Snow Cones and Melting Profits

A few days ago a customer ordered a banner for the snow cone stand his daughter was running on a lot next to his restaurant. The banner cost about $200, and it was a simple and profitable job.

No one came to pick it up for several days, and then I got a message saying I needed to give him a call. When I got him on the phone, he said, “I haven’t had time to do it myself, so what’ll you charge to put that banner up?” I dodged the question a bit, since I didn’t really have a clue how we were going to do it, but assured him the price would be reasonable and told him I would come down and take a look and decide the best means of getting it mounted.

When I arrived later that day, neither he nor his daughter were around to show me what to do, so I headed back to the shop, without even a snow cone. (Wasted trip: 20 minutes.)

Later, I returned and met the daughter and her helper and after several minutes of three-sided discussion, decided to mount one end from a pole inserted into a pipe fence post. The other end of the banner would have to attach to a structure we would put in the ground 12 or so feet back.

My strategy, to avoid having to dig a post hole through some very hard ground and gravel, was to drive a shortened C-channel post in the ground, and bolt a taller galvanized pole to it matching the height of the pole that would stick up out of the fence post. An upper member would connect the two vertical poles and keep them from bending inward when the banner was bungeed in place. (Time required for them to show me where to put the banner, and me to determine how to do the job: 30 minutes, or about an hour total so far.)

Later, I drove to the nearest fence company, intending to buy the poles. They were closed for some unknown reason, so I drove on to another fence company. They were busy, but after a few minutes I had explained what I was looking for, and they even let me cut the 21-foot-long pieces of light wall galvanized pipe on their chop saw so I could carry them in the back of my truck. Then I went in the office, and the nice but somewhat gabby owner took his time writing my ticket and letting me pay up. (Time passed by the time I made it back to the shop: Nearly one hour.)

I sent Sloan on to another store for some eyebolts and bungees (30 minutes), and when he returned I took him down to the jobsite and explained where and how I wanted the job to be done. (20 minutes for both of us.)

Back at the shop, Sloan drilled the holes for the eyebolts and flattened the ends of the upper member so it could be bolted to the poles, and then loaded up to go out on the job. (35 minutes.)

It was going to be easier for two fellows to manage that 10-foot sail pulled tight between the posts, so he took Justen with him to go out and mount the banner.

As expected, the ground was very hard, so it took a while to pound in the C-channel, then drill the pole with two holes to bolt it to the short channel post. When both poles were up, it was not surprising that the post that slid down in their fence post didn’t really come up evenly in height to the one bolted to the channel post, so they quickly ran back to the shop to cut one post off.

Back on the jobsite, the task of pulling the banner tight, and bungeeing it in place didn’t take long. But counting driving time, and of course, time to get snow cones, the actual installation of the banner took nearly an hour and a half, again, times two.

Hmmm, let’s see. They consumed three man hours actually installing the banner, but I had two hours or so of wasted time in it before that, plus Sloan’s jobsite tour, hole drilling, and trip to the hardware store, another hour and a half. That would be six and a half hours of labor, plus the poles, bungees and hardware cost $50 or so.

I had told the client that I would charge him a reasonable amount for installing his banner. Let’s see, I think $45 per hour is certainly a reasonable shop rate ($292.50), a slight markup on the hardware would add $60 to the job, and the real cost of gasoline and vehicle time was another $20 at least. That brings the total for his banner install to an even $372.50, plus 8.25 percent tax, or exactly $402.23. Yes, that’s certainly a reasonable price, a very reasonable price indeed... and...

... if I had actually charged $402 to install this banner, you would have heard him holler all the way to New Jersey!

Actually, his bill was less than half that amount, and he still thought we were taking him to the cleaners. Were we? I’ll let you decide.

Now, why did I think this silly job was important enough to write about? Simply because it is just one example of an endless string of non-productive jobs that seriously impact the shop’s bottom line. At least it seems that way sometimes. But, of course, it’s probably just my shop, and you’ve already found a way to control it.

So, here’s an invitation. Tell me how we can be more efficient all the time, and make a decent profit on each job. Put it in writing, perhaps even an “In the Trenches” article. In fact, I’m looking forward to it already, and perhaps a few “Trenches” readers are too. But, remember, it’s hot here and the profits and snow cones are melting while we wait. So write soon.

Thanks in advance.

Have a great month,

—Rick