Saturday, June 28, 2014

Manufacturing Trend Update

Recent trend update:

For manufacturers, activity continues to recover from winter-related softness at the beginning of the year.Manufacturing production has risen 2.8 percent since January’s decline, with 3.6 percent growth over the past 12 months. Capacity utilization for the sector increased to 77.0 percent in May, its highest level since March 2008. Similarly, manufacturers in the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve districts reported strong growth in their respective June surveys. More importantly, respondents were mostly optimistic about future activity. More than half of those taking each survey said they anticipate increased new orders over the next six months. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve report also noted that 73.9 percent of its manufacturers predicted increased production in the second half of this year, with nearly 48 percent forecasting output growth of more than 4 percent.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Avoiding the Troll

We spend far too much time exhausted from the effects of Trolls in our life. We are not talking about the Troll under the bridge, however, the analogy is really the same. Trolls, as I will define, are those that like to suck the life out of you in attempts to A. Feel better about their unhappiness, or B. Feel better about their unhappiness. No mistake there, it is always their intent! It is the Troll's primary directive in life to make those around them miserable, constantly criticizing and determined to make life, and in this case, work, more difficult than it should be. they offer little in the way of support, and unless you are feeding their ego or paying a toll extracted through intimidation, they have little to offer. Now, you might ask, why do we become involved with Trolls at all? A complicated question... We typically find that Trolls can be engaging, almost charismatic, upon meeting them. They might lure you with some sort of carrot often times followed by a large stick to the butt. Beware of falling into their traps. They love to take advantage of you, covering you in negative energy disguised as helpful advice that really only serves their purpose, which as we stated, is to elevate their temporary elation over their self by beating you into submission.

Being involved in a small business for the last 13 years that has seen it's fair share of ups and downs, I have come to learn one key thing during my tenure - Trolls come in many different forms, use many different tactics, and always consider themselves the smartest in the room. Where they tend to realize the err in their ways is when they are found out and challenged, and even realize they might not be as clever as they thought, and beyond that, realize they are damaging the business more than they realized through the use of their intimidation tactics.

I would recommend anyone involved in any business be mindful of those around you. Are they the support team you need, or the weight that drags you down? Do they value recruiting intelligent help, or do they prefer the downtrodden that they can manipulate to feel better about themselves? It is often times not very apparent at first, but if you ever feel as though you are in this kind of relationship at work, stop. It is not worth the emotional stress you are under. Step back and take inventory of what is good for you, and make a move or remove the Troll from your life.

This article inspired my diatribe this morning:

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Forecasting Change

Occasionally, one might find his or her self at a crossroads in business. Businesses change, markets change, people change. How you handle change is the key factor in success in my opinion. Many business people, and I will pick on the tenured store owner or 20+ year veteran of ownership in any business, find themselves hanging on to old ways and old habits, thinking that continuing on the path the same way will deliver a different result even though their market has changed. Failure to identify the impending changes coming and lack of a proactive approach may result in businesses faltering or contracting rapidly.

We recently installed new automation equipment in our cutting department. This machine is a wholesale change from the past. We have moved from archaic, old methods of fabrication to seamless transition in process, allowing for a greater throughput and more efficient use of time and resources. The difficulty with this is that it affects all the processes surrounding it, and those processes must change, too. When we made the decision to automate, did we thoroughly think through how it might affect the rest of the business processes, and were we prepared for the changes to those that must be made? Time will tell, however, I might suggest we always underestimate how simple insertions into our lives often create larger, more complicated ripples of influence that must be addressed.

Last year, we moved to a new ERP system so we could allow for better tracking of production and digest internal data more easily, and more visibly. This seemingly reasonable change to our business process has created massive amounts of work in addition to the already heavy workload we all carried. There were mistakes made initially that have caused us to revisit the entire system, however, with a concerted effort and a can-do approach it is getting done and we are making progress. This does not come without pain. Tempers flare, exhaustion ensues, and hope is sometimes dismissed as a fantasy. Personally, I have been through two ERP transitions prior to this one, and neither looked any different than what we are experiencing. Having a reasonable expectation and knowing the process will be a long one can mitigate so much of the frustration that walks along side.

When your market changes, how do you react? Did you see the writing on the wall or were you complacent that things would always stay the same? I am guilty of not acting fast enough in some cases where one or more of our markets is changing and we need to be proactive about how we handle it. The alternative is to wait around and react to the change when it is too late. In those cases where we are reactive, you typically exhaust more resources trying to catch back up, lose market share, and generally fall behind the innovation curve. Being proactive, and even creating those 'Blue Ocean' markets prior to an immediate need, make sailing the seas of business a slight bit riskier, but much more in your own control overall.

Change comes. When it does, are you prepared to meet it head on, or were you anticipating that change prior to? In order to meet change, sometimes we have to change the way we think about change itself...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Slug Runs Circles Around You...

Walking out of the house last weekend I spot this:

Look closely. That there is one confused, and apparently dead, slug. Poor kid slimed his way through the loop-de-loops like he was at Disneyland amped up on Mountain Dew. I can only imagine what he was thinking - "One more time and I will be there for sure!" Poor little slimy gastropod thought he was going to eat someone's garden, but instead withered on the concrete like a grape in the sun.

This sure does relate to the process we recently discussed on product development. In fact, we find ourselves in this same conundrum often, spinning in circles until finally the product dies from exhaustion, or despair, or both. Sometimes, this is a good thing. sometimes it destroys our ambition, but mostly, it is part of the process we must respect and identify as necessary.

Failure is NOT A BAD THING. It teaches us lessons, and lessons are sometimes the most important part of the process. Success is wonderful, no doubt, and the journey to get there is often the reward.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

UK sees similar revival of Homegrown Product...

Call it trendy or lip service, but the emerging trickle of domestic demand for homegrown products is not isolated to the U.S. As evidenced in this article, we see an infant-like resurgence of domestic product being built and sold to a small, yet loyal, consumer. The talk of this has been going on for some time, and while many of us in the industry still feel that it is a tiny percentage and not quite the swollen tide some media outlets might report, it is a positive trend moving in the right direction.