Are You Charging or Recharging?

It goes without saying that shops and plants around the U.S. are facing intense economic and business pressures. For most of us, it was no bed of roses before today’s global credit crisis began last year—we’ve seen the competitive landscape shift dramatically over the past decade. A few weeks ago, I was talking to an old friend and fellow business owner in Ohio. He told me that his company was certainly feeling these pressures and he had to make some tough decisions to reduce costs—among them were reducing prices to maintain business and cash flow, and the hard choice to cut staff.

But he also said something that echoes what I’ve heard from many savvy U.S. manufacturers over the past year (and decade)—he’s using the downturn to assess, reeducate, retool and recharge.

MFG.com and MoldMaking Technology, along with sister publication Modern Machine Shop, each recently conducted surveys of small and medium sized manufacturers (SMMs) to gauge their expectations for the coming year. In both surveys, around a third indicated that they were projecting their businesses to grow in 2009. I believe that whenever business conditions cause our competitors to freeze, opportunities exist to seize business. While our instincts say stop, what we should be thinking is charge ahead.

Like my friend in Ohio and many SMMs I’ve met over the years, maybe now is the time for us to not just focus on reducing the charges and transactions and costs that impact our businesses now, but to recharge and invigorate our businesses for the future via new technology, new staff, new products and new niche markets.

Maybe now is the time to adopt lean manufacturing in earnest. Or attack new markets. Or reorganize our processes and capabilities. After all, while the pressures we face are real, so are the positives.

Today, technology is cheap. There’s a high level of talent and expertise available. Resources exist (like your regional Manufacturing Extension Partnership [MEP]) to help you adopt lean and identify and capitalize on new product/market opportunities.

So why not meet these pressures with aggressiveness and take advantage of these opportunities? The real question to ask ourselves is, “What’s right for my business and how can we emerge stronger?” To determine what’s right for you, think about the following steps:

  • Engage your management and thought leaders to brainstorm opportunities to not just cut costs but build capabilities.
  • Assign a specific champion to lead and execute this process, and remember that accountability without authority doesn’t work. Give them the reins and the support to succeed. This includes helping your champion create a team from across your enterprise to ensure all aspects of your business are assessed and creativity is maximized, and giving them the time to research viable courses of action.
  • Encourage this team to reach out to and engage resources and examples to help you identify and adopt the right actions and plans for success.
  • Communicate the plan to the entire company. Encourage the enterprise to support these efforts. Explain the purpose and how it affects them and the company. Keep your employees informed every step of the way, because the changes you’re likely to adopt will take time and their commitment to succeed.

The majority of shops and plants—your competitors—are reacting to today’s environment by turning inward. They are cutting and reducing and contracting. And certainly, many of those actions are prudent business decisions that have to be made to sustain their businesses today.

But who says that now isn’t the right time to recharge, redirect and inspire your company for growth at the same time? Change is hard for all of us, but contraction alone means you may have to face the future with less to attract and serve customers than you had six months ago.

The decisions we make today will have certain impact on what our companies look like in the coming years. I encourage you to consider recharging your business now, while there are opportunities that your competitors may not see.

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