Business Binge Watching
Believe it or not, I don’t always think about Algood. Even though I tell people that I eat, breathe and sleep casters, there are times when, for no other reason than my sanity, I just have turn my attention to something else. That’s when I love watching business-based TV shows. In fact I usually binge watch a number of episodes at a time. For me Dragon’s Den, Shark Tank, How It’s Made and Marketplace are interesting, informative, entertaining and sometimes even inspirational. Here’s why.
Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den are essentially the same show with different personalities. In each, entrepreneurs pitch a business idea – a product or service – to a panel of investors, trying to get them to buy a share of their new enterprise.
The idea of building something from nothing is very compelling for me. I’m the son of an immigrant who came to North America with very little and managed to build a business that has been successful for 50 years. There’s something about the pioneering spirit of these investors that speaks to me. And sometimes I’m blown away by the creativity and ingenuity of some of the ideas.
The business basics of each pitch is also intriguing. What are the costs and margins that they are forecasting? What channels will be used to market or distribute the product? If it’s being manufactured, is production taking place in North America or offshore? For what it’s worth, I’m always surprised that the investors seem to prefer cheaper production, essentially making cost more important than quality and disregarding the broad economic impact of North American manufacturing.
There’s also lots that I’ve learned from both shows. On one level, I can apply the investors’ insights and perspective. What would I say about Algood if I was one of the dragons? Do we have too many SKUs? Are we investing too much in our business? Are we creating the right positions? And, from watching the entrepreneurs and seeing what works and what doesn’t, I’ve been able to hone my own business presentations.
It doesn’t end with watching the show. I will always Google the businesses and ideas that the investors bought into. It’s fascinating to track their progress and learn from their success or failure.
How It’s Made is a natural for me. As the name implies the show explores how everyday products are actually made. These are things that we take for granted. Who has ever thought about how rubber bands or Lego or mascara are produced?
As a manufacturer, this is incredibly interesting. I’m fascinated by the materials, the equipment, the processes, and the people. I’ve definitely been able to apply some of what I’ve seen on the show to improve our own manufacturing techniques. On top of that, it allows me to appreciate what customers might find interesting about our own manufacturing processes.
Marketplace is a CBC program that uncovers business backstories. Where do the items that we put in recycling boxes really end up? Are high-end running shoes really worth the price? Should you trust your credit score? It’s the show that has the least to do with Algood but the topics are really interesting and there are two ways in which it sparks thought. First, it demonstrates that things aren’t always as they seem and keeps me looking beyond the superficial. In addition, it makes me consider the way customers look at Algood and allows me to anticipate some of their questions and concerns.
As you can see, these shows are not a complete departure from thinking about casters but they do allow me to see Algood from a different point of view. So, you see that aside from the opportunity to relax and be entertained, binge watching has its benefits.
What do You Watch? Let us know what some of your favourite business (or other ) programs are and why.
‘Tis The Season
Don’t worry. This isn’t one of those Christmas in October posts that will raise your blood pressure by making you think about gift lists and credit card balances. The season that I’m referring to is the annual increase in R & D activity that dominates the last quarter of the year. Whether its developing brand new products or the tweaks, modifications and tinkering to existing products, this is the time of year we roll up our sleeves and put on our lab coats.
There are many reasons for this yearly flurry of product development activity. Our customers use the last three months of the year to implement product introductions and improvements. They come to us looking for the casters and wheels that will facilitate their product launch plans. Sometimes that’s based on engineering specs but very often it’s based on a description of what they need a caster to do or how they want it to look.
That’s where our fully resourced engineering team gets involved. In fact, we roll out the R & D red carpet for our customers. We can go from concept to carton including 3D modeling and testing. Equally important, after 50 years in the business, we have the know-how and experience to recommend the finishing and components that take a caster from being just functional to being a superstar. We consider every aspect of a caster – from axle sizes and bearings to washers and stems to heat treating and plating. Better yet, we know how to produce economically without compromising on safety or standards.
Lots of the last-quarter activity is driven by our own internal product development. When you eat, sleep and dream casters like I do, you’re always coming up with ideas for new or improved product. Our R & D people are used to me sending them sketches I’ve created on my iPad. At this time of the year, our weekly engineering meetings are dominated by new product discussions.
Our customers light a fire under our R & D activity. Aside from formal product development requests, much of the inspiration for new and improved product comes from my many meetings with customers. Comments that begin with, “if only there was a caster that …” or “why isn’t possible to …” have led to some of our most successful products.
Product R & D leads directly to the development of capital equipment. To do more, better and faster takes the right machinery in our fully integrated manufacturing facility. In the past three years, we initiated an unprecedented capital expansion program that has exponentially improved our capacity – both in terms of range and volume.
The truth is that R& D is an ongoing process. We are always thinking about how to produce better product that is more reliable, cost efficient and can can be delivered on time. Practically, however, our own design and development comes second to meeting the needs of customers. That means we are using the last quarter of the year to focus on what we will introduce in 2020. We have bold plans for the new year and you can look forward to some interesting developments in low profile, heavy duty and stainless steel casters.
You won’t find R & D season on a calendar or in the Farmers Almanac. But, for us at Algood, there isn’t a more important time of the year.
The Amazon Effect
This is a good-news/bad-news post. The good news is that North American caster manufacturing facilities are busier than they have been in decades with demand far outpacing capacity. In fact, data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates a 16% in the value of durable manufactured goods from the first quarter of 2016 to first quarter of 2019.
The bad news is that today’s customers have Amazon-induced delivery expectations and are frustrated by the extended lead times resulting from increased production. It may not seem like it, but this is a really good problem for the industry and there are ways we, at Algood are of dealing with it.
Let’s start with what’s behind the reshoring of caster production.
Tariffs are likely the biggest influence. Not only have tariffs on Chinese imports accounted for price increases, volatile trade policies mean that it’s almost impossible to predict what will happen to tariffs in the short to mid term. That means suppliers may have to impose sudden price increases as they did last year. That doesn’t go over well with customers who have already committed to pricing on projects in progress or those with budgets in place.
The U.S. government recently enacted far-reaching tax legislation that is making it financially attractive for producers to bring manufacturing back home. Federal tax rates for companies exporting goods are being reduced dramatically. In addition, many states are offering tax incentives that include credits for adding new jobs.
Beyond the financial benefit to manufacturers, another contributing dynamic is the unpredictability associated with off shore production. There are frequent delays in delivery and the product received isn’t always exactly as ordered or built to the necessary standards. Companies buying casters are working on tight deadlines and tighter budgets. Goods that can’t be used or late deliveries have a cascading impact on production and sales. It’s not surprising then that customers are looking for suppliers that are manufacturing in North America.
The result is that as manufacturers bring new plants online and retool others, they can’t keep up with demand. That in itself is not a new phenomenon. I can remember times before the 2008 downturn when long lead times were simply a reality that customers had to face. But today’s buyers – and, in turn, their customers – don’t have that patience.
Although consumer goods and supply chain products are very different from each other the buying experience of one affects the other. With an Amazon Prime membership you can order today and receive your product tomorrow. And Amazon already has same day delivery in some markets. Against that backdrop, caster customers are asking for increasingly shorter lead and response times. Just a year ago, we bragged about an extraordinary case of going from concept to carton in 60 days. Today that’s a common expectation. While it’s possible to pull that off for one or two customers, it’s impossible to move at that pace for every customer. We understand that‘s not what customers want to hear, but even in a 60,000 square foot integrated manufacturing facility, we are bound by the constraints of capacity and time.
So, what to do? How do we bridge customer expectations with the reality of our capabilities? Here’s what we do:
Be honest. We let customers know exactly what deadlines we can meet and never promise a delivery date we can’t make.
Innovate. We are constantly examining our production systems and processes looking for changes we can make that will impact capacity and lead times. By thinking out of the box, we’ve been able to improve both.
Collaborate. Sometimes making a small change in the spec provided can make a significant change in the timeline required. We work with our customers to see how we can provide the required performance within expected deadlines.
Communicate. We are in touch with customers through every step of the production process. That way, we can inform them in real time of our progress and immediately mitigate the impact of any unanticipated issues. Being kept in the loop provides an important measure of comfort.
Empathize. We are also customers and we know what it’s like when suppliers can’t provide product as quickly as we would like. It’s important to understand and acknowledge the frustrating situation that customers face.
The Amazon Effect is not going away. If anything it will intensify. That’s why it’s more important than ever for us at Algood and for all caster manufactures to give more and more thought to bridging the gap between customer expectations and production capability.
NBA meets MBA: The Raptors’ 7 business lessons
OK. Full disclosure. I am a huge fan of basketball and an absolutely crazy Toronto Raptors fan. I go to games – both home and away – outfitted in swag, giving the team my full support. So, I am ecstatic that the Raptors are NBA World Champions. But I’m also equally – no, make that more – devoted to Algood and as I watched the Raptors win game after game, I was thinking about what I could learn from their success about the caster and wheel business. Based on that, here are the seven business lessons to be learned from the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors.
Be laser-focused on your goals.And don’t celebrate until you have achieved them. While it’s important to acknowledge the accomplishments that lead to ultimate success, they can’t become a distraction. But when you do reach your goal, pull all the stops out on the celebration. The Raptors – whether they won or lost – remained completely focused on the championship. There are photos of the Raptors going to the locker room after both wins and losses in the playoffs and from their facial expressions, you can’t tell the difference. No matter what, they were counting the number of games they needed to win for the championship. But when they got there, all hell broke lose and they had a crazy celebration – including a parade attended by two million people.
You achieve success as a team.Businesses can only succeed when everybody has a role to play, everybody does their part and everybody is respected for what they do. More than that, when someone is having a problem and they’re not at their peak, someone else picks up the slack and never throws a fellow employee under the bus. One of the hallmarks of the Raptors season was their overall commitment to the team both on or off the court. They were at their very best when they shared the ball and there was none of the locker room drama that plagued other teams.
Always be innovating.When one initiative doesn’t work, try another and don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t worry about what others might say about your strategy because its success is based on whether you win or lose – and everything else is commentary. Nick Nurse, the Raptors rookie head coach, tried dozens of different starting line ups and kept changing match ups during the playoffs. Everyone laughed at his box plus one defense until it worked. And then suddenly, the Warriors were imitating it. Nurse was also willing to listen to his players’ suggestions, which is another great lesson for business leaders. Recognize the wisdom of those who are doing their jobs and don’t be too full of yourself to take their advice.
Make big changes when changes are necessary.When results aren’t what they could be, don’t play ostrich with your head in the sand and don’t be afraid to make a big decision. When you don’t have the right people in the right place, you’ve got to go out and get others. Likewise, when you don’t have the right equipment, you’re going to have to face reality and buy more. Last summer, the Raptors made two huge moves. They fired Coach-of-the-Year Dwayne Casey and they traded long time fan-favourite and all-star Demar Derozan. The team’s leadership was prepared to recognize that they didn’t have what it would take to win a championship. The flack they took for making bold moves is forgotten now that they’re the champs. In March, they traded lots of young talent for Mark Gasol and it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have win it all without him.
Recognize that culture is everything. Hire based on character as much, if not more than, talent. The way people fit into your organization will contribute more to success than their raw ability. Treat the people that work for you with care, consideration and compassion. Their problems are your problems because they affect their ability to do their jobs. So it makes sense to invest time and effort into their well-being. There wasn’t a single member of the Raptors playoff roster that was drafted higher than 15thand, in some cases, they were undrafted. The Raptors looked for players with the right character who could fit into a team that had an incredible work ethic. Over the years, there were players who, despite having the right character, didn’t have enough talent. But the were also players like Pascal Siakam and Fred Van Vleet who seemingly came from nowhere and by focusing on constant improvement are destined to be superstars.
Performance trumps marketing.In today’s competitive marketplace you can’t achieve success without great marketing. An amazing product that no one knows about won’t deliver much revenue. Being an industry’s best-kept secret sounds good but it’s a prescription for bankruptcy. However, the converse isn’t true. Outstanding marketing won’t save a company from a mediocre product – particularly with social media at play. The Raptors have some extremely creative marketing. In particular, the “We the North” tagline is brilliant in its diverse appeal and its ability to unite a country. But make no mistake. Without the Raptors on-court success, all the marketing in the world couldn’t create their unbelievable popularity.
Don’t be afraid of a superstar.Most businesses have one employee that works harder, works smarter, gets more results, makes more sales or just simply outshines fellow employees. That’s not a bad thing and it’s not wrong for that person to get some special treatment. If it’s based on ability, it’s also appropriate for other employees – and good for the company – to
recognize that person’s superiority and the contributions they make. Kawhi Leonard is a superstar and he was treated like one – by the organization and by his teammates. They freely acknowledged his outstanding talent and recognized that they were collectively better off with him than without. In the end, no one was jealous of his MVP status because they all got to be champions.
Now, I’m basking in the warm glow of my team being the NBA champions and looking forward to next season and the lessons I can learn from that.
The Boeing disasters: 4 lessons to be learned
The recent tragic crashes of two Boeing airliners captured the world’s attention but for those of us in the manufacturing sector, these catastrophes are cause for deeper consideration. In light of these events, every manufacturer is likely re-examining their own systems, processes and policies. The reality is that quality assurance is ultimately an exercise in risk management. Manufacturers have to think hard about the repercussions of lapses in quality on one hand and the cost of perfection on the other. It would appear that Boeing didn’t do a good job with that trade-off and there is much that we can learn from that.
Before anything, it’s important to establish that, despite my very practical approach, for us at Algood, quality is paramount. I always say, “Quality is free. Our customers don’t have to pay extra for quality.” If we compromise on quality, we compromise the whole company.
In addition, I am not advocating any position in terms of the extent of Boeing’s responsibility. That will be determined in due course through a variety of processes.
A unique aspect of the Boeing situation is that there were two catastrophic incidents and you have to wonder whether the second crash could have been avoided if there was more scrutiny after the first.
The first lesson to be learned then is that in the face of a lapse in quality assurance, every facet of the process and environment must be examined. One of the first things that I thought about when the Boeing news broke is an approach we use at Algood. It’s a modification of the 5Y system that is part of the Lean manufacturing methodology. Instead of five, we look for ten potential why’s or underlying causes whenever we encounter a production or quality snafu. That allows us to get to the heart of the problem and more importantly prevent it from re-occurring.
The second thing to be learned is that the greatest guarantors of quality assurance are culture and communication. A commitment to quality must pervade an organization, with all employees recognizing that their performance evaluation will be impacted by their contribution to quality. In addition, employees must feel safe in reporting a problem. If someone feels that they will be fired or reprimanded because they report a quality issue for which they were responsible, they will remain silent. It’s only when commitment to quality is a shared value, that companies can proactively and effectively eliminate production flaws.
The next lesson is that errors of omission are symptomatic of poor systems or culture but errors of commission are absolutely indefensible. It’s not a good thing for a caster to go through the manufacturing process and be delivered with anyone noticing a defect. But if someone was advised of the problem and made a conscious decision to proceed anyway that is, in my view, grounds for dismissal. If it turns out that someone at Boeing decided to forge ahead despite being made aware of the software glitch along with its potential ramifications, the legal cost will be astronomical – as it was for Volkswagen.
Finally, we get to the most challenging consideration. The fact is that perfection is not a cost effective pursuit and is not necessarily in the best interest of customers. If we can produce a product that is 95% reliable, it’s unlikely that customers will happily pay the extra cost or wait the additional production time to get something that is 100% reliable. Granted we are producing casters and no lives will be lost as a result of a defective product. But the cost of additional attention to detail is always balanced against the measures of time and money. Sometimes, the determination is that it’s worth it and sometimes not. For us at Algood, finding that balance allows us to be both customer-centred and totally focused on quality.
Over time, the truth will emerge about what went wrong at Boeing. While those findings will deeply impact many companies and individuals, the vast majority of us will be observers. However, we can all benefit from the important lessons that can be gleaned from these tragedies and use those to improve the way we do business.
What do you think?
Leave me a comment and let me know what lessons you take from the Boeing situation? What will you do differently or what are you now even more committed to?
Trump, Trudeau and Truth
Following current events these days in both the U.S. and Canada, it’s hard not to think about the nature of truth. It seems that every day there’s a new allegation leveled against Donald Trump that is met with denial and claims of fake news. And here in Canada, our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been grappling with a scandal that is focused on competing versions of reality. In all of these cases politicians and bureaucrats walk a very fine line between truth and lies.
That’s why I would make a terrible politician. For me, there is no fine line. You either tell the truth or you don’t. And that’s the way we do business at Algood.
The first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency have been turbulent to say the least. They are all sorts of accusations and allegations – from collusion with the Russia to paying off porn stars. On top of that, reactions are completely the opposite of each other. For some, the President is a scoundrel, skirting or even breaking the law while tarnishing the reputation of his office and the country. For others he is a hero, standing up for the common man, victimized by the media, combatting the political establishment and protecting the nation. In all of this, truth is elusive. It’s almost impossible to determine who is right and who is wrong.
In Canada, there has been a scandal involving possible political meddling in a legal process to determine whether to criminally charge a large and influential corporation. The controversy has reached into heart of the Prime Minister’s Office resulting in the resignations of Justin Trudeau’s most trusted advisor and the country’s highest ranking civil servant. With all kinds of drama liked secretly recorded phone conversations and lots of he said, she said, this uproar has tested the real meaning of truth. Just like in the U.S. opinions about who is right and who is wrong are determined by political allegiances.
The common thread in both countries is that there’s nothing black and white about the truth. Rather it comes in varying shades of grey.
That’s the total opposite of the way I lead my life and run a company and it’s not the way we do business at Algood. For me – and us – the distinction between truth and lie is crystal clear.
It would be easy to get an order by promising a delivery date that is impossible or unlikely and then just stringing a customer along. I remember one, now defunct, caster company that armed its salespeople with a list of twenty excuses for not delivering on time. Each time an excuse was used with a particular customer, it was ticked off to ensure someone didn’t say, “That’s what you told me last time.” It’s brilliant in a pathetic kind of way.
Likewise, we could take an order for a caster that we’re not sure will be ready on time and then substitute something similar when its time to deliver, hoping the customer won’t complain. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard about companies opening a carton only to discover something other than what was ordered.
We could also provide price estimates that we know will get us an order but we’ll never be able to honor and then tell the customer about some unforeseen cost increase that made it impossible to deliver on budget. That’s a good one.
Inflating performance or testing results is an even better way to get an order. Tell the customer that capacity is 20% higher than it really is or better yet, don’t bother testing and just tell customers what they want to hear.
For me, all of the above are totally intolerable. You tell a customer the truth, not what he or she wants to hear. We provide realistic delivery dates, accurate pricing and the exact product that was ordered. And we test like crazy, making damn sure that our products meet our specs.
This truthful approach really gets tested when a problem arises. This week, we had an order delayed because the production process on a custom designed caster didn’t work as expected. We could have planned on telling our customer that everything was ok and then blaming some delivery glitch for the late delivery. But what happens when the production delay is longer than expected? Now, you’re caught in a web of lies and you lose the trust of the customer.
If we have to decide on how forthcoming to be with a customer, I will always err on the side of being too honest. My honesty barometer is the golden rule. I am as truthful with customers as I expect to be treated by our suppliers –and I hate being lied to.
For Trump and Trudeau it may be hard to pin down the truth but for me, and for Algood, it’s actually quite easy. There’s no wiggle room. It’s either true or it’s not. More than that, our obsession about honesty allows me, our employees, and our customers to sleep well at night.
Still doing trade shows? Seriously??!!
It’s 2019. We are deep in the world of digital business. High-speed communication enables unbelievable amounts of data, images, and documents to be transmitted in the blink of an eye. Electronic funds transfers allow hundreds of thousands of dollars to change hands in a nanosecond. You can visually communicate with someone half way around the world without leaving your office. In the face of all that, is it possible that we are about to spend a ton of money to mount a display and fly a bunch of people to be part of a trade show – one of the most analogue possible marketing initiatives you can think of? You bet we are and I’ll tell you why trade shows still make sense in 2019.
We are proudly planning to be at the Promat trade show in Chicago next month. It focuses on material handling, packaging, shipping, warehousing and supply chain management, which are all areas from which we draw customers. But still, it does beg the question of why it’s worth it to spend all the time and money to be at a trade show. Here are 7 reasons.
It’s analogue. People get to touch, feel and hold casters. When I travel to see customers, I can’t possibly lug around samples of all the different products we make. And yet, there is no substitute for the 3D experience of having something in your hand.
The people economy of scale. In just four days, we get to meet so many more people than there is time to go see in any given year. And, speaking with someone in person cannot be replicated by any video conferencing platform. It’s personal. It’s real. It’s a way to build relationships. As well, there’s also great benefit to customers who get to see a myriad of suppliers and vendors in one place.
It’s neutral territory. Everyone is so busy and so insulated these days. It’s really difficult for customers to give up time for you to come see them. The same dynamic makes it almost impossible for them to come see us. The trade show creates a safe space for us to interact with customers in a way that isn’t cumbersome or imposing. In effect, it allows us to bring our manufacturing facility to them.
It levels the playing field. There may be suppliers, perhaps big corporate players, that are top of mind for some customers. Given the demands of time, it’s easier to call the supplier that you have always called. But at a trade show, there’s an opportunity for customers to look beyond the habitual and see what other companies have to offer. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard customers at a trade show, say something like, “I didn’t know that you do that!”
Market research. The trade show is a great chance to see how people react to new product releases and ideas and then learn from what they have to say. It’s also an opportunity for us to find out what’s on customers’ minds in one of our largest target markets. We are frequently asked if we have solutions for a number of challenges – and those inquiries have lead to some of our most successful and innovative product developments.
We get to be customers as well. At previous trade shows, we have been introduced to technology that has had major impact on our operation. When I walk the show, I’m not only looking at what our competitors are doing, I’m looking for innovations that are going to make us more efficient and more competitive.
Sales. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the most obvious dividend to the trade show investment. For many of the reasons above, being at trade shows leads to additional sales – whether from new customers or existing customers who discovered some of our additional capabilities.
There’s very little that’s digital or high-tech about a trade show. Yes, there’s technology and robotics and AI on display. But at it’s core, it’s the very traditional, analogue and low-tech dynamic of interacting with people that makes trade shows worthwhile. That’s why, even in 2019, we are still investing in trade shows.
Come say hello!
If you’re planning to be at Promat on April 8-11 in Chicago, be sure to come say hello and shake hands with us in booth # S4879.
Boring Isn’t Bad
Last Sunday’s football game was probably the most boring in Super Bowl history. The score was 3-0 at the half and it wasn’t until the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter that either team scored a touchdown. In the end it was the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever. At the same time, the experts declared that this was a gem of a game for the Patriots. I had two thoughts as I watched the game. One is that boring isn’t bad and the second was there’s a business lesson to be learned from all that dullness.
With very little fanfare, the Patriots defense was incredibly efficient holding the Rams to just one third down conversion and constantly being in the face of the their quarterback. By the time the game was in the fourth quarter, the Rams were feeling the effects of the never-ending Patriots pressure and a resulting interception was just the opportunity that Tom Brady needed to win the game
The business lesson mirrors the work of the Patriots defense. To be successful, you have to grind it out – every day of every month of every year. There are no fireworks when an Algood sales or customer service rep suggests the right solution to meet a customer’s needs. There’s nothing spectacular about consistently manufacturing casters and wheels to the right specs. There’s no cheering section when our product regularly meet quality standards. And there are no horns blaring when our orders are delivered on schedule 98% of the time.
And just like the Patriots, it’s that unceremonious, almost dull, commitment to getting it right that creates the opportunity for the big moment – the one that does get a lot of attention. Whether that’s manufacturing 60,000 non-standard casters from design to delivery in less than 60 days, or creating the casters to be used in Canada’s first fully computerized hospital or being chosen as the supplier of the year by a global industrial powerhouse.
In the end, I’m ok with us being boringly good at what we do. It’s ok that many, if not most, of our customers can’t point to the one “Hail Mary” moment where we defied all odds to get their order right. (Although there have been some of those). Because there’s something really satisfying and rewarding about being boring in business.
Our 50th year and we’re in overdrive
2019 will be 50 years since my father founded Algood and we’re marking this special year in a way that would make him most proud. Yes, of course we have our 50th anniversary logo ready to unveil and we‘ll have a special cover to our catalogue as well as other promotions and events. But what will be most impressive about 2019 is that we’re going into it with all engines firing. We are aggressively moving our business forward with four key areas in mind.
New product development. In the past few years we have introduced more new casters and product updates than we did in the decade before that. That pace will continue. We’ll address both sides of the size spectrum with more low profile offerings and the further expansion of our “Think Big” initiative that we started two years ago. You can also look out for more stainless options as well as some interesting innovations in polyurethanes.
Manufacturing and environmental efficiency. By reducing our carbon footprint we can make our whole operation more efficient, increase productivity and get orders out the door faster. A recent electricity-use audit allowed us to identify areas in our plant that were wasting energy and we are now monitoring our electricity use on an ongoing basis. That allows us to see when equipment isn’t operating at peak efficiency and make modifications to maintain or improve production schedules. In fact, we’re thinking about how we can reduce our overall energy consumption by 10% and would like others in the manufacturing sector to join us. In addition, all our injection moulding material is fully recyclable.
New capital investment. Last year we added to our capability with a new CNC lathe and an additional robotic welding station. Our capital investment strategy will continue into 2019 with some major equipment acquisitions.
Enhanced customer service. Our customers have always been at the centre of everything we do and in turn, when I’m out on the road, the comments I hear most often are about our wonderful customer service team. Keeping our CSRs well informed, knowledgeable and up to date on manufacturing as well as ordering systems takes hard work. In 2019 we will redouble our customer service efforts and take even better care of our customers, ensuring that they get there orders accurately and on time.
50 years is a major milestone for our company and we’re going into 2019 with our foot to the floor. We invite you to come along for the ride.
Forget AI. Give me a person!
I love technology. I am an Apple junkie with my iPad, iMac, iPhone and Apple Watch. I only read magazines using a device. My iPhone wakes me up in the morning and my watch tells me how well I slept. But despite my infatuation with the world of tech, I’m the first person to acknowledge that there are skills and knowledge that cannot be replaced by the microchip. No matter what advances are made in artificial intelligence, there are things that only I or another human being can do.
In my personal life, the limits of technology are also pretty clear. I haven’t found a computer yet that can figure out which way the wind is blowing and then hit a tee shot so that it lands in the centre of the fairway a hundred yards from the pin. Hell, I can barely do that. No technology will replace the thrill of attending a Raptors game or any other live sporting event. Even with my tech swag, I’m still taking out the garbage and walking the dog.
In the business of caster manufacturing we have automated huge parts of our production. As I have written about before, those advances didn’t eliminate jobs in our company. Rather, they changed what we need people to do. For example, while the new CNC lathe we purchased will expedite production, we had to hire someone to program it in the first place.
Personally I get involved in a guess-timating element of production planning and that cannot possibly be replaced by AI. We proactively anticipate customer requirements based on a combination of market trends, buying patterns, and personal interactions. And, we usually get it right so that we are almost always able to meet our customers’ needs.
In addition, there are functions that only a person can fulfill. When someone calls our customer service department, they want to speak to a person – someone who can provide solutions based on a unique set of requirements. In fact one of our distributors advised us not to include too much automation in the new website we will launch next year because, beyond a certain point, it will take a person to find the best caster or wheel to meet his needs.
That’s also the reason we have resisted having an automated attendant answer our phones. Despite the efficiency, we know that our customers enjoy talking to real, live, human beings.
The best quality assurance systems can’t replace what happens when someone looks at and touches a caster to make sure it’s what the customer ordered and has been manufactured to standards. And here’s one for you. Find me a computer that is going to load a truck so that it’s organized to match a delivery route.
It seems to me that the key to technological success is a combination of embracing what computers can do and, at the same time, recognizing their limitations. At the end of the day, there are some things I will never want an AI driven matrix of microchips to do for me. Sometimes, you just need a person.