In quality month, we usually examine product quality. We are going to take the subject in a little different direction this year. This will be a four-week series, so you will want to make sure you don't miss any of it if you really want to make a difference in quality in our industry.
Since April of this year, I have spent a number of weeks in the field calling on prospects for our various businesses. In April, I went to eastern Texas and western Louisiana, from I-20 / US Route 80 south to the Gulf of Mexico, missing Houston. I visited about two dozen mills, converting operations and suppliers. May found me in Wisconsin and Minnesota, from the cities to the forests, where I visited another three dozen mills, converting operations and suppliers. In July I was in Indianapolis (40 sites). In August I was in Houston (43 sites). In September I was in greater St. Louis and East St. Louis (44 sites). There were other minor stops along the way, but it is fair to say I have knocked on close to 200 doors in this time frame. I have a trip planned to the Boston area in November.
With confidence, I'll say, there is no CEO of either a manufacturing company or a supplier company in our industry that has executed this kind of an itinerary this year. And it shows.
Many of you make products for the food service industry, either grocery stores or restaurants.
All I have to say is this--it is a good thing you are not running a restaurant on your site, for if you were, no patrons would come within two miles of your establishment--its siting and its location are unattractive. If actual restaurant users saw where you make the products that touch their food, home cooking would catch on again. I'll hasten to add, if some of you have a conscience and feel your heart rate rising slightly as you read this--don't worry--I didn't take any pictures. With all the security cameras everywhere these days, it has been many years since I have taken pictures in parking lots (probably about the time I stopped using a real film camera). I would love you as a customer, don't want to be squeezed by your security staff because they caught me taking pictures.
So, over the next four weeks, we are going to deconstruct several issues I have noted and give you some positive things to work on going forward--things that will actually make you money. Some of these issues are universal and some of them are just things we become used to and blind to if we go to work at the same place every day.
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We'll start with the lobbies (if you can get into them--more later) without a receptionist. This has been the standard operating procedure since telephone systems with integrated voice mail came into service in the 1990's.
Visitors, if they can get into the lobby, find a phone and perhaps a directory page (if the salesperson that was there before them didn't steal it). The phone is suspect (Did the last user touch their face to the mouthpiece? How clean were their hands? That phone looks like it was installed in 1975 and not cleaned since then.). The things hanging on the walls are even more hilarious--in one facility I found a framed "annual" membership in a local Chamber of Commerce, obviously meant to be replaced every year, dated 1998. The really interesting ones are where the phone, after you dial it, gives you an indication that the line is out of service, you know--the fast busy signal.
One of the problems with lobbies is that employees seldom go through them. Employees come in via an employee entrance, completely bypassing the lobby. Hence, it may have literally been years since anyone responsible for a site ever set foot in the lobby.
Of course, on mill sites, often the first encounter is with the guard shack. Most of these look like no one in authority has visited them in twenty years or so, either. I have kept my lawnmower in better looking outbuildings. I have seen nicer outhouses.
When a friend of mine was CEO of a major company (he is retired now), he kept receptionists when everyone else was throwing them out the window. I asked him why. His response, "We waste more money out back before lunch every day than a receptionist costs in a year. I would rather work on fixing the big stuff. Additionally, I don't want to take the risk of a customer or government official showing up unannounced and not be properly greeted." Well said.
So, as long as you are convinced you'll never have a customer or government official show up for a surprise visit, I say keep doing what you are doing. You are living dangerously, but that is your decision. Some might also accuse you of having low standards--someone like an employee whom you just chewed out for having a sloppy work area and who has the guts to march you to your own lobby to take a look at what you tolerate.
For safety this week, I sure hope the fire department and the outside EMT services have been trained as to how to get into your facility. I have actually witnessed a situation where this was not preplanned, and precious minutes were wasted. It was ugly.
Be safe and we will talk next week.