Some Things Never Change
Relationships Are Still the Basic Tenet of Business
by Paul Bieber
It’s been 11 years since I managed a glass fabricator. Technology has changed the fabrication industry, as it has just about every industry world-wide—many more CNC machines, many fewer people. Need information? Talk to our automated answer system. Need technical information? Look on page 7 of our award-winning website. Wait a minute—did you change your name since yesterday when I ordered an IG unit? Of course, you were bought by a conglomerate last night.
I’ve kept current by attending trade shows, reading, and visiting many fabricators and customers during consulting trips. So what is still the same after these 11 years in the wilderness?
We are still in a custom-ordered, small-quantity, high-quality industry. About 90 percent of most fabricators’ business is custom, which means it can’t be started until a legible purchase order is received and clears the credit department. Whether you call the order in or you enter directly into the fabricator’s software, that’s still the same after 11 years.
What the fabricator does next is decided by its technology, process flow, inventory and by setting priorities. You can’t control this, except through one basic tenet of business:
If you need something quickly, you can’t tell that to a computer. When a tabletop comes in with a chip around a hole, you can take a picture with your telephone (couldn’t do that 11 years ago) but you have to send it to a person. It is all about people. Your company is the same. Your customers come to you because you do good work at fair prices, but the most important aspect of your company is your people. And that is the same after 11 years.
"When a tabletop comes in
with a chip around a hole, you can take
a picture with your telephone
(couldn’t do that 11 years ago)
but you have to send it to a person."
Form a Trust and Bond
Your people and your fabricator’s people have to know each other and develop a trust and bond, so special needs and problems can be worked out. And this is the most important concept between you and your fabricator.
If you are a glass shop owner or leader, here is what you do:
• Make sure every one of your employees gets a tour of the fabricator’s plant at least every three years;
• On this tour make sure your customer service people meet their counterparts and your installers meet the production folks, learning what tolerances can and should be held, handling tips, size capabilities and learning about safety; and
• Annually, meet everyone working at each level of your fabricator.
If you are the fabricator:
• Set-up one day every other week, say a Friday, that is customer visitation day. This way your folks are ready to be interrupted and actually are looking forward to meeting their phone-friends;
• Let your production people be ready to show off, but if you are doing special work you have a chance to move it away from prying eyes;
• Encourage and make it very easy for your customers to visit you. Pay for the bus if it will be a large contingent. Have a nice lunch ready;
• If it is an overnight trip, the customer should pay for their group’s hotel. You might buy a dinner but don’t let the drinking get out of hand on your nickel; and
• Bring a few of your key leaders along for lunch or dinner and be sure to seat them with their counterparts from your customer.
Whose job is it to improve the relationship? Both parts of a customer-vendor team. You deal with glass and metal fabricators, maybe more than one of each. So maybe four times in three years you bring your crew to a vendor’s shop to learn more and foster your relationship. That’s not a bad way to make your business better—11 years hasn’t changed that.
Paul Bieber has 37 years’ experience in the glass industry, with C.R. Laurence and as executive vice president of Floral Glass in New York. He is now the principal of Bieber Consulting Group LLC and can be reached at email@example.com. Read his blog on Tuesdays at http://usgpaul.usglassmag.com.
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