The Art of Silence & A Look Back At 2020
People tend to do their best thinking at certain times of the day. For me, it tends to happen at 4am after a cup of coffee kicks in and I've done some light exercise. Yes, it's a crazy hour and yes, I go to bed crazy early, out cold by 9pm.
An important word has been rattling around in my brain lately as I think back on a crazy year: SILENCE.
In the world of manufacturing, there is nothing more terrifying than prolonged, UN-planned silence. When the factory is not "humming" the business is not functioning. There could be many reasons why there is SILENCE, but its mere presence is the ultimate warning sign.
In the world of sales, SILENCE feels like the black hole of no response from customers or prospects, a phone that doesn't ring, emails with no response. Prolonged silence, sales will fall, eventually.
On and on the SILENCE warning concept goes, to employees that don't communicate, vendors that stay at arms length vs close, strategic relationships, etc.
So what does this have to do with how we view our 2020 year? PLENTY.
Most businesses (and people for that matter) when evaluating what kind of a year it was take a look back at the LAST year to compare results. But I tend to take a hard look at how I FEEL in December and the year ahead of us compared to the same exact time period LAST year. I look at the following:
TEAM - Stronger? Communicating more? New talent that has joined, how did they ramp up? Working together better, faster, more completely?
Brand: More people interested in engaging with us? How much more? Are we having better, more engaged conversations across our different markets? Where do we need to invest more, less?
Overall capabilities: Team, Production, Sales, are we improving in each of these areas?
Are you MORE or LESS excited about the coming new year vs this time last year?
So what's my scorecard for PAVERART look like?
In 2019, going into 2020, there was one word that I could use that captured how I felt about our state of affairs: You guessed it: SILENCE.
In mid December 2019 our production machinery went completely down. Caput. No end in sight with problems that were never experienced over our 17 year history. Emergency x 10. We were stuck in this phase for about 6 weeks. A quiet factory, customer delays, cash going in one direction. Tremendously hard way to end a year and start 2020. But rather than be stuck in the black hole we got to work to double our production capacity and embark on a major construction "re-birth" type of project that we outlined in March of this year.
Owners get tested often in business. Generally speaking, owners don't take a pay check, they take whatever profits (assuming profit exists) happen to result in the business, or they put some, all or none of those profits back into the business instead of their own pocket.
There's usually 1-2 critical moments when you have to ask yourself "How much do you believe in this thing?" This is not a theoretical question, its an existential one with real $'s and livelihoods at stake.
For 2020, more than 100% of our 2019 profits went back into our business to pull off that project we completed by Feb of 2020. It wasn't a hard choice. NOT doing it threatened our long term health and maybe even our existence.
Seth Godin asks a great question: If you went away would they miss you if you were gone?
Every business should ask themselves this question. If the answer is not a resounding "HELL YES", than working towards that is a great goal.
So with the construction project done, our working capital razor thin, why not deal with a new challenge, the pandemic!
I'd be lying to say I didn't wonder (if I had a crystal ball) would I still have gone head first into this project knowing about the uncertainty the world would confront? I like to think I would have anyway but who knows. These are the crazy scenarios that run through my mind on an 82 mile/4:30 am ride down to PAVERART!
Fast forward to December 2020:
* The silence that haunted our business in December 2019 is no longer here with 2x the capacity functioning well, although it was hard and costly to get to this point. The team has been gelling all year. The interest in our business is up. Our financial health was at a risky level pre-Covid and we end the year stronger despite the challenges we confronted with the business climate many faced. We'll take it.
A Sampling of Some 2020 Completed Designs
* When we look back at our projects, the big, flashy projects tend to go to the top of our minds. But all too often, we are amazed at some of the smaller ones and how our customers find new ways to take our capabilities and co-design along side of us.
Every design tends to take on a life of its own, new challenges that need to be solved for to create a fantastic product.
Dream of Flight: NC State University. 26' Diameter Globe
* Great story about how an alumni created this design, challenges and the courtyard that was being constructed.
Compass Rose Creativity Galore!
* It seems that our customers surprise us every single week with their creativity. We can't tell you how many times we hear: "Can we........". A new color combination. A merging of one key design with another. The addition of new materials. Here's a few pictures that are in some way new twists on our iconic design collection: The Compass Rose Design Collection
School Paver Designs:
* School Paver Logos & Mascots are one of our major design areas. But Bulldogs are our un-official mascot so when those projects come around we love taking a field trip!
Neuro Diversity: An Initiative Profiled: "Making A Difference, Not Just A Buck"
The Horse Racing Custom Mosaic: Custom Paver Design! Profiled Behind The Scenes In Below Video
A Strong Finish To The Year: 11 Designs on the Floor, detailed in Below Blog Post: "Haley's Comet!"
Last little story to end the year. This week, Brian (our plant manager) checked in with the PAVERART team via text message from his vacation in Florida.
"It's Monday and 9am, nobody's called with a question or problem?????"
Apparently, SILENCE was deafening for Brian.
And for me, this is one of the rare occasions I can smile at the silence, and the progress it signifies.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and successful 2021.