Many companies simply expect or accept that their finishing department will lose money. If you look at the grand scheme of things, you would expect business to demand the exact opposite, especially for something as important to the customer and to your profitability as the finish.
Your finish should be a major selling point for your product. Observe a customer the next time they walk into your showroom or when you hand them a sample. What do they do? They rub their hands on it. This simple act is the beginning of the customer ranking the quality of your products.
Custom shops should take a cue from the big box stores. Next time you are in one, look at their cabinet displays. They sport some very sophisticated multistep finishes. Most of these fancy finishes are on casework construction that many custom companies would consider as being inferior. The mentality of the big box, however, is that it is not so much the case construction, dovetailed drawers or high tech hardware that sells cabinets, it is the finish. They have seen the light. Finishes sell cabinetry. This is a fact.
Finishing is not just a marketing tool; it should also be a profit generating center. The finish department generally operates with the smallest investment in tools and equipment -- usually occupies the smallest floor space and normally assumes the smallest material cost per job. While it is true that labor is your largest cost, it is also the part of the profit equation that you have the most control over. Process times can be reduced, bidding, estimating and scheduling can be improved, and quality control can be tightened; all of which will greatly improve your bottom line. It may not be easy but with the right approach it is much easier to reduce these costs than it is the fixed costs such as the cost of your building, electricity, gas and other overhead costs.
You have to ask yourself why companies don’t take a more active role in updating and improving their finishing operations. It is partially because of fear of failure. Face it, most woodworking companies are owned or operated by people who come from a woodworking or cabinetmaking background, not finishing. They view finishing as alchemy or a black art and only finish because their competitors do. In woodworking you can see if a board is too short or a joint is not level. Your mistakes are immediately obvious. People are comfortable in changing what they are familiar with.
Finishing speaks a whole different language and plays by its own set of rules. When it comes to finishing, most of the actual workings of the coating take place at a microscopic level. Failure may take months to become apparent so many companies operate under the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule when it comes to their finishing departments.
I hear the “this is the way we have done it for years and we don’t have any problems” as the standard response when someone asks why they do something a certain way. The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” theory only holds true if you are sure that it isn’t broken. The other thing to remember is just because it isn’t broken doesn’t mean it’s working as efficiently as it could. Even a clock that is stopped will still give you the correct time twice a day.
Companies that are the most successful are companies that are never completely satisfied with their success. They analyze their successes and then they strive to be better. So the first step towards improving your operation is recognizing the need to improve. Once you acknowledge the importance of the finishing process, the more likely you are to invest in it.
Doesn’t it make sense to spend time and money on what should be one of the most profitable and marketable features of your product?