Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When Was The Last Time You Hugged A Glass Worker?

A note from Paul:  This is a blog that you leave around the house.  Cut off this top section at the dotted line and let your spouse or significant other just happen to see it.  Now, I am not a voyeur, but if you get a hug, drop me an email!


Hey out there, you are among the luckiest people in the world.  You are near a glass worker, the best people around.  Glass workers are universally great people and they deserve hugs at every opportunity.  Glass workers work hard, lifting, moving heavy glass, driving trucks, and in a glass shop office, dealing with customers who bring in measurements based on the length of a string. 

Glass workers are more than industrial workers.  They have to be furniture movers after putting a mirror on the wall.  They are psychologists when after they have moved the furniture and put up the mirror, the customer says they don't look young in the new mirror.

They are negotiators, after moving the furniture, hanging the mirror, soothing the ego, and then the customer says, even though I might look good in the mirror, take 10% off and I will look better!

Glass workers are in large companies and small, and each one has its own stress, making each worker need a hug.  Glass workers have problems too.  If they do their work well, people just look through it, and don't realize how hard it was to install.  If a glass worker repairs a broken pane, the customer is just back where they started, and don't feel the glass worker has helped!  When glass workers put in low-e glass, which saves the customer money, the customer is glad the energy bill is down, but don't give the credit to the glass worker.

If you are in a trade related to our glass industry, like being a blogger, (that's a hint, Elaine), or you make insulating glass, or you write software to help glass companies send out their invoices, you deserve a hug too! 

So, you see, if you live with or care about a glass worker, give her or him a hug.  You are helping America, and of course, helping a glass worker.

This message is brought to you as a public service by The UnderHugged Glass Workers of America.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's So Special About April First

There is always a lot of talk about April First being a special day.  I have done extensive research and found very little that makes this day special.  Here's the highlights:
  • 1826--Samuel McRey patents the internal combustion engine.
  • 1975--Apple is formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
How about people?
  • Rusty Staub was born in 1944. (For those of you who are saying "Who?", he is a great New York Met)
  • Rachel Maddow, a television news commentator was born in 1973.
And the really important point one:  Since 2000, April first is EDIBLE BOOK DAY in Great Britain, where pastry chefs compete to make great literature that is also tasty.

So, since there is just no news that is worth writing about, I went to my list of blogs to write and couldn't decide which one to work on.  So, dear readers, please help me.  Take a look at this list and drop me a note about which blog to write next week.

How to glue together broken tempered glass.
A list of the fabricators that won't change hands in 2012.
Plans for a do-it-yourself laminating line.
Prediction of glass usage in 2022.
Your list of contractors in your town who will file chapter 11.
Apple creates an APP to fix failed IG using an IPhone.
PPG invents flexible glass.
Repairing windshields using Wrigley's chewing gum.
Instant glass tinting using blue food coloring.
Little known ways to use silicone as cake decoration.
Five guaranteed plans to double your business in 90 days.
Oprah's plan to feature the glass installer of the year.
Onion juice is the perfect glass cleaner.
Laws passed in Arizona requiring glass installers to wear clean t-shirts.
Six glass company stocks to buy in 2014.
Di-Chromic glass for every day use.
A way to guarantee what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
You can count on me for the best news of April 1--Happy Birthday Elaine!

I look forward to your votes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

So, I Cleaned Out My Old Oak Desk

I have a small home office with a large oak, roll-top desk.  When I bought the desk about 35 years ago it was already old, with a date of 1890 stamped on the brass lock that holds the rolltop in place.  This desk looks like every desk you see in the old westerns on TV, plenty of pigeon holes and drawers.  It is a true classic antique.

So what does this have to do with the glass industry?  Plenty.  Read on.

In 1978, I was the regional sales rep for CR Laurence covering Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.  I had a customer in upstate New Hampshire, close to the Canadian border who owned this desk.  The first time I saw the desk, I fell in love.  During one visit I mentioned to the owner if he ever wanted to sell the desk to please call me.

Well, the phone did ring one day, and three days later he delivered the desk to our apartment in Boston.  Elaine, as she always does, supported me, even though she thought I was a little bit off my rocker.

This desk is my work center for everything from household bills to writing blogs to managing the consulting gigs.  There are no holes in the desktop to snake computer cables, yet somehow this desk works in our current electronic environment.  I haven't really emptied this desk in fifteen years. When we moved to NH, the moving company had four men lift the desk into the truck, with all the drawers in place. The unloaded it the same way. Why did I start to clean it now? I don't know.

But I digress...back to the glass industry.  I found business cards from people that have passed away; and cards from living people whose company's have gone away.  I called a few people who I haven't talked to in years, and one of these calls may lead to a consulting project.  I looked at trade show booklets from five years ago and wondered what ever happend to so-and-so.

I found, of course, baseball cards and old pairs of glasses; an unused ticket for a free car wash, valid in 1995 or 1996; some great pictures of my kids and Elaine, and many little snipets of information that will form future blogs.

Now the big finish.  You can and should do the same.  Look at every business card in your desk; look at your invoice register from three years ago and read your quote file from 2009.  There were good customers there sprinkled between the complainers.  Call to say hello.  A couple of those folks might just ask ask if you are still in business and if so, can you quote on a job they have coming up.  You have absolutely nothing to lose, except clutter.  And everything to gain.

And it is not just your desk, but each desk in your company will have business treasures you can capitalize on.  Seeing the quote from two years ago, where the owner decided to hold off until the economy turned, might be just the opportunity that is about to knock on your door.

Good hunting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How To Be A Safe Ostrich

It's so easy.  You don't need gloves, glasses, hardhats, safety vests or, anything.  You dig a hole, stick you head in, and you are safe.  For the ostrich it works 100% of the time.  You see, if they survive the attack by the predator, they are safe.  If the predator sees their feathered back-end up in the air and pounces, the ostrich is instantly killed and doesn't comprehend he is about to become dinner.  From the ostrich's point of view, life just doesn't get better.

So, that is the end of this blog. 

But wait, what if the title would become, "How To Be A Safe Glass Worker".  Can you stick your head in the cut-off rack, ignore all the safety hazards and still be 100% safe?  Sure you can.  Of course you can.  I think you can.  I hope you can. 

Well, here's my offer.  If you don't insist all of your employees wear all of their safety gear, all the time, I've got a deal for you.  Please drop me a note with your business address.  I have a plan to open up a competing glass shop across the street from every glass company in America where the workers don't wear their safety gear.  I know they won't survive in the business world.  And, then I will own the only glass shop around. 

The safest business is, when all things are equal, the most profitable.  I can quote you all sorts of case histories about this...trust me, it is true.  OK, study the history of Alcoa Aluminum, where in the last thirty years, they have been among the safest companies in the world, and directly because of that, one of the more profitable..  You'll see.  A safe business manager, foreman or supervisor knows everything in his/her responsibility and that means less waste, clutter and chances for injury.  When processes are smooth and accident-free, they are more efficient.  That means less cost, happier workers and more profit.

Work safe, prevent injuries, reduce their impact by wearing the proper protective equipment and your company will be better off.

And to think, you thought this article was about a big bird.  What, you want more about ostriches?  OK:
  •  It's brain is smaller than it eyes, which are the size of billiard balls.
  • An ostriches intestines are 46 feet long.
  • Ostriches can run up to 40 mph.
  • There are over 2,000,000 world wide.  They are not endangered.
  • Ostriches are so powerful that a single kick at a predator, such as a lion, could be fatal.
  • Ostriches don't really bury their head in sand.  They just lie with their head and neck on the ground, giving the appearance of being in a hole.
And with that last fact, you see that my initial premise is slightly off-base, but it sounded so much better, I just left it in.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Does Your Checkbook Leak Like A Bad Faucet?

You know which faucet I'm talking about.  A steady drip, about once a second; it has been that way for months and you keep saying you will get to it.  But you are in the glass business and running your shop or crew is more important than fixing this annoying leak.  According to the United States Geological Survey, one faucet, dripping only once per second, will waste 2082 gallons of water a year (even more in leap year!). 

I'll bet that most of us have the same problem with our checkbooks.  We don't take the time to fix the leaks.  We have been getting the same bills for years, and just pay it, letting the checkbook leak.

So, here comes Paul The Plumber with leak-fixing tools.  
  • Sign every check yourself.  No exceptions.  Running our glass fabricator, the owner, Chuck, or I would hand sign every check for materials or services.  We did have the payroll company do the employee checks but audited the payroll journal.  Yes, it took time, about four hours every ten days.   We checked the price against the purchase order and the quantity billed against what our receiving ticket showed.
  • We were not suspecting or looking for fraud.  We were looking for leaks.  About ten percent of our check run caused questions.  Why was that item purchased?  How is it used?  Didn't we just buy that from a different vendor?  Why are we using so much?  Can't we combine this with other items from other vendors to earn bigger discounts?
  • We always paid the bills with the biggest cash discounts first.  In fact, one of the biggest sins in our company was sitting on an invoice from a vendor causing us to miss a discount date.
  • In tough times we would reduce spending.  Travel was reduced.  We would ask why a certain truck was using more fuel than others?  Did it need a tune-up, or did the driver just have a heavy foot?  We kept maintenance to a high standard, which actually reduced emergency calls for high-priced weekend labor and kept machinery running smoothly.
  • Drip...Drip...Drip...the renewal of an advertising bill in the yellow pages, which on asking our customer service people, never brought in a phone call they could remember.  A membership in a local chamber of commerce, although we never went to a meeting or gained any benefit.  Buying  desk calendars for each office worker each year, when we looked at desks and saw that only half of our people used them.
  • Cut down the number of vendors you have.  Concentrate your purchasing power and you will get lower prices.  Even though you feel that buying everything at the lowest cost from ten different vendors saves money, your bookkeeping costs are bigger, there is more confusion in your receiving area, and ten times the possiblities for mistakes.
  • Before you buy more of a supply type product, ask your team how they use it, and most importantly why?  Most purchases are force of habit and may not really be needed...it is always been done that way and no one has questioned it.
I know these may sound like pennies and nickels in a multi-million dollar organization, but the real impact came from the rest of the company.  They knew we were on top of expenses, and they ran their corner of the firm they same way.  We led by example and it worked.  Chuck would sign checks for a year, and then I would take a year.  You see the long term picture this way.  We found out that when we switched off weekly, we would miss lots of little things that were repetitive.
People would come to us requesting special funds for a project.  Just about every time we would say yes, because we knew that our leaders would have thoroughly researched the situation and would strongly feel we would benefit.

Look at every single expense that goes through your company.  Don't delegate this important job to anyone else.  You'll waste less water money.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A First Hand Report Of Great Customer Service

A couple of days before Valentine's Day I went on line to ProFlowers.com and ordered bouquets for my wife, our daughter and my mother-in-law.  I have used this service often and never had a problem.  But, there is always a first time. 

The roses were delivered, and they looked like leftovers from 1978.  They were dead-on-arrival.  My wife still loved them, after all it's the thought that counts, and my mother-in-law really couldn't tell the difference.

Last Wednesday I received a promotional email from ProFlowers reminding me of an upcoming birthday, and did I want to place the same order as last year?  I remembered the bad orders and called their customer service number.  I just wanted to say their grower let them down by shipping bad roses.  I know that most good companies like to hear about problems so they can be corrected.

The lady that answered the phone immediately thanked me for the information and promptly ordered two free replacement bouquets.  I explained that I wasn't calling to get something free.  She said she understood that, but insisted that the new, fresh flowers be sent.  She wanted to include a new vase as well.  I talked her out of the vase, as the vases that came with the original flower orders were just fine.  This lady didn't check with a supervisor or call me back.  She had the authority to resolve the problem and did so with such pleasantness that I will continue ordering flowers from them without ever thinking twice.

A very interesting story,  but what impact does this have on our glass industry?  If a customer calls with a complaint about a scratch on a shower door, we certainly are not going to order and install a new one with no questions asked.  Most of us are going to explain that small scratches are allowed under our specs and wish the customer good luck.

It comes down to how to prevent the situation in the first place, and then how you or your team handles the customer once the phone rings.

Inspect everything that comes in from your fabricator.  Most fabricators will give you 24 hours to call in a complaint.  After that, you own it.  I ran a fabricator for 20+ years, and that is a fair policy.  You can't imagine how many calls we would get two weeks later saying the glass had a chip.  My best guess is that 99% of these late calls were problems created by the glass shop.  Most fabricators today ship with a clear vinyl protecting layer over shower doors.  You have no excuse for not inspecting.  It is your responsibility to prevent your customer from being unhappy.  Inspecting all incoming work is the key.  Yes, it takes a little time and effort.  Do it.  And do it under bright lights, or in daylight if you can.  If you can't see the scratch now, but once you install the door you can, then kick your inspection team in the tail.

Look at IG before you put it in the frame.  It is harder to inspect IG or bulk tempered.  But you can look at each piece before you seal it in the opening.  If your installer thinks a piece won't meet standards, have him call you and get advice.  It's better to discuss this with the owner before setting than after, when they are in a complaining mood.

When a customer calls with a problem, jump on it right away.  Don't let it sit on your desk.  It will just fester with the customer.  Go there within a day, show your concern, and your knowledge.  Carefully explain what acceptable standards are and why this piece is OK.  It helps to explain this up front, when you take the order.  Sure, it sounds like a negative when you are trying to close a sale, but it is better than not getting paid because of a small rub that is so hard to see you need a magnifying glass.

The best problem solver is to prevent it.  Yes, you can, with proper expectations from the customer and care and inspection by your team.

If you have an upset customer deal quickly with the situation.  Do it with a smile.  Do it like you want to retain the customer's business forever, and then, you probably will!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Too Big To Fail Is Not In My Dictionary

Trainor sure did surprise me, but then again, I live in New Hampshire and have my head buried in a snowbank most of the year.  Some of their vendors knew, their gut feel alarms were ringing, but some will fall into the category of "Sure I'll sell them...they are one of the biggest, so I am sure they are good."

The last four years have shown all business people that anyone can go bankrupt.  What do you, as a glass shop or a supplier to glass shops do?

Investigate each new customer, even if you have heard about them for years.  Ask for credit and bank information.  The credit references must be from trade sources.  If a building owner, who wants a new storefront, gives you a hardware store and the phone company, look out.  You should get references from other service vendors, similar to yourself.  If the owner also runs the business, get his/her main merchandise vendors.

Call the bank, asking what their average balance is, and if they have a line of credit, how much is available, and if they have any NSF checks.  You may need an authorization from the customer to give to the bank.  A simple note from the customer to you, will suffice if you don't have this built in to your credit application.

When a company goes bankrupt, the creditor's committee may 'claw back' payments made to you in the previous 90 days.  Complain all you want, you are wasting your time.  If you feel someone is on the verge of bankruptcy don't accept new work.  Yes, they may survive and remember you as someone who didn't work with them.  Or they may sink, and take you with them.  Do you want to lose one customer or your business?  Easy enough choice.

Listen to the rumors in the trade.  Listen to your competitors.  Ask delivery drivers where they are now collecting COD.  (This is one of the best sources of info!)

I am the guy who is an eternal optimist.  I feel the economy is now turning around and everything will come up roses.  But, (yes, there is always a 'but'), we are not out of the woods yet.  Trainor has proved this.  I am not knocking them.  They ran a great business for many years and were very well respected members of our glass community.  But things happen.  Be careful in giving credit; follow up when money is due; stop work and delivery of new materials when promises are not kept and, most of all, don't ignore the little warning bells you keep hearing.