Slow Down In The Shop: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”
This weeks Pro Shop blog is written by guest blogger Doug Turner of Turner Custom Furniture in Atlanta, Georgia.
For this article, I chose to write about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately: taking the proper amount of time to get a project done right, and why that’s often very difficult.
In a perfect world, we’d always have ample time to spend on our projects. Here in the real world, there are many good reasons to hit the gas on a project instead of the brakes. It’s rarely easy to take a deep breath and allow yourself another hour or five of sanding (which that table definitely needs). Taking an extra hour, day, or week to truly do your best work often just isn’t in the budget. And for most shops, that doesn’t mean the owner won’t get to put an extra few dollars in savings – it means he or she will miss payroll, rent or a tax deadline.
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t skipped the part where shop owners are supposed to budget the proper amount of time for a project. I’m assuming they’ve tried to do that, and then life happened. The client needed a little discount to get started. A mistake was made (add an hour and $20 to the cost for a new piece of walnut). There’s a delay on another piece, which causes a backup in the spray booth (add two hours). Joe Employee’s wife has a flat, and he needs to go pick her up (add one hour, and agonize over whether or not to pull a guy off another job to cover for Joe). Any shop owner could think of a thousand more ways to exceed a time budget.
So, what’s to be done? I once heard the phrase: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” It means you’ve got to try to envision every possible slow down, and budget for it (or eliminate it with a shop improvement). It means you’ve got to take the time to create proper drawings so that your fabricators won’t have to solve problems as they build (they will anyway, regardless of how perfect your drawings are). It means you’ve got to figure out your materials order correctly, anticipate problems, and order a bit more. And it means that you can’t just arbitrarily lower your price to secure a job (guilty!). All of these things are fundamentals, but they get thrown out the window every day in shops all over the world. And that’s not because we shop owners are lazy or stupid. It’s because most of us have to take jobs that are a bit risky, just to keep the doors open.
Here are a few techniques we use in our shop to help keep us on budget:
- Clients will usually forgive time delays, but they will never forgive poor quality. I discuss this with every client as we negotiate the price of a piece. Sometimes it works.
- Mistakes are cheaper to make on paper (or in the computer). Don’t rush drawings and cultists.
- Our shop tends to produce most lower cost pieces out of ash, and most higher end pieces out of walnut or cherry, with ash a secondary wood. This means we’ve usually got a bunch of these three species lying around, so we rarely run short on a job, and we’ve usually got a good choice of boards for special needs, like drawer faces or table tops.
- We have started to use #2 common for most everything. Here in Georgia at least, it’s a lot cheaper , and it’s a lot better looking (more figure). We need to buy more of it, but not so much that we are even price wise with FAS lumber. The defects that make it #2 common often give the wood a lot of character. Yes, we have to cut around cracks and checks, but the cost savings plus the increase in figure is definitely a plus. And that rustic look is really popular lately, so we can often include small checks and splits.
- I’m always thinking of ways to be more efficient in the shop. My ideas don’t always see the light of day, but I try. We’ve added a little drill press with a permanently installed 35 mm hinge bit with a fence set for most cabinet doors (low cost shop upgrade). We just bought a used wide belt sander (high cost shop upgrade, but well worth it). We spent a good amount of money adding outlets everywhere (medium cost upgrade). We buy pencils in bulk, so that we never have to search for one (super cheap upgrade, based on a really bad experience years ago). We’ve got plans to build a permanent panel clamp set up (medium cost upgrade). Think about things you can do to make your shop more efficient, and split them into price ranges. I’d be willing to bet that there are a lot of things most shops can do to get more efficient in the inexpensive range.
- I wage a constant battle against chaos and disorder. Here’s what I mean: let’s say that on a quiet Sunday afternoon, when I’m all alone, I get the shop super organized – screws in order, neatly arranged in labeled bins, glue bottles filled up, scraps organized by species etc. Shop fantasyland. An almost unattainable level of shop organization. Come Monday afternoon, with five people building three pieces of furniture, 25% of that organization is gone. The point I’m trying to make is that we shop owners have to try to raise our median level of work space organization – the level of organization that occurs when our shops are busy, not when they are empty. It’s interesting to think about.
I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate all shop slow-downs and cost overruns. But there are simple (and complex) things all shop owners can do to reduce the possibility that projects will lose profitability.
If you would like to see more of Doug’s beautiful custom designs, go to his portfolio on CustomMade and browse around. You may also contact him about a custom project by clicking Start A Project on his profile page.