KIRCHNER: Must-See TV: “Finishing: Impossible”

Columns From: Products Finishing, , from American Finishing Resources, LLC

Posted on: 5/1/2013

Columnist Matt Kirchner tells us what reality TV can teach us about transforming your finishing shop.

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For reasons far from understood, my kids love reality television. Our DVR abounds with episodes of metal-detector-brandishing lunatics going berserk when they find an old penny, seemingly normal guys from Iowa driving through the countryside in a white Sprinter van picking through other people’s junk, and poor souls pawning family heirlooms to a portly Gen Xer named Chumlee in exchange for Vegas gambling money. And yes, it does make me uncomfortable when my 11 year old innocently utters the words “Pawn Stars.” But if a television producer can find a way to marry the charm of “The Antiques Roadshow” with the suspense of “Deal or No Deal,” somehow it winds up on the television screen in our family room.

So it came as little surprise when a program called “Restaurant: Impossible” found its way onto our Recorded Series list.

If you’re not familiar, each episode features muscle-bound Englishman Robert Irvine taking on the challenge of turning around a different struggling dining establishment by tapping into his knowledge of the business, and utilizing equal parts of sheer will and awkward confrontations, all the while expending a budget of only $10,000.

Irvine studies menus and questions menu items, makes inquiries of customers, berates owners, challenges employees, analyzes purchasing habits and price points, and uncovers disgusting health code violations, all in an effort to create a new business model that will appeal to clientele and generate cash flow for investors.

Not that I’ve exactly warmed up to Irvine. Telling a restaurant’s proprietor whose passion is preparing his generational family barbeque recipe that “Your passion sucks,” and yelling at and intimidating the very employees who are trying to help Irvine succeed in his restaurant turnaround isn’t exactly a style that appeals to me. But his show is entertaining, and it got me to wondering whether there’s room on cable for “Finishing Impossible,” a sort of combination of “The Apprentice” and “How It’s Made.”

And …  ACTION!

We’re here with Adam Johnson and his son David who represents the third generation of XYZ Finishing, a family-owned custom coater that has called the Midwest its home for more than 50 years.

But the last decade has not been a good one for XYZ. Several years ago its two largest customers moved substantial manufacturing operations overseas—and XYZ’s work along with it. Things got worse a few years later when the general economy crashed down around the housing bubble. Though customers have bounced back, now the company faces a tighter labor market than ever before. Dependable rackers and line operators seem impossible to find, and those that can be hired often lack the requisite work ethic or are snatched up by competitors offering higher wage rates or better work hours.

With cash reserves waning and their banker looming in the background, this father and son resort to their last hope … “Finishing: Impossible.”

Think of all of the scenarios that could be included in the show. We could start by observing Adam and David. How much time do they actually spend behind the desk versus on the floor where value is created and improvement opportunities often hide? What is their product mix? Is it low mix/high volume or high mix/low volume? Each requires its own marketing, production and pricing strategies.

We could walk an order through the entire value stream, looking for more efficient methods of processing or information flow. Better yet, we could draw a value stream map and engage the shopfloor employees to offer improvement suggestions.

Where are the seven deadly wastes of motion, waiting, transportation, overprocessing, overproduction, inventory and rework evident on the shop floor, and how can they be reduced? How densely is product racked on the line?

How long does it take to change over from one color to another, and how could we reduce the time needed to perform this non-value-added task? Are customers telling us that lead times are too long? How are customer orders or agreements managed?

What opportunities exist to consolidate suppliers and drive down materials costs? Are best practices in the areas of employee training, customer service, information technology and lean tools evident in the business model? If they are not, what easy-to-implement changes could have a significant impact on performance?

We would be almost all the way through the episode before even raising questions of marketing, sales strategy or sales team skills. In the end, I bet we could find enough improvement opportunities to put XYZ back on the road to prosperity.

“Finishing: Impossible?”

Sounds like a fantastic television program. Maybe we shouldn’t wait for the pilot to air before starring in our own version right in our own shop.


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