Ending the Shop's Nightmare Circus
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Ending the Shop's Nightmare Circus

Is your sign making business as a three-ring circus?

By SignIndustry.com Staff

One can easily imagine the sign making business as a three-ring circus. In ring one, the sales department. In ring two, the production department. In ring three, the management team. Trying to coordinate between the three rings can be a nightmare unless they are bound by one very important component: communication.

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  • How else-besides communication-would a trapeze artist know when to jump in to the arms of his partner one hundred feet in the air? The same idea holds true for the members of the different departments that make up a sign business.

    Sales people, management, and craftsmen all want to run a successful business, but for the same reason that they're successful in their respective departments, they're a potential hindrance to other departments: they have different priorities and different talents.

    In ring one, the sales department wants to make sure that the customer is satisfied. If this means taking care of the most disgruntled customer first, then they're willing to do it at the risk of rearranging the timetable of another department. To a craftsman, this is an insult. Not only is he required to produce quality work, but he is also supposed to do it on a timeline that is dictated by someone who doesn't know how long production takes?

    These sorts of demands shouldn't and don't have to be made. Not only is it unprofessional, but it also can cause animosity between departments. Imagine if the guy who was supposed to catch you as you performed a triple somersault one hundred feet above three inches of wood shavings was upset with you for cutting in front of him in line for the bathroom? Remember that a great deal relies on your sensitivity to the people you work with.

    Ninety percent of the sales people have no problems being sensitive to a customer's needs, but when it comes to communicating with the people they have to work with in different departments, it's like sensitivity automatically doesn't apply. In fact, one of the best things you can do as a salesperson is to apply the patience and understanding you reserve for customers to your co-workers.

    An amazing thing will happen. Your co-workers in the shop will no longer act like disgruntled customers and will be more like ideal customers. As a result of forming a better relationship with your co-workers in the production department, you can spend less of your time on strained relationships within your place of employment and more time on the strained relationship with a well-paying customer. Besides, that's what you're good at.

    In ring two, the production department is often targeted for taking too long to complete a project. To someone involved in production, it seems like the only thing that management sees are dollar signs. It also seems like the only people that the sales department cares about are the customers to whom they make impossible promises in order to get a contract signed.

    What about quality workmanship? What about the time it takes for paint to dry? What about the sign code that says that the signs that the customer wants for his space is too big?

    If the production department was presented with the design that the sales team and the customer were mulling over, the production department would probably have a few suggestions. Small changes in a sign design could prevent a great deal of wasted materials and, in some cases, can make an impossible design practical.

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    Communication between these two departments in a shop would also result in better timetables. If the salesperson knew that the production department had four sign projects on the table, they wouldn't assign another one with a finish date for the day after tomorrow.

    In the last ring of our sign business circus, the management team tries desperately to coordinate a business so that it is profitable. Management pushes the sales department to get more contracts from more customers. They also push the production department to move faster and do more in less time at a lower cost.

    If only they knew that because of the poor quality of the signs produced for customer X, the sales team has had to spend a great deal of their time with him convincing him that it will never happen again. At the same time, the production department is wondering how they are supposed to do better and faster work when their equipment is run down and due for replacement or repair.

    Management has to watch the bottom line, but they've also got to listen to the people who make their business possible. Management probably offers the best turf in which to organize a meeting between the sales and production departments. Communication between the departments is key to a sign business' survival. When the management team realizes this, it will become a priority for all departments.

    Sharing inter-departmental concerns will open the eyes of your co-workers. The sales department may have had no idea how many projects were on the docket. The production department probably didn't realize how much business depended on customer X and how much stress that customer's unhappiness was causing the sales department. Until they spoke with the production people one-on-one, management did not realize that the equipment needed maintenance and repair.

    Though all of these examples of how companies don't communicate might seem pessimistic, you do not have to talk to too many sign professionals to hear stories of similar scenarios in their shops.

    Not all the co-workers usually are bent-out-of-shape at once, but if even one or two misunderstandings have developed, shop efficiency has had to suffer. Cranky workers are unhappy workers, and unhappy workers are neither efficient nor effective.

    Better communication can help. The time used to improve communication is time well-invested.

    The sales and production departments might already communicate really well with each other, but they both need to know what long-term goals were developed by management team.

    Why? Who's watching your circus act? Your current customers and potential customers.

    If the word gets out about internal conflict, if they see the conflicting circus in action, or if they don't like the kind of treatment they receive, customers will go to the sign shop down the street.

    Every department in a sign shop should want to satisfy customers and improve business profits. There is no better common to begin to improve shop communications.

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