Work Smarter, Not Harder

“Work smarter, not harder.”  It’s a phrase I heard many variations of as an engineering student, and as most professors referred to efficiency, one referenced manufacturing and the concept of “lean,” a concept born from necessity.  It’s often credited to Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of Toyota, and commonly misunderstood as only being applicable in large manufacturing facilities.  Fortunately, it’s a basic concept that’s been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and only recently coined as “lean manufacturing” in the 1990’s.  The main idea: preserve customer value while eliminating waste, or muda.

I was reminded of “lean” recently during a virtual trade show for the woodworking industry.  The focus was to show how easy it is to apply lean strategies to small businesses, whether they specialize in custom work or have more of a production line approach.  Since changes should begin with management, a good example in an office environment is the reduction of paperwork.  Not only should the amount of printed paper be minimized, but each task or process can be evaluated for waste, using a tool called kaizen or continuous process improvement.  If a certain form is not necessary to create customer value maybe it can be eliminated.  If however, the forms are needed for non-value reasons like organization or clarity, perhaps a software upgrade can save time by synching files so no one has to input the same information twice.  There are many ways to reduce waste and improve efficiency in the office.

Applying kaizen to production yields many ideas.  Perhaps the most significant is autonomation, or jidoka; the idea that a machine can do the job of a human and stop when it detects an error or at the end of its work cycle to save power.  The truth is unless the machine cost is on the order of millions of dollars, it will need the attention of a human to work properly and efficiently.  A woodworking shop can have many machines working “autonomously with a human touch,” but the most common is a CNC router.  Because it still requires an operator, it isn’t replacing a human, rather several tools.  Ultimately it’s improving efficiency because it does more in less time and produces less waste by optimizing material yield, all while monitoring hundreds of sensors to prevent errors.

While jidoka aims itself at efficiency via quality control, the rest of the shop can benefit from good work flow by touching things as little as possible and completing any product from start to finish without interruption, thus reducing inventory.  Let’s say I have to move a sheet of plywood from the material rack across the building to the CNC machine, then back across the building to the edge-bander, just to be returned to the shop where I got the material in the first place.  That’s a relatively large distance for that material to travel.  It’d be ideal to have these work stations oriented so the pallet of goods travels down an imaginary river, or highway, moving only a few feet from station to station.  This is called value streaming and an ideal scenario may be a “U-shaped” work flow.  Sheet goods would arrive at the loading dock to be stored just inside the doors and for a minimal amount of time.  The CNC machine would not be far away, followed by the edge-bander, laminating station, shop, and finally the loading dock again.  The value of the product didn’t change for the customer, but the amount of work and waste was reduced.

You can do it too.  Think about the tasks you’ll be doing today, and ask yourself, “is there any step or process that can be removed or improved?”  If so, you’ll be reducing waste, increasing productivity, and practicing the concepts of “lean.”

-Cooper Ferguson


Weight Tickets

Whether you know what a Certified Weight Ticket is or not, it’s quickly becoming something you need to come to rely on in the trade show world. If you’re asking yourself, what is a Certified Weight Ticket (CWT), well it’s basically confirmation from a verified source, like a weigh station, that your freight going into a show is accurately weighed. Regardless of what you estimate on your show’s Material Handling form the CWT will supercede your show paperwork.

I’ve noticed the past year or so most show decorators have routinely included their requests for the driver having a CWT on hand when delivering freight. Take note…the CWT is being required regardless of whether you are delivering to the advance warehouse or to the show site.

Now here’s the catch…if your carrier doesn’t arrive with this CWT in hand upon delivery then the show decorator is going to charge you extra in drayage. Let’s say your freight was due in on standard time but the driver arrives without it. You, as the exhibiting company, will now be charged Overtime. If you have a lot of show freight or even just a little this cost increase can really impact your trade show budget.

So, bottom line, when requesting that rate quote from your carrier be sure to ask for a CWT, otherwise it could cost you!!

Augusta Smith


Building Strong Business Relationships

I hung up the phone with a vendor and thought to myself how nice that I’ve gotten to know this person so much better over the last several years. What started out as casual business exchanges has turned into additional conversations about family, children, grandchildren, weekend plans, illnesses, even kitchen renovations and custody battles. Sometimes I think, wow, I just spent 20 to 30 minutes talking to this vendor in the middle of a swamped day. But, I think nurturing these work relationships, whether this is with vendors, clients or your employees is crucial to the health of your business. By caring about people’s well-being, you set yourself up for rich rewards.  Not only does it make the day and each interaction with them more interesting, but you also develop friendships and a deeper respect for each other as individuals and as business associates. In situations where someone might need a favor, both sides are more willing to go to bat for each other.  You establish a mutual trust.

So, next time you find yourself in a conversation with a business associate, listen carefully. Take the time to connect and engage with the person you are talking to. You never know what bonds you may form and what opportunities might arise.

Suzanne Ferguson


How long will my trade show display last?

How long will my trade show display last?

I am asked this question every time Ferguson Design sells a booth. It is a good question and addresses the quality and longevity of our products. My answer varies depending on; whether it is custom or portable, how it is constructed, who sets it up/breaks it down, and how it is shipped.

There is another important aspect to this question. For the client who is trying to maximize the impact and effectiveness of their trade show program the question should be, “how long will my booth feel fresh and continue to attract new and existing customers?” My answer to this question also varies depending on; particular market, potential selling audience, and frequency of exhibiting.

A few of my clients have booths that are over 10 years old. This may be a testament to the quality of the fabrication or maybe the maintenance of these booths but they look and feel outdated. In most cases they are heavy, take several crates to ship, and require excessive labor to set-up. These clients would be better off getting a new display that could potentially pay for itself in the savings associated with storage, shipping, drayage and labor. And, this would spark interest from potential new clients at the show.

So, what is the answer? How often should you buy a new booth? For the average exhibitor who exhibits at 3-4 shows a year, I recommend a new booth every 4 years. By then the WOW factor is gone and the newness has worn off. I also recommend updating your booth for every show. Give them something new to look at such as graphics, messaging, promotions, product highlights and even giveaways.

Mike Ferguson


To Attend or Not Attend


To attend or not attend, that is the question.  Tradeshows across the country are seeing a decline in the number of exhibitors and attendees.  What should your company do?  There are a few things to consider before making this decision.

What is your return on investment?  Is attending or exhibiting at a show going to increase sales?

Neil Devereaux, a sales manager in the woodworking industry regularly attends the IWF show with his company, George Guenzier & Sons Inc.  Many large manufacturers of woodworking equipment have opted out of this years show and Neil believes this is a mistake.  He argues that it forces customers to spend more time and money traveling to multiple locations in their decision making process.

Is having a permanent showroom a better option than attending tradeshows?  Perhaps, and you will certainly save money on travel and show expenses, but you will also lose potential sales by not being there.  Making the decision to go or not will require tracking your tradeshow results over the past several years to see how successful  it has been for your company, and estimating how valuable tradeshows will be for you in the future.

Another option is to downsize your booth and presence at shows.  Only you know the minimum amount of space, booth and product required to show your wares.  Also, consider the message it sends to your customers.  Will they appreciate that you are being cost conscious in trouble times?  Or, will they wonder if your company is experiencing financial troubles?

The economy will get better.  Where do you want your company positioned when it does?

Mike Ferguson


The Benefits of Having Your Exhibit House Handle Your Trade Show Shipments


It’s probably safe to say that in this economy everyone is trying, in every aspect of their business, to save money.  This in turn can lead to some creative thinking in the sense of where to cut back and when it’s worth that extra dollar to spend.  One area to consider is shipping.   Sure saving a few bucks is possible if you want to handle shipping your trade show booth yourself.  However, if spending the same or perhaps a little more can buy you the expertise of your exhibit house, why wouldn’t you?  With an exhibit house you have the piece of mind that knowing someone is tracking your freight until it’s unloaded at your trade show destination. Do you really want to spend your weekend or a busy meeting packed workday figuring out where your booth is, if not in the right location?  I’m guessing no, not really…it’s not worth the hassle, that’s where an extra dollar(possibly) spent is well worth it by using your exhibit house.

Augusta Smith


Dealing With Vendors During These Hard Economic Times


If you are not a business owner who has experienced a hard time collecting from your clients and in return have not fallen behind with your own vendors during these difficult economic times, then you are among the lucky few.  There are a few things that I have learned this past year when things have gotten a little tough.  As a customer to a vendor, first and most importantly, it pays to be upfront. I have heard numerous stories from vendors telling me that they have customers who lie, saying that the check is in the mail, or have received checks that are conveniently not signed, or have heard promises that they know can’t be kept. I have been thanked even when I have had to say there is nothing coming your way and I don’t know when I will. Vendors are appreciative that they know what to expect. It is not good business to play games with people.  I know that when I have a client who doesn’t pay and that I have had to call numerous times, if they have the courtesy to tell me that they just don’t have the funds, I am more forgiving and willing to give them time. Nobody likes to be strung along. Secondly, even if you  don’t  have an answer or you have to relay not so happy news, do not avoid calls. There is nothing worse to have a customer who won’t answer or return calls. It is frustrating and a waste of time to have to keep trying.  So, as hard as it is, at least take the call. Lastly, vendors are much more willing to work with you if you explain your situation and they know that you are at least making the effort.  Communicate.  We all seem to be in the same boat on various levels and to have respect for each other’s time and to be as forthright as possible on both ends will go a long way. It will make getting through these times a little easier for all of us.

Suzanne Ferguson


Trade Show Labor


Unless your company solely relies on small pop-ups or your uncanny ability to “MacGyver” your way out of the next predicament, you’ve certainly encountered the pros and cons of this profession.  On one end of the spectrum we have exhibit houses that know you, your booth, your expectations, and most importantly all avenues of the exhibit arena; and on the other end, there is “show labor,” that’s hit or miss and will always need directions.  We’ve all heard the horror stories.

Of course show labor can have their diamond in the rough that will go the extra mile.  Often being an EAC (Exhibit Appointed Contractor), I can assure you these breeds are rare in the local union, but abundant if you hire the right help. It’s when you think everything is perfectly planned, a bulb will burn out and you have no replacement, or a graphic will begin to release and you’re without adhesive.  This is when the qualified pay for themselves.

So consider your booth, its needs and make sure to get a team that matches.  It could turn a nightmare into a dream.

Cooper Ferguson