17 October 2005

Moving and expanding

This weekend and two weekends ago we moved another factory in to join ours. Just some notes for next time we need to do this:
- 7-1/2 tonner OK for up to 100 miles, thereafter go for 20+ tonners
- forks both ends
- journeys per day: 1, 2, 2, 3
- pallets per journey = 10
- pallet equivalents = 80
We've been preparing for this for a few months now but at the moment our factory still looks like a tip. Unfortunately our technicians are still new, and one is off sick, so getting organised is a real back breaker. But at least we are controlling the pace of this ourselves and so have been able to keep an almost uninterupted flow of goods to customers (unlike the phones which are still causing us real commercial problems).

If in the Bracknell area I recommend BTC for vehicle rentals. Very straightforward people, and cheap and reliable. We've used them for almost two years now. Our neigbours at Infinicar were also doing a workshop move this weekend and used them too.

We got the lighting up in our warehouse today, and ordered pallet racking - JW Whittle have found us some second hand stuff that suits our needs. We couldn't get the pallet racking in first which would have been the preferred solution.

14 October 2005

Still no phone lines from BT !!

Our escalation manager at Central Telecom (our service provider) told me today that BT have committed to have cable installed by 18th October. That is not quite the same as 'lines connected and working' but is at least a date to work with. Apparently BT are in dispute with their contractors hence the delay of some eight weeks. I wonder if they treat their contractors the same way they treat their customers.

Our commercial neighbour has been waiting quite a few more weeks than we have so I won't believe it until it works. In the meantime I know we lost at least one sale today of £1k due to disfunctional phones. And BT still haven't rerouted some other lines which we requested an exchange diversion on about 10 days ago - a job which takes 30 seconds on a keyboard.

On a happier note we were able to help out our neigbours in Infinicar with cheap transportation to Ireland and local lorry rentals. There are several businesses on site and we all try to help each other: four are automotive; we are electromechanical manufacturing; one runs a herd of goats and a dairy; one double glazing outfit; one security shredding outfit; one exhibition setup outfit; plus our landlord of course who is also extremely helpful.

10 October 2005

TNT discriminate against UK manufacturers

We've been waiting a month for a TNT security inspector to come and visit a consignment that was damaged in transit. In fact TNT managed to damage it twice - once on the way out and once on the way back. Fortunately we have photographic evidence of the before and after as the client took a shot of the packaging when he sent it back (which means TNT can't blame it on the client's shoddy packaging). The damage occurred because TNT have tipped the unit on its side (both sides, once each way) even though it is mounted on a pallet at TNT's request (I asked them to participate in the packaging design just over a year ago - assistance I was grateful for and in which Paul Roberts of TNT was extremely helpful). After a month of waiting for the inspector we gave up and repaired it today - we sent the client a new unit out by return of course.

I don't mind TNT damaging units - at least I don't mind provided they don't do it too often and I have to admit they are the best option we have at the moment (although this may change as our freight blend migrates as our business grows). What I do mind though is the attitude they have towards refunding damages. They discriminate against manufacturers. They do this by only refunding for damages for which the repaired part is bought in. This means that any assembly (and disassembly) labour is ignored. Now I quite agree that profit ought to be excluded, but excluding internally manufactured components or internal labour is absolutely not on. Somebody has to do it and it ought not to make any difference whether it is in-house or outsourced. Doing it this way discriminates against UK manufacturers in favour of those who source their products outside the UK.

As a side effect TNT management think that their service is good because they have low claims costs, whereas in fact they have artificially depressed the claimable amount. Oh and the depot managers (in this case Jamie Mitchell) simply bully small manufacturers with the "if you don't like our conditions of carriage you can go elsewhere" response. Of course they know only too well that they don't say this to the larger customers, and that they have a near monopoly on certain freight classes. In this particular instance the result is that our claim is only for £50 whereas the true cost to us is about £250 excluding customer satisfaction and management time. Which is a lot of money to us. I could get around this by getting a supplier to create a fake invoice but that would be dishonest.

There's not much I can do right now except to run trial batches out via the other carriers, and to talk to the reps of the other carriers who I have been declining to meet for the last year. And to post this cautionary tale. And to discuss my experiences with my peers in other small UK manufacturing businesses who distressingly report exactly the same problem with TNT which really annoys all of them as well. It's a pity really because a slightly different attitude from TNT would cause us all to really support them rather than griping like this.

Oh and I'm doing a redesign of the unit that was damaged to eliminate two of the weak areas and which will also allow me to use different packaging. And maybe even make it more attractive to other carriers ...

BT still haven't got our new lines in - it has now been escalated again within both CT and BT. However today BT did replace a faulty line card on the exchange side DSL equipment which has cured one problem though.

08 October 2005

Telephone lines and workshops

Over the past six or seven weeks we've been working hard rebuilding our factory and preparing for expansion. The rebuilding part has been fairly easy - we do it ourselves so all it takes is hard work and ingenuity. That's taken quite a lot of weekends (and the ten day long Southampton Boat Show has taken all the others) and most spare minutes.

The far from easy part has been the telephone system. The first choice was whether to get a VOIP enabled switcboard but when we discovered the cost (£10k for a simple system) we canned that and went with a £500 analogue system which has fractionally more functionality than four quadpacks of DECT handsets (and by the way there is a business opportunity out there for someone). The second choice was which service provider and we have decided to remain with Central Telecom who have started to give almost acceptable service. And then for six weeks we have waited for the new lines, and waited, and waited. And still BT can't get them in. Threatening to escalate the issue to OFTEL has finally got line crews stringing cable (and lots of 'engineers' arriving with a stunning lack of ability to read a cable register) but apparently it will take another week to see the new lines. In the meantime they've practically crippled our aDSL internet connection with their shenanigans.

Hopefully all will be resolved.