Discussion Forum Topic:

Blue Sky Thinking
Original Comment:
I enjoy cutting grass. Maybe it’s the visual of how much progress I’ve made and how much work is left. If only our business and life goals could be so clear and obvious.

The main reason I enjoy this work is that it gives my mind time to wander and think about big picture stuff. Some of my best ideas have been generated during a good grass cutting session (some really bad ones too!). Its not uncommon for me to come to the office and start a conversation with “I was cutting grass this weekend…” followed by the groans and “here we go” by my teammates.

So, I was cutting grass this weekend and started thinking about the enormous opportunity our industry has ahead. We all know about the housing and skilled labor shortages which have resulted in many modular companies remaining very busy these days. And that’s great.

But we also know about the material price instability and labor shortages within our own industry, and these are significant concerns and barriers to growth. These issues are so prevalent that there have been calls from well-intentioned, but misguided sources for “the industry” to do something about this.

Our industry trade association can help educate potential customers and lead them to your door. We can send you leads. We can help train your people and build your network of professionals. We can promote your company through awards, service, and sponsorships. And we have been successful in removing and reducing regulatory barriers that limit growth. But I’m struggling with how we can help control lumber prices or motivate people to work.

So, I started thinking “what would I do if I ran a modular home factory right now.” Keep in mind, I have never run a manufacturing facility but in the interest of finishing this post, I’ll share my thoughts.

I WOULD:

Treat my best employees with much respect so they don’t think about leaving.

Review my benefits and compensation package and see if there are ANY areas for upgrades.

Have a candid conversation with all my builders and vendors separately to discuss ways to streamline costs, processes, and operations.

Contact every technical, vocational and community college within 100 miles of my factory to offer factory tours, paid internships, and even scholarships.

Consider looking outside my “traditional” labor pool into other states and offer relocation assistance for qualified candidates.

Identify any nearby sawmills and lumber yards and explore the opportunity of investing in or partnering with them. Might be crazy, but I’d want to control my material supply to the greatest extent, or at least make money selling my lumber to my competitors.

Start considering any and all alternatives to the materials I’m currently struggling to find at reasonable costs.

I WOULD NOT:

Ignore the issue.

Count on my past success and relationships to get me by.

Meet with my competitors to discuss ways to fix or limit price increases, as this would land me in serious legal trouble for possible collusion and price fixing.

Sign a contact or make a commitment six months out without a plan for dealing with material price increases.

Of course, I’ve never owned a factory, and these are just grass cutting ideas that I’m sure most have already considered. These challenges are not likely going to be solved by a one-size-fits-all industry response. Its going to require each company thinking creatively and strategically about how they can best address them. Make time for some blue sky thinking.
Started on April 26, 2021 by Tom Hardiman
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