Idle Hands and Idle Presses
If you’re like me, you dread the thought of the slow season. For most printers the first quarter of the year is painfully slow. Your hard earned gains from the prior year seem to evaporate and you hope you can hang in there to see the busy season return. You are dying to get to the point where you and your staff will be yet again be working insane hours to meet insane deadlines and insane production numbers. It’s the screen-printing cycle.
But can you control the pain inflicted by the slow season? Yes, but it may take even more of you the owner’s personal attention and work than perhaps what is required to keep up during the busy season. I will fully admit that if I were a smarter and more organized person I would raise the priority of this work in the summer months, but in most years I react too late and then find myself working like a madman to bring business in the door while controlling costs and limiting expenses. That said, I do react, albeit later than I should.
Here are my very simple tips for easing the pain:
Cleaning & Maintenance
Okay, this is obvious, but cleaning and maintenance in all departments, at all workstations, and of all equipment is the first thing you should do during the slow season. Yes, you will be paying wages to your staff for non-revenue generating work, but you have to trust that the investment will pay dividends during the busy season. You want to head into the busy season with a clean slate and all systems functioning.
A benefit of the slow season is that you have the opportunity to complete projects of all kinds and to do so in a more efficient manner than you would during the busy season. The problem is that if you scramble to think of projects during the busy season you likely won’t see all of the important projects or you may not best prioritize them. I try to keep a projects list running throughout the year and I try to wipe out the list during the slow season.
Here I’m talking COGS (Costs Of Goods Sold), specifically production costs, and more specifically labor (typically your largest single production cost). Sadly this means cutting employee hours (assuming you have exhausted all the cleaning and maintenance hours) and it is most important to handle this task with a little TLC. This means explaining to your staff that the situation is cyclical and temporary and that they should not forget the countless hours of overtime that they work in peak season. Let them know that you are working as hard as possible to provide hours for them and trying your best to keep business coming in the door. With that said, this is a great time to renegotiate pricing with your suppliers.
This is a great time of year to thoroughly review your expenses, specifically recurring expenses. Take the time while you have it to reach out to vendors in an effort to reduce expenses. To give an example, I’ve often found that a relatively brief call to my wireless carrier will result in minor to significant savings on our monthly bill (they won’t call you to tell you that they now offer a cheaper plan with more data and minutes). Regarding variable non-recurring expenses, I try to eliminate all but the most necessary (note: sales and marketing ARE necessary expenses).
Get on the phone (not email) and touch base with every one of your accounts. Setup meetings, lunches, whatever, just make contact. Then, and only then, look for new opportunities.It is easier to keep good accounts than to find new ones, so you have to do that work.
Of course we should always be planning, but I’m talking about 30,000 ft level planning. This is a good time to look at industry trends, market outlooks, economic forecasts, etc. If you service very specific industries and markets, look into those as well. In other words, do your best to get a sense of where things are going and where you fit into the mix