Week 15: Jigs For Mass Production and Why You Should Not Fear Competition

(Update: Click here for the full diy sound panel tutorial, or visit InityAcoustics.com for professionally made panels)

I know, we’re actually at week 19 of 2012, and it’s been about a month since I’ve posted. My aim with WeeklyCreations.com has been to keep my posts to a weekly schedule, but I’ve been (happily) tied up with the new sound panels business, amongst a couple other projects with the studio. So although we’re at week 19 of 2012, I’ll jump back and get Week 15 done first and make my way back on track.

I’ve recently had a few people voice the assumption that I won’t be posting the sound panel construction tutorial, seen as I now have a business selling them. But indeed I will be posting it! I think we have a tendency to feel threatened by competition. And I think the two main concerns a person would have with this particular situation are:

  1. What if my potential customers make my product themselves instead of buying it from me?
  2. What if someone else starts manufacturing my product as well, causing my business to go under?

I’ll admit, these are thoughts that ran through my head. They’re thoughts that run through my head with every business endeavor I’ve partaken in. But in reality, they’re just not relevant. They’re fears born of a scarcity mindset and a lack of real understanding for what makes a business work.

Why I’m Not Concerned

Potential Customers Lost To DIY!?! Oh Noooo!!

I’m not worried about losing customers for numerous reasons. Firstly, a lot can be said for the time and money saved through mass production. Having made enough of these panels, not only do I know the ins and outs, but it’s also been worth my while to bust my ass these last couple months and invest the time and money into buying the right tools and making quality jigs that serve to speed up and perfect the process.

A jig is like a template, or sort of cookie cutter for a particular stage of the manufacturing process. For example, the simplest one I have is for cutting my lumber to the right lengths. I attached blocks of scrap wood to my table top at pre-measured distances from my saw blade, allowing me to just throw framing lumber under the saw and push it up against the block for a perfectly sized cut every time without ever having to measure ever again. I use similar time savers throughout the whole manufacturing process. Some simple, some complex. But all worth it – if making more than just a few of a particular product.

Anyone can do this, and I think you should think up ways to do it with whatever kind of work you do! In fact, I think a future Weekly Creations post will be for a website where people can share jigs and templates ideas for any and every type of work, and even for very specific jobs. I think it’ll be great to help fellow DIYers, managers and entrepreneurs involved with companies of all sizes to improve their manufacturing process or productivity, making for a more efficient, less competitive, and more harmonious world.

Anyway, as good as jigs are, in some cases this approach would be wasteful and just not feasible. If creating a product for just oneself, creating jigs can take far more time than just creating the product itself directly. I would never have created these jigs or bought the better tools for the first run of panels I made for personal use – or even the first several orders. The jigs and tools cost much, much more than the materials for a single standard order, and have taken way more time to think up, design, create and develop than a dozen orders. But the end result of having mass production tools and jigs means a sturdier, well made product that can be made fast enough to keep the product price at a point well worth the time a customer can save by not having to make the product him/herself.

These developments to the process to facilitate high volume means what would take an individual without the jigs and custom tools an hour to do, I can do in half the time or less, and less labor time means less labor cost. Since for most of us time = money, that means buying something from an effective mass producer means more value for less time/money than it would take to do it yourself – depending on what your time is worth to you.

That said, if you have some of the basic tools and more free time than money, and you want to save on the cost of labor, I totally think you should build yourself any products you desire! I certainly do exactly that. The DIY mentality is good for individuals and society alike. With the panels business I can earn money from serving people who haven’t the time or interest for taking on such a project. I don’t need to earn it from people who need the cash (or could make better use of it elsewhere) and whom want to develop their DIY muscle! :)

Competing Businesses?!? Aaaaagghhh!!

And I’m definitely not worried about competing businesses. One thing I’ve learned in business is that ideas aren’t worth money. Execution of ideas is what’s worth money. The ideas themselves are merely multipliers of the value of the execution. Derek Sivers (creator of CDBaby.com) wrote about this on his blog. This is Derek’s basic explanation.

AWFUL IDEA = -1
WEAK IDEA = 1
SO-SO IDEA = 5
GOOD IDEA = 10
GREAT IDEA = 15
BRILLIANT IDEA = 20

NO EXECUTION = $1
WEAK EXECUTION = $1000
SO-SO EXECUTION = $10,000
GOOD EXECUTION = $100,000
GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000
BRILLIANT EXECUTION = $10,000,000

So for this idea to be worth anything, it has to be combined with quality execution. The business connections I’ve made and relationships with customers I’ve built are more important than any particular idea or knowledge of how to build a product. Same goes for relevant experience, business training, planning, marketing, product development, manufacturing process development, budgeting, etc. These things are all far more important to the success of a business than just a good idea or product.

Ideas aren’t the hard part. They’re a dime a dozen. It’s execution of ideas – the hard work, smart work, and persistent work – that’s the hard part. Though actually, I’m starting to think it’s not that hard. It’s just something to get the hang of.

Bottom line is, just because you know how to make a pizza, doesn’t mean your local pizza place should feel threatened. They may even sell you prepared toppings for your home cooking if you ask nicely. ;)

So, in the next Weekly Creations post I will show you the basic process of making these panels for yourself.

 

Week 14: Sound Absorption Panels Business

(Update: Click here for the full diy sound panel tutorial, or visit InityAcoustics.com for professionally made panels)

For week 12 I took on a little DIY project building sound absorption acoustical panels for the studio. Now, just two weeks later, I have a budding business making these panels for others! And the best part is, I started by borrowing small (really small) amounts of cash and tools. Let me tell ya how it came together.

The Motivation

When it all started I was essentially broke. Glenn was coming in to record some acoustic stuff. He’s a great player, and I really wanted to make sure we got the best sound possible.  I didn’t have the sound panels I’d want for this, so I had to solve this problem. I think the best business ideas come out of solving a problem you have, and then providing your solution as a product or service to others. But at the time I wasn’t thinking about business, I was thinking about making a great sounding recording. Plus, I knew the panels would be a great Weekly Creations post. Sticking to this site is definitely great for keeping me motivated to take on and complete projects I might otherwise procrastinate on.

I did a little research into these sound absorption panels. Over the years of focusing on music I’ve also worked a handful of different jobs to make ends meet. One place I worked at several times is a place called Hammerhill Sound Systems where we built sub-woofer cabinets for car stereos. With this cabinet making experience the wood working part of these panels would be like second-nature.

So I decided to make some. I’m still planning to write a tutorial post on making these panels, but this post is about making a business out of them, so the tutorial post will have to wait for now.

Low Budget

Anyway, after a rough year and a particularly slow month, I was broke. But I knew I could make the panels for about $20 a piece, and that Glenn’s studio booking would bring in a couple bucks. So I borrowed $40 to get the materials for two panels. Well, I didn’t realize that (of course) some of my materials would have to be bought in higher quantities. So I managed to scrap together about $20 in change, and took out the last $20 I had in the bank. The ATM fees put me into overdraft.

The framing lumber, sound insulation materials and adhesives took up my $80, and I still needed fabric. So I borrowed another $20 and a bus pass and headed down to the fabric store to get some burlap to wrap around the panels. Then I borrowed a jigsaw from a buddy who lives down the street and made my first few panels that night in the parking lot behind my place – finishing up in the dark.

To be honest, those first ones sort of looked like they were made in the dark with a handheld jigsaw. But I was quite pleased when I used them to record Glenn and I realized just how much of a difference they made. The money from Glenn’s booking went to pay back the borrowed cash.

Test The Market

Still in need of some cash, the following Monday night I decided to post an ad on Craigslist and Kijiji for the panels I had made, just to see if anyone would be interested. You never know unless you try, right? I made sure I had all my stats about the NRC (noise reduction coefficient) in order and I added a link to the clean sounding recording of Glenn. Other manufacturers charge a minimum of $80 for similar panels, so I priced mine well below them at $60 each or $200 for a set of 4 (despite only having 3 made). Then I went to bed.

The next day I got a call from a marketing professional in Toronto who recently moved into an exceptionally reverberant downtown office. After finding out that I had made the panels personally, he offered to connect me with his custom printed fabric links and potential add my panels to the line of custom printed fabric products he sells online! He asked me to bring in a sample the following evening. I thought to myself “maybe I should make a good one, in daylight, for this guy”.

So I looked up pricing on mitre saws, found one on sale for 70% off at Canadian Tire, borrowed another $80 and made a single, higher quality panel; reusing the fabric from one of the old panels. He loved the panel (except for the beige burlap fabric) and we discussed testing his printed fabrics for their acoustic properties. Being an audio engineer helps with that side of things. Testing changes in what frequencies are reflected and to what degree is easy enough in the studio.

Improved Design, And Busting My Ass

While waiting for the fabric samples, my tax return finally showed up! This was enough to clean up some bills, pay back the borrowed cash and have a couple hundred bucks left over. Couldn’t be better timing, because that same day I got an order for four panels. So I raced to build some more of higher quality, improving on the design and spending that cash on better fabrics and hardware.

I filled that order and used some new pics of improved panels in a new ad. Then more calls came in. And then even more. And I continued to test fabrics and fill orders. I recently filled an order for a film company to use in one of their video editing suites. I busted my ass to add better fabrics to my existing panels in time to show them when they came by to check out what I had the morning after they called. They loved the ones they picked up, and texted me before the weekend to let me know they’d be calling back next week to get more for their other editing suites!

End Result

So in a couple weeks of low-cost testing and improvements, free online ads, word of mouth, a couple favors, and busting my ass a bit, I’ve managed to help out a bunch of people and create a new income stream for myself! It’s still very small, but it’s already profitable and adding a little extra cash to my (formerly overdraft) bank account.

This is the first Weekly Creation that has turned into a viable income stream. The Weekly Creations site certainly isn’t about money-making creations in particular, but it’s definitely nice for one of the projects to turn into something that serve those ends. As I said before, I credit this to two things; a website that motivates me to create and not procrastinate, and the idea of using your skills to solve a simple problem for yourself and then offering to provide that solution for others. It’s easy to connect with and serve customers when you consider yourself one of them.

Who’d have thought that after years of focusing on making a living from making noise, I’d end up making some extra money from reducing noise too. :D