Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic: How Job Shops Can Prepare for the Next Disaster

Supply chain planning has become more dynamic and fluid, and job shops must mirror this approach.

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No stranger to disruption, the custom parts manufacturing industry has had to pivot quickly as the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic crippled supply chains worldwide. What’s more, this crisis occurred amidst an already ongoing, consumer-driven disruption, in which job shops must respond to ever-changing demands, such as faster delivery of quotes and products. This coupling forced job shops to examine the way in which they operate.

As states reopen, there is no doubt that continued disruptions and new demands from buyers will be part of the “New Normal.” It’s not a matter of if disruption will strike, but when. In response, supply chain planning has become more dynamic and fluid, and job shops must mirror this approach. They must reassess and reposition their businesses, so they are prepared to react more quickly and strategically when challenges arise. While modernizing – even transforming – a business can seem daunting, job shops can realize significant results by focusing on these three areas first.

Implement the right technology and tools

Job shops will struggle to become truly resilient and agile without the right technology in place. With modern buyers come modern expectations, which can’t be satisfied by the traditional paper-based approach. As supply chains must respond more quickly to tariffs or shifts in global trade, buyers have started reviewing their suppliers more frequently. They, too, must ensure efficiency and resiliency, which means partnering with job shops that can guarantee a quick turnaround and convenient experience. As a result, shops need to elevate their own businesses across the board. They must identify and streamline internal issues, maximize the expertise of their employees and evaluate how technology can automate time-consuming tasks that hinder customer service.

To determine which technology solution is right for a shop, job shops need to first identify their most pressing business issues. With so many options on the market, it’s easy to mistakenly invest in an umbrella solution that doesn’t actually solve the source of the problem – is scheduling inaccurate because of human error or because quoting is off? By understanding the root of the problem, job shops can zero in on specific processes that make a big impact to their business.  

The quoting process is the buyer’s first impression of a business. Job shops can make or break a relationship with a buyer based on a poor quoting experience, so it’s a critical place to focus optimization efforts. Quoting is notoriously outdated. It usually takes several days, if not weeks, for shops to deliver a quote, and when they do it’s in the form of a PDF. Job shops that update their quoting process – making it faster and digital – will win more jobs and satisfy buyer expectations. This speed, convenience and reliability is particularly valuable to buyers during times of uncertainty. The more confident that buyers and prospects feel in a shop’s capabilities, the more loyal they will be, especially during disruption.  

Identify and reduce single points of failure

COVID-19 highlighted – and exacerbated – many of the everyday inefficiencies that job shops deal with, especially single points of failure in their operations. A single point of failure is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. Job shops can’t risk this vulnerability when buyers are depending on them to complete jobs on time, especially during a crisis. 

During COVID-19, many job shops’ daily operations drastically changed. Employees either weren’t allowed to work at the office or were discouraged because they were members of at-risk populations. Job shops that relied on paper resources or had internal processes not yet supported by technology struggled to maintain their usual levels of productivity and efficiency. For instance, if a job shop doesn’t have remote access to their parts library, customer database or any hand-written notes they’ve taken on a quote, that means that business stops – or slows down – when they are not physically in the office.

By making internal processes paperless – i.e., digital – job shops can ensure that their work, jobs and business keep going no matter where they are. Digitization can also help eliminate another single point of failure: limited staff and siloed knowledge. Many job shops only have one estimator, and in most cases, they are the only employee who knows how to quote. So, if that person is out sick or doesn’t feel safe going into the office, the business encounters a major bottleneck. Digital solutions can centralize and store historical part data, so new employees or substitutes filling in for an estimator can pick up the work seamlessly. Going digital also makes it possible for estimators to quote remotely, making it much more likely for estimators or any employees to quote, even when they can’t be in the shop.

Make communication seamless

Communication with external stakeholders is always important, but especially in uncertain times. In the event of a business interruption, job shops must be able to easily and efficiently communicate their capabilities to buyers and prospects, especially if there have been any changes. Without a full understanding, prospects may choose to go with another shop and shops lose out on job opportunities and revenue when they need it most.

Job shops should reinforce their channels and processes for communications now. They can start by ensuring their websites reflect all the shop’s capabilities and offerings. Job shops may also consider sending email reminders to buyers highlight their portfolio of capabilities and underscore that they’re able to take on new job orders. This practice is also important when job shops must communicate shutdowns or reduced capacities, which they should always do proactively. Buyers and prospects appreciate the transparency and will be more likely to return to a shop they can trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the manufacturing industry and impacted nearly every supply chain, and shops may still be feeling the repercussions. To better prepare for the next disruption, big or small, manufacturers can observe the impacts of the pandemic and what is has brought to light about their own shop. By taking action, investing in resiliency, technological enablement and customer service, manufacturers will weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side.