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DECISIONS DECISIONS

 One of the great things about this industry is that there are so many machine and technology and software and service solutions to help a shop owner improve their business.  The challenging aspect is there are so many of these choices and the number of options has increased in a relatively short time.  Trying to sort through all these options can be overwhelming.

With so many choices, how is a fab shop owner supposed to make the right decision for their business?

One option is to get opinions from others.  For example, if you are trying to decide which digital templating system to buy, you could ask for input from a Facebook group.  Unfortunately, you will get almost as many opinions as there are members of the group.  If you survey fellow members of an industry association you belong to, you may or may not get more thoughtful answers.  However, some of those folks might allow you to come visit their shop to see how they use the equipment.  They might even let you talk to their templater(s).  That can be helpful.

One of the challenges with this approach is understanding the context of the information you are gathering.  How much research did the other owner do before selecting their template device?  What criteria were critical to their decision?  Are they more focused on supporting multifamily commercial work or do they do mostly high-end custom homes?  What volume of templates do they complete each day? How is that impacted by the geographic spread of a templater?  What requirements does he/she have for the completeness and format of the output file?  How do all these factors fit with your business needs?

In making a decision like this, asking the right questions while minimizing the impact of any personal pre-conceived notions can be a challenge.  Plus, there can be a lot of factors that need to be included in your evaluation.  How do you organize and track all this data so you can make the best decision for your business??

One tool that can help is a Decision Matrix.

To help you work through this example. You can download a copy of the tool at https://fabricatorscoach.com/free-helpful-tools/ .  This sample has some fictitious data loaded to help you understand how to use the tool.  It also tracks with the example in this article.

The first step is to define the factors that are important to you.  This is where talking to other users can be helpful.  What criteria did they assess and why?  What features were important to them?  Now that they have used the tool for a while, what features do they like the best?  What features do they not use?  What would they like the manufacturer to change about the tool and the software?

As you ask these questions, it is critical to understand why each answer is important to that individual.  Owners have different criteria than templaters and CAD folks.  Also understanding the business factors that drive those assessments is important.  What is important to your high-end custom home builder business may not be as important to a business focused on multifamily commercial work.

The next step is to apply a weight to each of the factors you listed.  How important is purchase price vs training time?  How would you rank the types of file formats available vs the level of US based support?  All factors should not be weighted equally.  Your weighting will be different from that of another fabricator.

Using a scale of 1 to 9 and only using the odd numbers will help separate the options when you go to add up the scores.  As you apply weights, remember the old saying: “If everything is critical, then nothing is really critical.”

Once you have applied the weights to your factors, review each and compare them to each other.  Taking the time to review these weights will improve the overall quality of your analysis – and the resulting decision.

Documenting what constitutes a higher score vs a lower score for each factor is critical to ensuring the rankings are all scored similarly.  If someone thinks low price is a low score and someone else thinks low price is a high score, you will have confusion when it comes time to evaluate each provider.  Take time to define and document the rankings.

Third, gather as much information as possible on each of the providers you are considering.  Using the same 1 to 9 rating scale, evaluate each of the providers on the factors you identified.  It can be helpful to have some of your staff involved in the evaluation process.  Getting different perspectives on how Brand A stacks up against Brand B will help improve the quality of your ratings.  It also generates a lot of buy-in for the eventual final decision.  If your employees participate in the decision, they are much more likely to make sure the system works once you purchase it.

This next step is where the spreadsheet earns its keep.  To get a total score for each provider, you multiply the weighting for each factor against the score for that factor.  This tells you how each provider scored on each factor.  You then add up all these calculations to get a total for each provider.  If you have 20 factors, then you have 20 calculations to make and then total up.  A spreadsheet can make short work of all that math.

Once you have done all this work, you may be tempted to simply choose the option with the highest score.  While not a bad choice, I recommend you take the time to evaluate the total scores.  Why does Brand B score so much higher than Brand C?  You though they were almost equal, but the numbers don’t reflect that.  Which factors made one option higher than the other?  Now that you see the outcome, does this validate the weighting you placed on the factors?  Does it validate your assessment of the factors?

As you look at the big picture, you may be tempted to change some of your ratings.  Caution: Resist this urge.  Unless your group truly believes there is a mistake in the ratings, you could end up just manipulating the numbers to get the solution you wanted all along.

While this isn’t a totally bullet-proof process, if you take the time to work through each of these steps, you will be very confident in the outcome.  If you have also involved key members of your team (especially the end users) in each step of this process, you will create momentum and buy-in that will help insure successful implementation of the end result.

If you need a hand getting started on your next big business decision, email me at Ed@FabricatorsCoach.com or call at 864-328-6231 and I’m happy to help out.

This article was published in the January 2023 Issue of the Slippery Rock Gazette, find it at: 

https://www.slipperyrockgazette.net/index.cfm/pageId/4838/Decisions%2C%20Decisions/

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