Tools of the Trade

You wouldn’t think of not giving your shop workers the tools of the trade. Are you giving the people in accounting, sales, shipping, etc. the tools of their trade?

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As machinists and toolmakers we love our tools and gadgets. We think it is cool to own and operate the latest CNC machines, inspection equipment, CAD/CAM software and have a big toolbox on wheels. We fancy ourselves artists and they are our paint brushes and easels. The steel and aluminum on which we perform our magic is our canvas.

When you hire a new employee in the shop, you make sure that they have the tools to do the job. It would be a waste of money and time putting a machinist on the shop floor without the tools to do the job. Could you imagine handing a machinist a drawing and only giving them a hacksaw, a metal file and a tape measure and expecting him to make the part to the print? Seems ludicrous, doesn’t it?

When I visit shops and speak with shop owners, they are always very proud to walk me through the shop floor and show me their latest equipment purchases, extensions to their buildings and sterile, climate-controlled metrology room. They have spent a fortune making sure their shop employees have the tools of the trade.

Then we head to the office to have a coffee and talk about how the business is doing and I ask about the tools the office staff and salespeople are using. I can’t tell you many times I have met with shop owners that look stunned when I ask them, “Are you truly providing your office and sales staff with the right tools to do their job?”

A few months ago, I visited a growing machine shop. They have about 20 employees in the shop and five in the office. The office people were using PCs that were ancient; the accounting person was using a paper system because they had not invested in software; and, the office shared an e-mail address and a dial-up Internet connection, which they had to disconnect the fax to use.

The difference between the shop and the office were night and day. This shop owner was investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the shop, but couldn’t see fit to invest a fraction of that to run the business more efficiently and intelligently. He was not giving them the tools of their trade.

He told me his greatest challenge was finding new customers. He had a dedicated sales person, but he said he wasn’t being very effective. Seizing the moment I told him that he should sign up for MFG.com because it’s an efficient way to find new customers. He quickly replied that it was too expensive.

I explained to him a simple scenario. I said that if he was paying the salary and expenses for a salesperson to try and find new customers, but he wasn’t giving him the tools he needs to do his job, it’s no wonder he is not being very effective. I asked him if it wouldn’t be a better use of his investment if, everyday when he came to the office, he opened up his computer and could see who was in the market right now for machining services? He could spend his time calling on people that have an immediate need versus cold calling and trying to get past the receptionist. He said he had never thought about it like that.

A few days ago this shop owner called me to say thank you. He said he had really thought about what I had said and he had been so focused on the shop that he had been negligent with the rest of his business. He said he had been frustrated about the lack of organization in the office and it’s probably his own fault because he didn’t give them the best tools to do their job. He told me that he purchased new computers for the office, bought an accounting software package, got DSL installed and even had a Web site built.

Then he told me he had joined MFG.com and had acquired two new customers in his first month and had started relationships with many others. His salesperson was doing great, and in fact, had time on his hands to really take care of all their customers because he wasn’t wandering around trying to find a buyer to call on only to never get past the receptionist. He said the way things were going, he would be adding new machining centers and adding onto the building very soon.

The moral of the story is quite simple here. You wouldn’t expect your team in the shop to work without tools, so you can’t expect your office staff and salespeople to be effective without the essential tools they need to do their jobs either.