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Strategies to Solve Three Top Issues and Take Advantage of Unexpected Downtime

  • Howie Fenton
  • |
  • September 16, 2021

While there has always been the challenge of taking advantage of unexpected downtime, the pandemic seems to exacerbate that problem. It seems like just as the situation starts to improve and businesses open up, there is a misstep, and businesses close down again. These fits and starts make it challenging to get back to normal. But what if there was a way to take advantage of these unexpected downtimes? This post will discuss three of the most challenging issues and offer strategies to make them more manageable so you can tackle them during unexpected downtime. 

Three Challenging Issues 

When in-plant managers are asked what projects are the most intimidating to start, we most often hear about updating prices, creating a sales program, and implementing new software. Conversations about competitive pricing are often awkward. Managers get very defensive because they hear customer complaints and they don’t want to admit that they have not updated their BHRs (budgeted hourly rates, the building blocks of product prices). The standard operating procedure for job costing in the printing industry is the BHR analysis. It allows for estimates of costs by creating BHRs in cost centers with standards (times to perform each task). Digging up all the numbers required can take months, so most in-plants don’t update their BHRs for years. 

In the IPMA study "The Next Generation Tactics and Strategies for In-Plant Service Providers" (2019), when in-plants were asked how they would characterize their sales and marketing; 27% said "some people try to sell, but it is sporadic and unmanaged," 19% said "Our organization frowns upon sales,” and 13% said, "No one understands so we don’t make an effort." That means that over half (59%) do not try to sell or try and fail. Anyone who has worked in the in-plant space for a while recognizes that sales and marketing efforts are often overlooked as we focus more on quality and on-time delivery. 

You might be surprised if you walked into another in-plant and discovered software that has been bought and paid for, sitting in a closet, unopened. We have seen this too often. It is most common with Web to Print and print MIS software. There are many excuses for not implementing new software. The most common explanations are "We don’t have time to set this up, "we don’t have the right person to set this up," or "we are afraid that we will take down production." 

More Manageable Bites 

Much like any challenge, often, the key is starting slow. Think about the lesson of "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer is one bite at a time. With each of these challenges, you can look for "out of the box" strategies to start the process, which will make the task less daunting. 

The first "bite" in updating your BHRs is to see if it needs to be done. Anyone with experience in the process can sit down with a piece of paper or even a napkin and make some "back of the napkin" or rough calculations to see if your BHRs are in line or out of line. Simply look at one or two cost centers and just consider salaries and equipment. Those are often the two largest factors in your BHR calculation and will give you an idea if you are off or not. 

Beginning a sales initiative does not require months of research. You can start small and then increase your efforts. Sometimes even the label "sales-call" causes sweat to appear. So don’t call them sales calls- think of them as " check-in" calls. You are simply calling customers to check-in and listen to see if they have everything they need. You can ask if they have any problems with your products and service, if they are outsourcing anything you could provide, and if they have any big projects coming up. It does not require a huge investment in time. Just start with five calls a day. You are likely to learn more about your customers, the service you provide, new opportunities and start to improve your relationship with your customers. Even if you hear complaints from customers, the simple act of talking to them will improve their satisfaction. 

Implementing new software can be very intimidating. You might have to dedicate an already busy staff member to a long-term task and create a bottleneck in your workflow, try to make time yourself for a long-term project, or go through a process in which you are essentially "begging" administration for support on a long-term project. Considering those options helps to understand why some opt to put the package in the closet. 

Get the Web to Print Best Practices eBook with over 40 Web to print best practices for in-plant print centers to implement, configure and use a WTP system and realize its maximum benefits.

Six Strategies for Solving the Top Challenging Issues 

Here are six out-of-the-box strategies that you can use to make progress on solving these three issues during your downtime. The first step is finding a stand-alone computer you are not using. The second and tougher step, is finding someone to work on the projects.   

  1. Ask technically savvy staff that typically work in other areas to work during their downtime.  
  2. You or someone on your staff may have children or relatives who are wizards with computer technology, enjoy data collection or selling. They could be a great resource. 
  3. Approach a local high school or university and talk to them about creating an internship that provides credits for a student or seek out students who have projects to complete for coursework.  
  4. Approach someone who is retired and interested in coming back to work on a limited basis.  
  5. Hire a part-time person though a temp agency or through online staffing solutions such as UpWork or Freelancer.  
  6. For BHR and software projects, talk with your equipment and software providers. They may have tools, ideas, and expertise that you can utilize. 

If these seem like unlikely solutions, remember that the equipment and software vendors want you to get their solutions working and will usually provide technical support to help you get going. Some may also provide installation services.  

Use the Strategies to Gain Momentum 

Unexpected downtime is nothing new, but it seems to occur more often and more unexpectedly during the pandemic. What if you could tackle and overcome one of your long-time issues during this unexpected downtime? That would not only help when things return to normal but would also demonstrate to the administration that you are a problem solver, and you can turn lemons into lemonade. Think about starting with small steps to address your challenges with updating prices, creating a sales program, and implementing new technology and consider using one of the six strategies. Sometimes the toughest step is the first step and finding a way to start creates a momentum that carries the process toward the solution. 

Discuss these strategies to resolve your top issues during unexpected downtime

Contact me or RSA to discuss how you can use these strategies and our resources to complete your pricing update, sales program and implementing software projects. 

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About the Author

Howie Fenton

Howie Fenton is an independent consultant and trusted advisor to in-plant printers. He recommends equipment, best practices and workflow automation tools to streamline operations. To learn more about measuring performance, benchmarking to leaders, and improving your value e-mail Howie@howiefentonconsulting.com

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