By Martin Nettleton, managing director, Euroglaze
Like most PVC-U fabricators, we returned to work post-lockdown with a reduced workforce. Cautious about how demand would recover and constrained by the new social distancing requirements, we initially brought only 50% of our production team back from furlough. Within a few weeks though, that 50% was manufacturing 80% of our usual output; and we’re definitely not the only manufacturer to experience that.
Euroglaze was already a highly efficient business, built on the principles of lean manufacturing, and we were confident that we were probably amongst the market leaders in terms of output per fabricator. However, what we learnt in those weeks during and immediately after lockdown, when we had to reorganise our factory and strip back every process to minimise contact, was that we were all actually capable of even more.
The kneejerk response might have been to gradually build the team back up to the optimal level and restore our previous position. However, with demand booming and even more opportunities possibly coming as a result of the government’s green grant announcements, our plan at Euroglaze is actually to introduce a second shift for the remaining 50% of our team and potentially increase our output to 160% of pre-lockdown levels.
It’s obviously not that simple a calculation, but we will certainly be able to deliver the increases in volume which we will need to keep pace with our customers, without sacrificing the efficiencies we have already achieved; and if that is one of the legacies of lockdown, then it’s a remarkable one.
Post lockdown of course, business is no less competitive than it ever was, and it will be the businesses which are the most efficient which I think will emerge from this crisis as the winners. As we’ve seen from some of the high-profile casualties during this period, it is no good being competitive on price if that comes at the expense of your overall profitability and leaves you with nothing left to invest in customer service. -1-
As I see it, the only way to stay both competitive and profitable is to focus relentlessly on your own efficiency. Only then can you really add value to your customers’ businesses and demonstrate that they don’t have to choose either service or price. Pick the right supplier and it is perfectly possible to have both.
As well as production, the lockdown has given Euroglaze the opportunity to look for other ways to do more with less. I’m a great believer in the concept of marginal gains and we’ve focused particularly on customer service and how we interact with customers.
I know that our customer service team are one of our biggest assets and have great relationships with our customers, but equally I know that phoning us to ask what time a delivery is due or whether we have a specific item in stock is a waste of time and money for our customers.
That’s why we’re extending the use of our bespoke DS system which gives us full traceability of every item in the factory and lets our customers access much of that data as well.
We already have Eurostock which alerts a customer to an item which is out of stock when they place an order online or on the phone, allowing them to choose an alternative or reschedule their workflows, and we also have an alert which means incomplete orders can’t be loaded or unloaded from our vans.
But now we’re targeting the kind of order tracking that we’ve all got used to with our online shopping during lockdown, enabling customers to see exactly where their order is from start to finish and know the point up to which they can potentially make changes.
We’re incentivising Euroglaze customers to use our Windows on the Web online ordering tool because we know it saves time for them and for us and we’re already working on a new delivery app.
Lockdown presented us all with a unique opportunity to re-examine our businesses and work out ways to be even better. We will probably never have that chance again.