Monday, December 12, 2011

House cleaning

During the slower months many of our customers take the opportunity to clean up their shops.  Just a note, this should be more of a weekly or daily event and not just during slow times.  During this clean up time there are some tasks that should happen and some inventory assessments that are recommended.

Machinery maintenance
After the windows, floors, bathrooms and showroom are polished it is time to work on the machines that earn you money.  If they are not in excellent working order, then you are not going to make the money you should in the future months.  

Let's start with your dryer.  Large or small, a screen print shop's production is all dependent on the functioning of the dryer.  So your first task is to clean your dryer.  You should check all of these items:

  1. Heating elements.  If you have quartz elements, make sure they are clean.  If you have cal-rod or brick type then just confirm that they are all functioning.
  2. Fans.  Exhaust fans, intake fans, cooling fans.  Are they clean and functioning?
  3. Filter systems.  When is the last time you really checked and cleaned those?  Now be honest.
  4. Drive system.  The motor, chain and gears should be clean of lint and re-secured.  
  5. Control panel.  Yes, you have to clean those.  Get your shop vac out and suck up all that lint that is in the panel.
  6. Gas train.  Are all your fittings secure?
Now we can move onto your printers.  These are what you have your hands on every day.  If you have used a hammer or a pair of pliers on any of your presses within the last month, then you have serious work to do.
  1. Re-level the press.  This does not mean using a carpenter's level.  Confirm with your machine manufacturer's instructions on leveling your press.  This will take some time but it is well worth the effort.  It will pay off in future set-ups.
  2. Replace and repair all parts.  No more burnt platens.  No more bungee cords, no more pliers for knobs.  Having a press that functions well will speed up production and earn you more money.
Spin 360° around your shop.  See all those other pieces of machinery that you need?  Fix and clean them.  Do not procrastinate because you will be ticked off during your next print run that you did not fix the problem when you had time.

Parts inventory.
Large production houses determine which parts they should own for all the machinery in their shop.  They do this at the time of purchase and often have stock on their shelves.  This means minimal down time in the future.  Now, they have larger budgets than most but there are some "rules" that can help you decide what you should have.
  1. Is there a part on any machine that is difficult to get or has a long lead time?  If so, stock one.
  2. Are there parts on the machine that if broken, will shut down your operation?  If so, stock one.  One that comes to mind is a motor and motor control for any dryer that is over 3 years old.  This is service experience talking.  I can bypass most parts in a conveyor oven, but not a DC drive motor.
  3. If you run an automatic, what are the essentials.  What air parts are essential?  Any boards that you should have?
  4. Screen processing equipment.  If you do not have a bulb for your exposure unit on your shelf, you should be ashamed.  It is not as if you can get them from Home Depot and you are not really going to use the sun in a case of desperation.
Spin 360° around your shop.  See all those other pieces of machinery that you need?  Consider what parts are essential and buy them.

The cost.
Really, there isn't any.  Yes, there is some initial out of pocket expense.  But what is the cost of down time.  Way more than this little bit of time and inventory.

Enjoy your cleaning.  It is a quiet time of reflection of the great work you have done and preparing for future growth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Slow season? Really?

As we move into the holiday season, our business is supposed to slow down.  Traditionally, this is the time of year that we prep for the new show season in January and clean the shop.  We find building maintenance jobs to keep our employees busy and suggest that hunting season is a great time for a vacation.  However, we are too busy to sweep and we are hiring to keep ahead of the current orders.

How did this happen?
Thrilled, that is what we are.  Crazy, happy dance, thrilled to be this busy.  We are shipping manual and automatic machinery at a faster pace than any previous year.  We have enough potential orders to keep us running until the show season kicks off after the Rose Bowl.  But, how exactly did this happen?

Everywhere we read, the economy is not growing.  Michigan has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.  Banks are tight-fisted and not loaning to small businesses.  We should all be depressed.

Brown Manufacturing is not depressed.  Jubilant, comes to mind.

I can truly say that the reason we are busy is that our customer service is outstanding.  Daily, we receive calls and letters of thanks for taking care of our customers.  Our products have a reputation of reliability and our sales staff takes phone call after phone call of quality, free product support.  That kind of commitment to customer satisfaction does pay off.

Is that all?
I can say that customer service is not what sells products.  It is, however, what keeps customers.  Sales is all about hard work, getting in front of customers and coming up with real solutions for their problems.  That takes time and effort.  It also takes well thought out products.  Brown Manufacturing does all that.  Our people are constantly thinking of new ideas that will help screen printers grow and increase profits.  Our people are on the move 24/7 connecting with our customer base.

Being Thankful.
We are thankful to those who stick with us.  Both as employees and as customers.  With employee dedication and customer loyalty, Brown continues to grow.  We are continually thankful for all of that.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Is it time for the scrap yard?

should this one skip life support?
Trade in or recycle?

Every day, when we are discussing new or reconditioned equipment with our customers, there are possible trade in conversations.  Similar to purchasing a new car, what do you do with the old one.  Dryers are usually the topic of conversation because the maintenance costs are too high or the current unit is too small for the production required.  Many times we are able to take the old unit as a trade for the new.  Some money is given for the trade and we rework the unit and offer it as reconditioned.  This makes the most sense.  Most of the time.

But when is that not the best answer?

Within the last 2 weeks we have acquired, or offer to take, some very large electric conveyor ovens.  We now have in our possession 48" x 20' machines that will need rework and we will put on the market.  (if you have any interest, please call.)  Unlike small ovens, the large ones have a very limited market and a much higher rebuilt cost.  The freight on these will usually eat up our profits on the deal.  

Four automatic presses, the problem is similar.  High freight costs, large repair bill, and, for some, a technician bill for installation.  

What factors to consider?

So, when you are moving into a new piece what are your options with the old one?

  1. You can list it on CraigsList or some other classified forum.  You will get some money from a local person.  They may be a competitor but now the used machine is their problem.  Don't expect a lot of cash but it will be cash.
  2. You can trade it toward the new machine.  If the vendor is willing, there may be trade in value.  Keep in mind that it will be 1/2 the value of what they will resell it for.  But they have to work on it and market it.  You will have to help to remove it and package it for shipping.
  3. You can call the scrap yard.   I know this sounds like a cop-out but it really is not.  Keep in mind that the depreciation is long since over for this unit.  The maintenance costs are higher than the machine value and your time is better spent selling your product than worrying about some used steel.
Scrap yard time.

So as a note to some long time customers of mine...  I know that you have museum pieces that we sold to you a generation ago.  But it is time to retire the old piece and be happy with the new one.  I will give you the bad news as to when to pull the plug.  Just please do not be offended.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does show artwork matter?

Every year, for every show, we debate amongst ourselves whether the artwork that we print at shows needs to be changed.  Usually, the amount of time we have before we have to ship determines our choice of artwork.  The shorter the time, the more apt we are to send the old stand-by designs.  The question we always have is , "does it matter to the customer on the show floor, and does the art sell more machines"?  So we ask you.

Theory #1

The point of artwork is to give the sales people a tool to show off the features of the machine.  For example, we have run a 3 color round design for a couple of years.  The design is a butt-register and is difficult to set-up and hold.  We feature that design on the MasterPrinter and the ElectraPrint to explain the micro-registration and registration gate features of the machine.

We print a simple 2-color design on our smaller presses to teach new printers that printing can be a simple process.  This design shows easy set-up and wet-on-wet printing.

The idea is that these designs will help our sales staff sell machinery because the customers will see the features and benefits of the machine.  This has worked out pretty well.

Theory #2

The best artwork is one that grabs attention from the aisle.  The cooler the design, the more people we will get to talk to.  Working the percentage numbers on the floor.

Our competitors do offer some great looking art.  They only print at scheduled times and they sell the shirts.

These designs are more costly to run, they may not emphasis the features of the machine and they may hide any number of printing errors and still look great.

We have tried this technique at the most recent shows.  We do get a great crowd.  We sell enough shirts to cover our costs of the garments and the artist's time and we have sold machines.  Nice.

The Debate
So, in your opinion, does the artwork make a difference at a trade show when you are shopping for new machinery?  Or are we just attracting the attention of shirt collectors?  When you see us at a show, please let us know.