A Streamlined Operation Can Boost Your Bottom Line

I mentioned in my last column that I was planning to attend a one-day training seminar, the goal of which is to improve the efficiency and profitability of your business. It's a topic that, as fabricators in the kitchen and bath industry, shouldn't ever be taken lightly.

Indeed, this particular seminar that my wife and I attended in West Sacramento, CA in May was given by industry pioneer Tom Pinske, owner of The Pinske Edge. It was one of at least 35 one-day training seminars he'll be giving in 2005 and 2006 all over the country.

Of course, Tom will be introducing attendees to his package of systematic fabrication methods, but by doing so, he emphasizes something that must be in place in order to improve any fabricator's efficiency: the standardization of fabrication methods.

Standardizing Methods

While there isn't only one right way to carry out any given fabrication procedure, each fabrication business should decide on a single such method to be used in its operation, and insist that all employees follow the standard at all times. In fact, the entire package of fabrication procedures should connect with one another in a logical way, so that inefficiencies can be driven out of your business.

To that end, The Pinske Edge offers two different packages of equipment used for coving backsplashes. The router-based system is appropriate for smaller fabricators, and the shaper-based system is appropriate for larger fabricators. While talking about the topic of improving efficiency, Tom cites these two products as examples of ways to do so. But, most importantly, he recommends that you, as fabricators looking to boost profitability while streamlining operations, make an informed decision on the technique your firms will use, teach it to all involved employees and stick with it consistently.

Upselling is another point that can't be stressed enough to you as fabricators, and it's also something Tom speaks to in his seminar. You can succeed in solid surface fabrication by selling the lowest-cost, plain-vanilla countertops. But, as Tom points out, a better direction to take is to focus on more sophisticated fabrication techniques, such as coved backsplashes, pinstripes, decorative inlays, routed drainboards, thermoformed items such as shower pans, and, for larger shops, CNC routing.

Some fabricators may see such offerings as too labor-intensive and not profitable enough, or, in the case of CNC routers, way too expensive. But, before ruling out any or all of these possibly profit-boosting options, take a cue from Tom and his business and the way he has streamlined his packages of fabrication methods: look at ways you can improve the efficiency of all of these procedures, analyze their costs and price them to improve the profitability of your business.

In fact, an emphasis on upscale fabrication techniques will differentiate your shop from your less sophisticated competitors, leading to improved profitability, as Tom points out. Automation is necessary for larger shops, and is, in fact, profitable, as long as the proper equipment is chosen and used in an efficient and systematic manner.

Furthermore, examine your fabricating process from start to finish, starting at the time when a countertop is measured.

Accurate job-site templating is one crucial element in the process. And Tom is a strong advocate of this. For smaller shops, he recommends a physical template made of luan strips, with wall irregularities scribed onto a strip of luan plywood, and then sanded to the line for a very accurate fit. Actual scribing of the countertop is completed in the shop, which greatly speeds installation. For larger shops, he recommends electronic templating – specifically, the ETemplate system, which can interface with a CNC router.

Securing materials properly during fabricating is the next crucial step, of course. If materials are properly secured, then there's considerably less chance of waste. In the case of Tom's system, it involves Power Grips, or suction cups, that hold straight edges and templates during solid surface fabrication, and also clamp deck seams. His Starter System also includes folding, portable work station supports called Power Stands, the Wavy Edge system of preparing field seams for assembly, aluminum straight edges and radius templates. An expanded Starter System Plus is also available. Included are all of the essentials needed by a small shop, with the exception of standard power tools such as saws, routers and sanders.

These two systems are just two ways to set up and standardize the fabrication process so that more jobs can be sold and produced at a more efficient and accurate rate. But these are not the only systems. As fabricators, we need to examine the right processes, and products, that will work with our type of businesses, for our type of customers and for our type of shops. Then, we need to create a systematic package of fabrication methods that works best for us, and yields us the most profitability – whether it's an all-inclusive package or built from different pieces.

Cost of Labor

Another advantage to streamlining fabrication and improving the efficiency of the fabricating process is that fabricators can more easily control skilled labor costs. In the seminar, Tom points out the labor cost savings that can be obtained by doing this in your own firms.

For example, for a typical three-sheet kitchen countertop with a 4" coved splash and an integral sink, using conventional methods, fabrication time is estimated at 55 man hours. Using tools and techniques developed by The Pinske Edge, for instance, fabrication time is reduced to 27 man hours, as Tom points out. Given the significant difference in time and money this example represents, any fabricator should be inspired to take a very careful look at his/her own operation to see where comparable labor savings might be obtained.

I've known Tom for more than 16 years. Back then, I did a lot of introductory solid surface fabrication seminars. At a trade show sponsored by KBDN, I broke a router bit I needed to do my seminar. Tom had only been in the tool business for a year or two, and had a booth there. He loaned me the router bit I needed to finish my seminar, and I've never forgotten his kindness.

In 2003 Tom was selected for admission into the Hall of Fame of the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association. You can find out why I feel that honor is well-deserved by attending one of Tom's one-day seminars. I think you'll enjoy yourself as you learn, and it'll even make you want to examine how efficient your firm really is.

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