Since January, the work has been flooding in from our dealers, builders, designers, and also walk-in homeowners. There’s been so much work that despite adding three new members to our team, our backlog of jobs has been pushing past three weeks, to four weeks. Now, we have always worked hard to keep our turnaround time right around two weeks. Sometimes we have stretched that deadline closer to three weeks, but past that is considered unacceptable to our usual type of customer. And I would have to agree. Past two weeks – let alone into four weeks – will hold a project up more than most customers are willing to wait.

So what’s the big deal? Some fabricators might say, “If the customers are not willing to wait for quality work, then they can go somewhere else.” Not so fast! Let’s think about that. 

First, you definitely do not want to tell your big accounts that you cannot meet their time expectations and ask them to use another fabricator. Do you really want to open the door for someone else to take one of your big accounts? 

Secondly, you have to be very careful that you do not misquote the turnaround time. If you tell one of your builders that you can have a kitchen installed in two weeks and you get it back after four weeks, then you are jeopardizing your relationship with that builder along with your good name. The word is likely to spread that you are no longer a reliable partner.  Last and most importantly, who wants to turn away work these days?

You might say that it must be poor planning if you are not ready to handle the work coming in. Well, we were very busy last year and made moves to expand our fabrication space. We improved our material storage to bring down the amount of refinishing we needed to do, and brought on another employee. We hoped to get him up to speed in our production system by the time the busy season started. Unfortunately, he didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped.

We actually ended up needing three new employees to help handle the larger than expected work load. Right now, more work has come in than expected and we have moved into a cautious mode of turning away any customers that are not one of our repeat accounts (builders, kitchen dealers, designers etc.). First and foremost, we want to make sure that our main customers are well taken care of and keep them satisfied with our turnaround times and service.

What can you do to fix this “good problem?” I have increased the overtime for our shop guys, which is standard for our busy season. 

But I have had issues with our fabricators being willing to work as much overtime as I need them to, and this attitude puts our schedule in jeopardy. It is not always easy making some of the guys see that anything that affects the large accounts will directly affect them. They don’t understand that my ability to provide men with forty hour work weeks during the slower times of the year – and a generous bonus system – is all a result of the busy season. But not every person has the same drive to take advantage of extra work and a bigger paycheck when they are available.  

Despite my previous planning, the take home lesson I am learning from this busy season is that better and more efficient machinery may be a good option to improve our output, and also make us less reliant on personnel, when our core fabricators can’t or won’t work the extra hours. Like us, you may have to reevaluate current staff and look to build the leanest, strongest team possible. 

In our busy shop, I will continue to do everything I can to convince my team that our top priority is to meet the expectations of our steady accounts, ensure that our reputation remains intact, and that our company is heading on the right course.