So, yeah, our cutter quit last week. He gave us two weeks notice, which was unusual. His plan was to get his commercial driver license and become a trucker. I can respect that – the work we do isn’t a great fit for everyone and truck drivers can certainly make a good living.
Of course, just because I respected his decision didn’t mean I wasn’t cursing his name while I was on the floor covering his responsibilities while letting my own tasks pile up undone.
Over the three years we’ve been in business, I’ve spread countless plies and cut untold numbers of pieces. If you’d asked me when we started whether I would still be on the floor three years later pushing a knife around, I would have stared back in disbelief. I might have even been scared off the whole “small business” idea (probably not, but maybe.)
But, that really is part of starting a business. If you aren’t willing to do any single task that you hired or plan to hire employees to do, you had really better think twice about the whole deal. Because, when it comes right down to it, sometimes if you don’t do it – it won’t get done.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons that companies turn to outsourcing is because they get frustrated with the constant treadmill of employee turnover. Especially with small businesses that don’t have a lot of resources to be shifted around, losing an employee can turn a smooth running operation into total chaos overnight.
If you have employees, eventually some of your best are going to leave for reasons beyond your control. You need to prepare for that eventuality so to minimize its impact on your business. Cross training is one way to do that. The more jobs employees can do, the more they can cover for the missing person while you look for a replacement. (They can also take on more of the training load for new employees).
Another thing you can do is find tasks that that temporary employees can be brought in to fill while you seek a long term replacement. For us, that’s the pressing station. Part of the cutter’s responsibilities was pressing everything that came out of the sewing room. As soon as he quit, I called up our local agency and had them find me a temp to take over that work. I’m going to keep the temp at least until the new cutter is fully trained as it takes a while for a new cutter to really become efficient.
If you don’t already have a temp/employment agency you are working with, now would be a good time to find one. Most agencies do not deal in industrial and factory workers so you may have to hunt around a bit. Let them know what your business is what types of employees you may be looking for in the future. Get the contact information for the person you’ll be working with on filling openings.
It can also help if you document as much of your work processes as possible. That will shorten the training time for new employees as well as make it easier to train existing employees to take over the work.
But, when it’s all said and done, all the planning in the world won’t keep you from being the ultimate backstop. As a small business owner, it’s in your best interest to make sure you have knowledge to cover jobs critical to keep things running in the short term. The more you know about the nuts and bolts of how things get done, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with things when they go wrong.
In an unrelated note, we were interviewed recently by the editor-in-chief of Apparel magazine about our product development process. Based on the interview, they wrote an article for their February issue entitled “Concept to Spec – Fit Couture Gets Faster with 3-D”. If you are interested in 3-D pattern design, you might find it interesting.