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What's ahead, fellows?

While interviewing workers for my February column, one of the big bosses asked me when I was going to interview him. I figured, why not now? After talking for awhile our conversation turned to focus on making plans for the future and the problems that pop up which complicates planning ahead.

Mr. M. said that he thought business was going to be only fair at best and that 1992, in his words, "is going to be a real test." We talked about ways of making his company's main lines -- medium and upper bracket furniture -- stronger by discontinuing any pieces that are not actively selling and by adding interesting pieces such as innovative utility units and entertainment units. When I mentioned that he should develop closer relationships with dealers, he was a bit hesitant because he pays a rather nifty sum to his sales manager. However, I did win the point and he agreed.

Our conversation moved on to cover strengthening worker-boss relationships. He said that since recently becoming more conscious of worker attitude problems, his company now holds monthly department meetings and have installed an "open door policy" to address employee gripes. He said listening to his workforce has paid off with smiles and a better overall morale.

Next, we talked about plant improvements and procedural studies. I would say that his shop is about halfway to fulfilling its commitment to updating its equipment. Shortly, the owners will give them the go-ahead on spending a great sum (no figure given) to cover the other half of the modernization goal. He gave me a long list of machines and we kicked that around awhile and I think I convinced him of a few changes.

Mr. M. said that the capital improvements will probably result in the need to hire skilled or teachable people to program and operate the high-tech machines, which he said are hard to find. He also lamented that many unskilled workers will probably lose their jobs. He added, that in small towns like his, it will be difficult for these workers to find jobs.

What's ahead, part II

Mr. M's viewpoints differ from those of Mr. R, who runs a healthy medium-sized cabinet shop. His company also does some specialty work, including store fixtures. The company's quality is outstanding and Mr. R. is the original detail hound.

We spoke about his product mix and of the need for pieces that I thought were important for meeting his goal of getting all of the business he can. I did not have to impress him with the importance of making personal contact with his accounts. We also discussed the need for training retail sales personnel and scheduling meetings with them to talk about new things. Mr. R. allowed that they had not done much of this, but that they would be in the future.

Our conversation shifted to production and he was very anxious to talk about equipment and finish. I have to say that they have a great finishing setup. No VOC problem here. His machining equipment was his real worry. He has what I would call a good 1960 rough mill with the usual cut-off saw, a facer, three good ripsaws and a favorite old planer and glue wheel. They do not favor making any changes there unless business makes a decided turn upward, but they are anxious to start replacing older routers, boring machines and possibly a tenoner with the latest on the market. I think I convinced him to attend IWF this August to research equipment and not to be in too much of a hurry to spend his money.

What's ahead, part III

Owners of small custom woodworking shops, like Mr. T., realize that the success of their business depends on taking the initiative. These guys do it all. They get the business, run the shop and when needed get involved in production. Mr. T.'s employees work closely together and there is no wasted time.

Mr. T.'s shop has a mixture of recently purchased good used mill equipment and some new small machines that are quite amazing. He just installed a new moulder and a clever small trim saw, a very good rebuilt wide belt machine and a small soft drum sander.

We discussed finishing in detail. Mr. T. said he must redo his entire setup to be more self-sufficient. As he put it, "Any finishes that are beyond us, we have to have done on the outside. I hope conditions will improve so that we can make the necessary expenditures to upgrade our capabilities."

I asked him what was ahead and he quickly answered, "It's up to me to make three pushes -- one for business, one for service and one for quality." I guess that sums up what is ahead for him and for all of us for that matter.

Q I am from Michigan. Recently a leader of a group I belong to showed us an article that you wrote in WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS about General Motors. I read it and was impressed. This issue concerns us very much, since GM is not only close to home, but also a key industry, if not the key industry in Michigan. I think it would be fitting, now that GM is in hot water, to reiterate for other readers what you think the company must do and should have been doing all along. Though it may be repetitious for some, I think it is very much in order right now. Thanks so much for your help in this and other matters. Mr. F.

A Okay, I'll go over it briefly. I have said many times that GM should make just one style car in each division, for example, one Chevy that has super design and engineering, offered in a four-door, two-door, wagon, convertible and van models. The design must be approved by a carefully selected, confidential customer group. This would enable GM to price its cars realistically and come up with the best in the field. It should do the same with each division, concentrating on very individual styling rather than the standardized bodies and "GM" look of today. Costs would be radically reduced, production would be up and I bet they would turn the tide on imports. This is the gist of it. It does apply directly to our industry. We are coming around to a full look at specialization, finally!

Q Your article in the September issue of W&WP on "Ideas" struck home for me. I have been in the cabinet business in a small way for many years, but now I have an idea that should "sell like hot cakes." How do I go about selling this idea? I am scared silly about dealing with people who want to get something for nothing. I appreciate your suggestions. Mr. K.

A I did get quite a bit of reaction to the article, and I decided to print your letter because I received so many like it. As for your idea, I recommend that you attend the next Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (to be held in Atlanta, March 28-30) and do a thorough job of calling on the top exhibitors. Explain that you have something special that has been tested and accepted with great enthusiasm. If they show genuine interest in possibly buying your idea or striking royalty arrangement, you should demonstrate it right then and there, provided, of course, that you are protected against any attempt at copying, etc. You must make personal contact, but consult your attorney beforehand. This should be the best and, the safest way to go with something that appears to be a winner.

Q I read about the ALPS (Automated Lumber Processing System) developed at Michigan State University in the September issue. It seems to me that a major drawback of this system is that singed surfaces must be removed. Also, I don't think using laser equipment in a wood plant would go over too well with the insurance companies. I like your idea of using a light to detect streaks and knots. After all, they are darker, and the signal to the computer should handle this nicely. Anyway, in my opinion, there is a better way. What do you say? Mr. B.

A We had better just wait and see what this stirs up. I really think something good will come of it. At least the ALPS people are getting others thinking about new ways to optimize our resources.

Q We have a crazy job to fix some large cracks in oak pillars. For political reasons, we have to accept it. How do we do that? Thanks for the help. Mr. T.

A You will have to fashion some large angular "dutchmen" (oversized fill strips that I explained in detail several months ago). Next, you insert a high-grade PV glue and allow about two minutes before driving the dutchman in place. (The dutchman also has glue on the angled surfaces.) After 48 hours of drying, you can flush the surface to within 1/8 inch. After 24 hours, sand and seal.

Q Looking at our pine veneer top and pieces of the spliced veneer, you will note the seams have hairline checks. I have outlined our production procedure; the plant is not humidity controlled. The veneer knives are maintained by an outside source about every two weeks. We use a cascamite glue that is water thinned. What do you see? Thanks. Mr. R.

A the pine veneer varies in moisture content and the samples run down to 6 percent. Much of it is too dry. Never allow a knot in the path of the joint. Do not send knives for sharpening on a time-scheduled basis. Check them constantly for sharpness. I don't like water-added glue. The joint could contain moisture well after you think the splicing is dry. Removal of squeezeout is important to avoid capturing moisture under the bead just over the joint. A gas forms and, in drying, after the gas pops you have a bad joint. Any questions?

Q We are manufacturers of middle- to upper-end office furniture. We have been doing our own veneering for about six years. We are using crotches and burls for some of our work and sent you three samples of the problems we have. Obviously the veneer is moving. We need to know how to make the panels stay put over a period of time. Thanks. Mr. DiL.

A Someone has not been doing his homework! This column has long stressed the necessity for two-ply of all fancy faces. Crotches and burls will cost a lot less in the long run if you buy them two-plied. The texture and movement of the figure is such that even a small climatic change causes problems. I have indicated some folks who do a good job of this. I strongly suggest you visit one of them and you can be assured that the headache will be over.

Q We are having some difficulty getting suppliers to submit samples for testing. We favor sources that allow us to test their product, but do not always get cooperation from those who we do not know well, but who do a lot of advertising. Is there any special approach that will help? Thanks for all those great articles! Mr. T.

A I would phone the company and explain your interest in wanting to test a sample. If the supplier is a WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS advertiser, mention being a reader; it can't hurt. Sometimes it helps to explain how and why you plan to test the sample. Don't just write a simple note of request. Get on the phone and state your case.

Q Maybe you can tell us how to get a real quality program across to our customers, particularly accounts that we would like to get but have not sold to date. Our product is far ahead of our competitors in design and quality, but our prices are somewhat higher. What steps do we take? Many thanks. Mr. N.

A You need a very attractive, professionally prepared brochure that underscores your commitment to quality and you need to make appointments to visit your top prospects. Taking time to see them to make their acquaintance is the first step. Extending an invitation for them to inspect your plant and products is second, and your telephone follow up is third. After a few trips, you will know what to do. I have a note in a previous column warning people in your position not to go the route of hiring a rep until much later in the program. Questions?

Q We are manufacturers of case goods and upholstered goods and I am in charge of case goods manufacturing in all plants. Management is experimenting with the idea of just-in-time production. I am not at all convinced that this has a chance of success, taking into account all the various materials and sources that we rely on. The reliability of on-time delivery of basic materials -- lumber, veneers, etc., leaves a lot to be desired. I will give you just one case in point. In order for one source to fulfill a lumber contract they obviously had to seek out other sources to fill our order. I was suspicious and conducted a moisture check. I found that several thousand feet of our order that went into the car last and came out first was cut rough and metered 3 percent above specification. I would appreciate your comments and I am sure management would also. Mr. T.

A I believe that with basic materials, some inventory stocking is necessary since there will always be problems such as you had. Adopting JIT is a tough road when you use as many different species as your company works with both for lumber and veneers. Plants that specialize in one basic lumber and veneer have it much easier. For those who are impressed with JIT, they must go through all the stages and determine if it is for them or not. You no doubt know that even the most reliable sources can run into trouble. If they are late, for whatever reason, your production schedule is thrown out of whack. Succeeding with JIT requires a lot of careful planning and very close follow up. My only comment is that it is a fine idea and it will work for some folks but not for others.

Q Many thanks for going back to your lab while on vacation. It meant a great deal to us to have you see our "disaster." As you quickly discovered, the excessive warpage is by no means our fault. We made the 1/2-inch panels exactly as the developer requested, since we informed him that we had 1/4-inch panels only and the cost of constructing 1/2-inch stock would take new materials that we did not have. He did not want the delay and gave us the go-ahead. Now they claim we are at fault, and the purchasing agent involved is no longer with them and his whereabouts are unknown. We appreciate your comments. Mr. V.

A Gluing two 1/4-inch panels together even under the best conditions and taking all possible precautions is just what you called it, "disaster." Going to a construction site with no possible regard for heat or humidity is ridiculous. You should never have agreed to this and you must prove that they requested the manufacture knowing the hazard. My feeling is that the fault lies with them, but your attorney, of course, will have to take it from here. I have included this with my column so that others do not take any crazy chances. When in doubt, pass up the business!

Q You have talked and written a great deal about education in all parts of our industry. I note from reading WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS that one of the important sources of equipment is holding sessions and I do hope that this is the start of a trend, plus that informative literature will be made available from the machinery associations. Agree? Mr. V.

A Everything you have stated is a must in my book. I think many more educational avenues are on the way because, obviously, they are very necessary. We have a brand new ball game and with questionable conditions and competition facing us, we need to pull together as a team like never before. We can't afford any strikeouts.

Q Some of the plants I have visited are very wasteful. They burn rejects and short cutoffs. Our competition, meanwhile, sells their offal to toy makers and small basement shops that use little pieces for making craft items. Maybe we can do a little something about this. Mr. McV.

A There is a lot of this being done, but not nearly enough. I have a very active reader who takes small pieces to basement operators, has some clever things made, picks them up and finishes them in his garage. Its a very lucrative business.

Q We have a nice plant and run a good, small business. We want to expand our market. I would appreciate your thoughts and advice in this regard and I hope to hear from you soon. Your column is so helpful. I am sure other readers are just as enthusiastic as we are here. Mr. B.

A Your question regarding expansion is typical of many I have received recently. I trust these comments may be of some help to others who are thinking in this direction. First of all, you are the most important contact with the accounts that are beyond the local people who are currently your main accounts. You are to contact those who you feel offer the greatest potential for business. Personal contact, including the first-name relationship that develops, asking for advice and soft sell, is so important. Invite 10 or 12 of the desired accounts to your plant for a luncheon so you can show them your quality product and the great care given in the plant, etc. These people will make the trip if you have what they want and if you show that you value their input. They will enjoy being a real part of the new project. It is building a close relationship, maintained by weekly phone calls, that gets the ball rolling. One word of warning. There is always a customer who will try to get you to do some wild idea. Only do what you know best and do it to perfection, even if once in a while you get your people together for something special. As time goes on and you improve your production, you may find that another step forward is in order. Hopefully, you can look ahead to the next move.

Q We are cutting panels on a 10-inch sliding table saw with scoring blade. We get out of square and some bowing with both particleboard and panels. We continually adjust the machine for squaring, but that does not seem to be the problem. Any suggestions? Mr. K.

A I would have the maker check the machine just to be sure. Sounds to me like a stress relief problem. When the panels are good and straight and as soon as cut develop the warp, it is a sign of stress and I would check the m.c. and your plant temp, humidity and particularly your storage area. That Texas area is humid and if you store or cut in an area over 45 percent relative humidity, you can expect this. Using a good humidistat, check the area thoroughly and while you are at it, check the piling of both the board and the panels. Be sure everything is good and flat, not directly on the floor and also reasonably well ventilated but by no means over that 45 percent...

Q We have a fairly new foreign veneer press. It did nice work for a time, but now we are experiencing what appears to be some slippage of the work. It is very slight, but nevertheless, the panels are far from perfect. The source finally sent a technician but the problem has not been corrected to our satisfaction. Mr. K.

A Warn your supplier that they have one chance to repair or replace the press. Tell them you are advising your attorney. If is to be repaired, it must be completely satisfactory.

Q Being plywood manufacturers we, too, have headaches. Our main problem is that we blend every possible quality feature into our work, yet a certain amount of warping complaints seem inevitable. If we had a set of your "rules" to cover us, I think that many of these complaints, which we think are caused by poor temperature and moisture control conditions at destination points, may be avoided. Please furnish us with these rules. Thanks. Mr. E.

A Briefly, all components in hardwood plywood must be 6.5 percent in moisture content, [+ or -] 0.5 percent. Softwoods should be 11 percent, [+ or -] percent. There should be balanced construction, using the same species face and back, with the back to be reject grade if necessary. Plant conditions should be 60F to 80F with humidity from 30 percent to 40 percent, and that means for manufacture, storage and shipping. There should be no shipping in wet or cold cars or vans. Panels should be shipped in strapped packs, placed face-to-face, with all sharp corners under straps properly protected. The important item here is that the warranty must state that the conditions at destination for temperature and humidity cannot exceed the conditions stated above, and that goes for seven days and nights a week. Improper handling and extreme conditions are the usual cause for warpage of well made panels. Every invoice should state the warranty with the conditions above, even if a printed warranty is also used. I encourage putting some sort of quality stamp of inspection on each panel, if possible. Always try to get full information as to the end use of your product so that you can advise the customer as to storage, whether finish as soon as possible is important, etc.

Send questions to Jerry Metz, 2203 Southridge Drive, Palm Springs, Calif. 92264. A self-addressed, stamped envelope must be enclosed for a personal reply. Questions of general interest will be published.
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Title Annotation:Consult Jerry Metz; managing problems usually encountered in the woodworking industry
Author:Metz, Jerry
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:3723
Previous Article:Why build when offices remain empty.
Next Article:Uniting style & substance.
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