This past couple of months a number of things have "slapped me in the face" as a small business owner. Half of this is driven by our hyper growth mode at PAVERART, and the other half is the industry we are a part of and its current cycle.
The home improvement industry and anything that touches construction.....I would best describe the state of affairs as "significantly stressed."
Whether you are a homeowner looking to get a project done in your backyard, a contractor, or a municipality or school looking to do an improvement project, most can attest to the following:
VERY long lead times, material delays, project delays.
Shortages of basic, core items, and a struggle to even get answers as to WHEN they even become available. Basic answers.
Rising prices for nearly everything
VERY tight labor market. Translation: Where are the workers?
Transportation infrastructure struggling to keep up - National shortage of drivers and I'm sure the Amazon effect has stressed the world of deliveries. Multiple day delays as you beg for pickups, deliveries, etc.
We are no different at PAVERART living in this world. We rely on many people for us to be successful:
Our suppliers to get us material
Truckers to get our designs out the door
Our team members to make it all work.
When any of the above breaks down (the first 2 have) we have to deliver the "delayed" news to OUR customers. That's never fun but we try and be as transparent as possible and give them the best information we have at any given time.
There are CONTROLLABLES in business, and things that are UN-Controllable. If delays happen due to the later, that does not mean we are still not accountable. That's makes it even harder.
How about some things that ARE controllable, and we nearly screw up?
A few weeks ago something VERY simple caught us off-guard.
This basic staple, a pallet!
Why? We were down to about 35 pallets, nothing too scarce, but figured we'd call and put an order in. That's when the fun started.
The price went up 2.5x!'s. Over the course of a year that's adult money!
But it got worse. It was clear that the craziness in the world of lumber has gone haywire. Supply felt "scarce." A call of 5 local suppliers and 3 were not accepting new customers. That's rare in the world of commodities.
Thankfully, our supplier was relatively confident they can get us pallets in time.
The pallet is one of those things we don't think about. But without them our entire business gets paralyzed, that's the vessel for all shipping in our economy.
So what does any responsible person do? Load up. The toilet paper wars have now entered the world of pallets.
We purchased a year's worth and have every open air space now consumed with pallets. At a massive cost increase. Most people go LEAN on inventory when pricing has PROBABLY peaked. But I can sleep at night knowing PAVERART does not delay someone because we cut things too close. In short, if it's controllable, I need to take any risk off the table, regardless of cost pressure. So we'll deal with the costly great wall of pallets.
Truth be told? I'm a CNBC junkie. I was hearing about lumber craziness back when it was cold. I never connected the dots and asked myself, "how will this impact PAVERART." It was like I was consuming media in an out of body experience with no purpose.....and thousands of $'s get incinerated. I deserved this one.
Now space all around us is at a premium. So we come in on a Saturday, the hottest day of the year and do some organizing. 8 hours later and we freed up 2 entire rows in our front lot, good enough for 20 pallets of valuable storage space. When you load up on "protection" space needs to be found.
But what good are pallets and inventory if you have no way to move them? Enter the next challenge:
The PAVERART Forklift. 20+ years of wear and tear. And it breaks down on us with a blown radiator, 2 weeks after a preventive maintenance checkup no less. The quote to fix? $3k. It's market value (via a trade in)? $1k.
I swear when it rains it pours! Capital investments are painful for a small business. But you either invest or have bigger problems down the road.
So out comes the checkbook. Again.
Let me introduce you to Mable (Thanks Mr. S for the great name!) Mable is indeed Able.
Than something fun and inspiring happened a couple days after Mable's arrival.
Brian starts looking at Youtube videos on how to repair a forklift radiator.
For about $100 plus his time he was willing to yank it out, give a homegrown fix a shot. A simple question:
What's more valuable, the $1k in my pocket or a possible backup we could use to reduce delays waiting awaiting for Mable while someone's using the new Green Machine?
So we plug the hole and hope we get another 100+ hours out of the old beast, and if so that money comes back to us 20x's over. And we have a much needed backup. And when a key leader has an idea.......always a good practice to let them run free.
One could argue this is throwing good money after bad, which I get. But when you've already learned you can "sleep away" 10X's the money on a simple miss like pallets, I'm OK with rolling the dice.
Throughout all the stress, unplanned events, delays, we are still working our business as hard as ever. There are puzzle pieces (the makings of PAVERART) everywhere you look. Progress is happening everywhere we look.
Coming out of the pandemic, I can't help but think the businesses that make it to the other side will be stronger. But when industry's are going through the "stress" as ours is, that's the time to get
better and examine all areas of one's operation.
Control the controllables, even at a higher cost.
Sometimes it's as easy as forcing yourself to connect the dots while you watch CNBC.
I'll never look at a pallet the same way again, as I just paid tuition for that lesson.
Business is a challenging game indeed.