By Diane M. Calabrese / Published February 2023
Every business owner can make a long list of things that consume time and add to operational costs. One of the most voracious time eaters is hiring and training employees, especially in a chaotic economic interval such as this one.
But let’s focus on the positive: Manufacturers who serve our industry continuously improve equipment. Their design innovations, as well as their custom solutions, contribute to labor savings and safety.
Team members working at peak efficiency accomplish more. Thus, a new piece of equipment may lead to labor savings.
Karl Loeffelholz, distributor division manager at Mi-T-M Corporation in Peosta, IA, explains that his company incorporates time, safety, and labor savings for users into all designs. He gives us three examples.
Simplification. “Our hot-water pressure washer saves time when cleaning and removing tough stains, grease, and grime from equipment, floors, and surfaces,” says Loeffelholz. “It is much more effective than cleaning with a cold-water pressure washer or just a garden hose or brush.”
Prevention. “Our new Mi-T-M generators being released in 2022 are equipped with carbon monoxide (CO) detection and auto-shutdown when CO levels become unsafe,” says Loeffelholz.
Speed. “Our rotary surface cleaners can be used with a pressure washer to clean large surfaces in a fraction of the time it takes with a standard wand and nozzle,” explains Loeffelholz. “They feature strong-bristled brushes and can be equipped with caster wheels for easy glide control.”
Manufacturers give as much attention to improving ancillaries as they do the core pieces of equipment. The beneficiary of their efforts is the end user, but the entire team, and certainly the owner of a business, gain.
At Hannay Reels in Westerlo, NY, designing so that hoses get high marks for functionality is a priority. Jennifer Wing, the marketing manager at the Empire State company, gives us some specifics.
“Hose and cable reels allow for quick deployment and pick up of hoses and cables, ensuring that you can get to the next job quickly,” says Wing. “Our reels are available in manual, spring, or power rewind, which all save time in winding and unwinding the hose or cable.”
“Reels help the operator guide the hose or cable back on to the reel in a fast, efficient, uniform fashion, avoiding tangles or damaging kinks,” says Wing. The efficiency boost gets compounded over time as the hoses, protected from damage, last as long as they should.
For contractors who use different types of equipment in a variety of settings, storage, access, and portability are important. Wing’s company offers compact frames and many mounting options so that multiple reels can be installed on trucks or trailers.
“Portable reels are also available for access to hard-to-reach areas,” says Wing. “Everything is available right at your fingertips for all your application needs, saving you and your crew time.”
Underfoot, hoses can become a safety issue. “Keeping hoses and cables organized and off the ground means a safer and more efficient workplace,” says Wing.
Yes, they reduce likelihood of stumbles—and more. “Reels aid in avoiding tripping hazards which can lead to serious injury to your crew or the public,” explains Wing. “Reels also protect hoses from kinks and cracks due to improper hand coiling, which can lead to leaks, damaging your equipment and causing potential environmental hazards, especially if you are using corrosive chemicals.”
Reels today are much more than a convenient core for a wraparound. Although they might not be the first thing a contractor thinks about when fine-tuning a business, they can make a great difference in saving time and labor and enhancing safety.
“Our reels are easy to maintain—swivel joints, bearings, spring rewind, and electric motors are conveniently located for quick servicing and inspection,” says Wing. “Our reels are built to last decades, and if properly maintained will provide years of reliable service to your operation and eliminate downtime on the job having to fix broken-down equipment.”
The smallest changes—in equipment and approaches—accrue to savings over time. Loeffelholz and Wing gave us some examples of how equipment leads to efficiency and creates the safest possible work environment. All about safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emphasizes the return on investment that businesses get by reducing risk in the workplace.
A business owner might think primarily in terms of workers’ compensation costs when factoring in risks. But medical expenses, penalties levied by OSHA, and the cost to replace or train an employee who is injured on the job add significantly to the cost of doing business. Even the investigative time that must be devoted to getting to the root cause of an accident can become a financial burden and reduce productivity.
Maintaining a safe workplace reduces the cost of doing business in the long term. The resources at the OSHA.gov website provide many links to research articles that report on assessments of business survival. Here’s the takeaway: Businesses that have a high incidence of injuries are less likely to survive. Invest in training employees in safety.
The costs enumerated in the first paragraph in this section omitted one— the cost of general liability and other insurance. Rates for those coverages are also affected by the track record of the business, but that’s not all. Rates can be thrown askew by ambiguity in the nature of the business.
Insurers want to know the scope of work a business does. Understating it (as in we don’t work high) or overstating it (as in putting stock photos on the company website of people on scaffolds) can lead to trouble with getting coverage. To avoid problems, build a relationship with an insurance agent who understands the industry.
Costs—keep them down in every way possible but not in foolish ways. Yes, use accounting software to manage all records tied to inventory, billing, and payroll. But do use an accountant, if only for verification, at least once a year.
Websites are great for attracting customers. Make certain the cost of maintaining and updating it is built into expenses.
Interactive website or app for scheduling? Think carefully about the types of customers served. It can work well for straightforward jobs, but to command the best price for specific projects, a visit and face-time estimate will often be better.
Automated phone system? Only if it’s a good one. A prospective customer should not have to go through endless menu selections or routinely be put on hold or, worst of all, find a full voice message box. For businesses that can afford it, an individual capable of answering calls, responding to emails, describing services, and ferreting out needs of customers—and soothing those with complaints—with a quick turnaround and a pleasant comportment can be a huge asset.
Discounts or extended payments to fill up a schedule? Probably not. And with inflation heading toward double digits, delaying collection of payment is not the way to go.
Optimism is vital to life, but hope is not a strategy for sustaining a business.
Veteran members of our industry know that being realistic is the key to efficiency.
Have the equipment ready before bidding. Have a big enough team to complete a job in the promised timeframe. Be prepared for disruptions. Prioritize, as some jobs and orders may be too small to fill unless they are repeaters.
Refining every part of a business to save on labor costs, cutting time to completion of projects/products (with acute focus), and doing everything with utmost safety strengthens a business. Today, in this wildly fluctuating economic climate, the more strength against the forces coming from every direction, the better.