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A woodworker at wit's end.

PETE IS SUPERINTENDENT of a good-sized furniture plant and an ardent reader of Wood & Wood Products. Over the years, I have answered many of his questions in this column and have talked with him on several occasions by phone.

During a recent lengthy phone talk, Pete complained that the new owner of his company is insisting on changes that are driving him and his colleagues crazy. After listening to his side of the story, I couldn't help but agree. Stick around, I think you'll find Pete's story interesting.

Who's the Boss

For openers, Pete tells me that the new owners reorganized the chain of command. He now has a general manager for a boss, who spends most of his time in the plant putting his nose into every nook and cranny of production. Even though he is new to the company, he's a Mr.-Know-It-All. Suddenly, according to Pete, everything that he and his crews have done to build a successful business is wrong until proven right.

The general manager brought a new purchasing director with him who really likes to throw his weight around. He delights in making Pete and others justify every purchase no matter how seemingly insignificant. "He's really big on procedures and really got bent out of shape when I put in an order for sandpaper to our local distributor like I have done many times before without asking his permission. All I could tell him was that we needed the sandpaper now, not a week from now. Our discussion got pretty heated, which is really stupid when you consider it was over a couple hundred dollars worth of abrasives."

Chaos Rules

Pete says the lumberyard is a "complete disaster" due to neglect. "Our veteran lumberyard foreman was so upset with the new management that he quit a couple of weeks after the new G.M. joined us to work for a competitor. Now it's chaos out there. Air-dried stock is constantly being left uncovered and plans to upgrade the kilns have been put off 'for further study.' It's a bad joke."

Pete says the machining department is holding its own, despite "unrealistic production quotas." He says one thing that has the machinery foremen on pins and needles is a rumored plan by the purchasing agent to bring in a consultant. "I'm really proud of the production and quality levels we have been able to achieve. I don't need some hired gun to come in and tell me that everything I know is wrong. I say, don't fix what ain't broken."

Pete says he particularly feels powerless when it comes to the finishing and sanding rooms. A similar problem that he encountered with buying sandpaper is happening with finishing materials. "I'm big on following your advice to buy these kinds of supplies from one vendor to tap into their technical resources, But the purchasing agent wants to reevaluate these decisions based strictly on price. I'm beginning to think he either has personal favorites or has a bonus incentive tied to reducing supply costs. In either case, he's making my life miserable."

My Thoughts

As you might guess, I am fervently against attempts to over-standardize, which to me is like forcing a square peg into the proverbial round hold. While Pete's tale is in many ways extreme, I have heard from many other readers who feel the rug was pulled out from under them when their company was sold and new management took over.

Change is not necessarily a bad thing, to be sure. But change for the sake of change, especially when it means demeaning the authority of people like Pete who have invested their whole career to making a company successful is imbecilic.

After almost 20 years with the same company, Pete deserves better. He never thought he would want to work anywhere else, but now is beginning to think that he has no other choice. Fortunately for him, there are a lot of job opportunities for someone with his experience and skill.

If indeed Pete does move on, and I think he should and will, I can only hope that his next employer does a better job of taking care of him.

As for his present boss, all I can do is shake my head. No wonder some companies are having such a hard time holding onto good people.

Heaven help them.

What Makes a Good Furniture Rep?

Q What do you think is the most essential ingredient for a manufacturing sales representative who sells home furniture to retailers?

A People skills and organization are two attributes of all good salespeople. In the case of furniture reps, though, I think it is very important that they have an inside-out knowledge of how their products are made to fully appreciate their strengths and weaknesses in the market place. The more information the sales rep can intelligently relay to the buyer, the more likely he can bring valuable feedback from customers to the manufacturer that can be the basis for future products.

Q What do you consider the mark of quality in medium- to high-priced case goods? Our thanks. Mr. R.

A Besides a top finish and design, I would say a thorough sealing of the back of the piece, under the bottom and drawers and any cabinet interiors. The group should "reek" of quality.

Q We have a job that calls for an automatic shaper, which we don't happen to own. I think the job is way too involved to do it on our manual shaper. Any suggestions? Thanks. Mr. J.

A The answer to your problem is in the July issue of Wood & Wood Products. Check out the supplement on the Wood Component Manufacturers Assn. I'm confident that several of the association's members can make this part for you. If you can't find the section, contact the WCMA's office at (770) 565-6660 or visit Outsourcing is your best bet in this case.

Q We recently sent part of an order to our customer who now claims the pieces should have been made of American walnut not African mahogany as we used. None of us here remember any such stipulation being made at the time of order. The customer is refusing to take delivery. What should we do? Mr. R.

A Have your attorney send a letter clearly stating that there is no record indicating that African walnut was specified and that unless such evidence can be produced, you as the client expect and are entitled to immediate payment. Hopefully one legal letter will do the trick.

Q We are most interested in your foreman incentive plan. I have read the outline on it in past issues, but would really be interested to learn the full details so that we can set up a similar system here. Some of the questions / have include: Who determines the production quotas and how are they measured? How much incentive is there and what happens when production requirements change up or down? What happens in a poor month? Thanks for giving us your time. Mr. H.

A I still get a lot of requests for the details of this plan. I guess it's about time for me to give it a good once over. So, here goes.

Let me start by discussing how the production figures are set. Management and the foremen meet at least a week before the month in question. Production is calculated on a dollar basis, minus the cost of rejects. Accepted production is based on what makes it past the department inspector.

If the monthly production goals are met and there is a savings, then an agreed upon portion of that savings is paid to the foreman. If there is no savings or a loss is involved, then the foreman must make up that loss in future months before he can qualify for a bonus. Some incentive plans also call for a secondary annual bonus based on end-of-year results.

The plan I recommend does not prevent the salaried foreman from working overtime, including Saturdays. In fact, it encourages the foreman to put in extra hours to make sure everything is in place before each shift.

Ideally, the foreman incentive helps build teams. A smart foreman learns to empower employees in his charge and to be open to their ideas for improving production. Any foreman caught putting un due pressure on his employees for the sake of meeting his quotas risks losing his bonus.

I'm sure you and other readers may have questions about how this pertains to your shop. I encourage you to write me with specific questions and I'll do my best to answer them.

Q I know you are big on holding regular department meetings, but are they really that important? We are way too busy to drop what we're doing to gather and gab. Your response, please. Mr. N.

A Regular monthly meetings are meaningful and essential, unless of course, you're going to conduct them as a gabfest. I'm willing to bet one of the primary reasons you are "way too busy" is you don't stop to think about how you can do things more efficiently. In this case, when I say "you," I mean everyone in your department who might be willing to provide or flush out a good idea or two if there were a forum to present them. An hour or so a month is really not that big of deal. Believe me, if you schedule the meetings far enough in advance, people will get their work done to make time for it. Try it out for a few months and get back to me.

Q It seems to me that something should be done about some of the misleading furniture ads that are out there today. There are many that try to depict cheap furniture as high quality. It burns me up to have to justify the higher prices of my quality work with someone who is being brainwashed by these false promotions. What do you think? Is this a problem or is it just me? Thank you for always jumping in with your thoughts. Mr. McD.

A I agree that this is a problem that is part of the furniture industry's profitability problem. It is one thing to sell value but quite another to pass low-quality products off as high-end products. I don't think there is a whole lot you can do to stop it. However, you might consider putting together a brochure that concisely explains--point by point--the quality aspects of your company's products.

Q We have a major finishing problem that is too complicated to detail in a letter. We have already talked with our finishing supplier, but they have been of no use. What do we do? Thank you. Mr. Y.

A Drop a hint to your supplier that if they cannot be of greater assistance that you will have to shop for materials elsewhere. Let me know how things work out.
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Title Annotation:furniture company reorganization
Author:Metz, Jerry
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Previous Article:PEOPLE NEWS.
Next Article:Manufacturing cycle time reduction -- a must in capital project analysis.

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Thanks for everything, Jerry.

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