In these last couple postings, I've giving you my take on this article posted by Banks Hardwood talks about the challenges facing small businesses in today’s global economy and what they need to focus on to be successful. The  article resonated with me, and I’ll use them to talk about the particulars of my business in my last two posts, and in this one.

My last two posts:

Running a Wood Business in a Tough Economy

Success for Wood Shops: Know Your Market, Innovate, Manage Costs

Leaner and Maybe Greener

No matter how good you think your business may be, there are always techniques and strategies that can be implemented to improve efficiency.

A just-in-time delivery of inventory reduces storage costs and minimizes the risk of having raw material that may become obsolete or out-of-date on the shelves. Set-up a manufacturing facility with a cellular based layout - grouping like tasks together - thereby decreasing the distance a product travels and placing workers close to those who are directly above and below them in the production flow. Source your products from local suppliers and save money on shipping and handling costs.

Consider outsourcing parts of your business that are repetitive, high-volume, and have a low level of specialization, or, if you want to keep everything in-house, consider saving money by automating these kinds of tasks. Solicit employees for ideas, input, and advice. Many companies look to managers and supervisors for all the answers when, often times, the average worker will have a far greater understanding of the daily workings of the business and how to optimize processes and implement changes that can save the company money.

Free Webcast: Profit Using Lean Wood Shop Production

North Atlantic's VP Dave Silvia tells how Horner Millwork (one of North Atlantic's seven mid-sized  operations) cut waste, shortened lead time and improved quality in staircases, doors, windows and millwork, using Continuous Improvement and lean production.

Webcast Date:
May 16, 2012
10:30am CT/11:30am ET

Here at J. Alexander, even though we are small, we are able to use some of these same techniques to be more efficient and save money. Our shop has a cellular layout (milling, cutting, assembly, finishing), preventing us from having to haul a project all over the shop and decreasing the risk of damage. We only order the necessary material for the work that is in process or is scheduled to begin, thereby eliminating lumber and storage racks, and it is ordered from three local suppliers, saving us money on shipping and handling.

Invest in Marketing and Sales

Many small shops and companies get by in the good times with a very passive marketing plan, but once the market tightens up, like right now, those companies tend to lose sales much quicker. Whether you are individually pushing your product, or whether you have an entire marketing and sales team, actively marketing and selling your product to new customers and markets is a must.

While we are not eschewing the value of word-of-mouth marketing, we believe our marketing approach will help separate us from many of the other woodworking companies in our region. We have invested a fair amount of time and money in designing and creating professional marketing material (web site, business cards, brochures, newsletters). We also focusing on being active in the local business community and continually meeting and networking with new people, businesses.

Appeal to Patriotism and Environmental Concerns

While this is not a silver bullet for being successful and making sales, the “Buy Local”, “Made in the USA”, “Go Green” campaigns are growing and helping local businesses distinguish themselves from their global, faceless competitors.

We strive to buy all of our products from local suppliers, whether it be our lumber, hardware, or finishing materials, thereby supporting the community and city we love and, at the same time, reducing our carbon footprint, even if ever so slightly.

Take Advantage of Trade Organizations

Trade organizations and networking groups are an incredibly effective way to meet fellow business people, get your name out, and generate business leads. A good question to ask yourself before jumping to headlong into these networking groups: “Am I here to make a sale, or to develop a relationship?” It had better be the latter or else you will crash and burn.

We keep our networking schedule somewhat limited, because just like anything else, it can take over your entire day if you allow it to. So far we are part of the local interior designers trade group and are involved with the networking events put on by the local Twitter business community. To be honest, meeting other local business people on Twitter is what kicked this whole networking think off for us.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.