Keith handled our project very well. He was able to walk us through the process and come up with a simple system that maps everything we do. We passed the certification and recertification with no issues at all. He covered ISO well and trained us very well. Everything went very smoothly.
How has forecasting changed?
Look at how things have progressed the last two years, we can have anywhere from 10% to 50% growth at any period of time. How do you predict what it’s going to be like in 2023? Is the economy going to stay the same? That one commodity you buy or that one part you buy could disrupt the whole chain. How much risk do we take to pre-buy that material? How much should we put on our shelves, both raw materials and finished goods? It’s a guessing game — month to month, week to week.
We talked a lot about people, we talked about supply chain, we talked about how business is. What’s your heartburn issue as you think about the next year?
Retaining [people] is on our mind, but also just wondering if we can sustain this growth with inflation and all these rising prices. Some people say yes, some people say no. The failure rate in large industries is high. So, it’s making sure that we’re doing the right things to stay in the business.
How have you changed your hiring or onboarding process to try and have a higher retention rate?
One of the things we’ve spent a lot of time on is retention. And what we found is to constantly touch base with new employees, even existing employees. That communication, that feedback, it can be really successful with seeing improvements, retention, etc.
Ten years ago, people thought some kinds of automation were sometimes a threat. Are your employees embracing it differently today?
When we brought the cobot in, it was amazing how many people wanted to come over and see it, watch it. There was no threat whatsoever.
How do you plan for two or three years out in this kind of a world?
We might be adding some square footage, but on a smaller scale than we would’ve a year ago when some bigger plans were made. Some of those plans have definitely been put on hold. It’s also important to stay close to your customers right now because things are changing so quickly. It might not always be a low demand like it is right now so staying on the same page is important for when that demand picks up.
How do you see the next 12 to 18 months compared to the last year or so?
The last couple years for us were very strong. We had a hard time keeping up with demand. Now this year and going forward, we’ve had to work a lot harder to maintain our sales and volume going out the door to our customers. We are doing more promotions, as people are looking for sales and discounts with inflation dollars being tight.
What we went through with Enterprise Minnesota taught us a number of things about how the whole ISO process works, and how we should run it. It used to be something that [we] thought we had to push over to the quality manager to run — that we needed to do sales or marketing or strategy and all of that. With Enterprise Minnesota’s help, we realize that this is something that comes from the top. You have to take that ownership and be able to manage it from the top all the way down through the whole organization.
The benefit of doing the ISO certification was that we had to document every procedure, so it put employee knowledge down on paper. Now these skills aren’t limited to one person and it’s helped with cross training. We quickly discovered that this was going to greatly improve our processes.
We could not have done this effectively without the guidance and support from Enterprise Minnesota.
It was a very positive experience working with Enterprise Minnesota because they made it fun. Our consultant was engaged, he was funny, but still so experienced in a positive way that he kept staff engaged. He was out on the shop floor sorting, doing the work alongside them, instead of just telling them what to do.
I think it has been really helpful for our business to continue to do work with Enterprise Minnesota. When we have a pain point, I know who to call.
Enterprise Minnesota’s experts really helped us coordinate our value stream mapping process, which was a team effort across the company. Everyone was involved in it, and it gave everyone a chance to provide input. After the value stream map, my employees seem to be more engaged and happier. It has opened their eyes to move past “this is how we’ve always done it,” and that change can be a positive thing. When we implemented our plant layout, we were able to handle the increased volume without any expansion and it really increased our efficiencies.
The cost of healthcare has always been a top concern – is that still an issue?
“It’s still an issue. We’ve continued to see double digit increases every year. You can’t stay ahead of that without pricing yourself out of the market. It’s impacting our margins and our strategies. That’s another reason to push for more automation. The robots don’t need much insurance.”
How much will automation play into your ability to make up productivity efficiencies?
“We’re actually right in the middle of spending about $25,000 for a very minuscule automation project. But the reason we have to do that is the shortage of people.”
Is the worker shortage here to stay?
“I think so. I think we need to start thinking that way. We’re doing a lot to train from within. We’re getting qualified people with no skills, and we’re training them. If we train 10 people, that’s a lot of money. We’re not that big of a business. We have to nip away at it year by year. Our growth rate, as bringing on employees goes, does not match the growth rate potential. That will be a big problem in the long run.”
In the next 12 months, what is the biggest challenge you face?
“One major thing holding us back is finding the skilled employees we’re looking for. I think everybody’s fighting wage increases and the challenge that brings, especially if you do any long-term contract work. That is our biggest challenge. Thankfully in our industry we haven’t been hampered too much other than international shipping. We’ve had a few containers that took four months to get in, but it wasn’t a material shortage. It was just the labor shortage at the port.”