Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse - Engine Builder Magazine

Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse

Happy New Year everyone! I trust you all enjoyed the holiday season and are hitting the gas full throttle now that we’re in a new year and January is already flying by. Personally, I’m not generally big on making resolutions – at least not ones that require tons of effort or ones I know I won’t achieve – so what follows might be hypocritical of me.

I’ll go ahead anyway because I think the advice is sound, and something some of you might want to take note of when it comes to your own shops and businesses. I recently got to chat with Choate Engineering Performance owner Cass Choate, as he and his diesel shop were our 2022 America’s Best Diesel Engine Shop winner. It was during one of our lengthy conversations that I got to get a glimpse inside Cass’s business brain and really understand what he’s trying to achieve at Choate Engineering. I think it will resonate with many of you too.

“Most people in this business can build a great engine and send it out the door,” Choate told me. “What I want our company to be known for is the process. I want our process to be so ironclad from the point of contact with a customer to the point of pickup or ship out. I want our process so streamlined that repeatability is just ingrained. That’s something I think a lot of people don’t focus on. 

“The thing that excites me the most is the process and getting it extremely streamlined. We’re talking 5S, lean manufacturing and those kinds of things, which allow you to do other things. I love performance, don’t get me wrong, but the thing that enables you to do that is when your shop runs so efficiently that you have the ability, instead of putting out fires, to focus on new projects without having to worry about the place burning down. 

“I think that’s the reason why most people go out of business. Their shop grows, and as they grow, their customer service is not built-in place to be able to withstand the growth, and they get overwhelmed and then they get bad reviews for poor customer service and this, that and the other. I want Choate Engineering Performance to be akin to Chick-fil-A – you know what to expect every time. Everybody thinks about a product, but not the repeatability to be able to create that, and that’s 100 percent process. 

“You have to get your business built first and make it run right, and then go do those other things. I think people get that cart before the horse and then they find out they’re a slave to the things they thought brought them pleasure. They want the instant instead of thinking about the distant.

“When you do that, many shop owners aren’t properly prepared. As their business is increasing and they get busier and busier, they find themselves ticking people off because your lead times have extended, or your product is no longer the same as it was a year ago, because now Joe Blow is in the shop and he’s working for you, but you had to get him because it got so busy that you had to do something, and so you hire somebody.

“If you’d have created the process that makes it streamlined, those other parts of the business remain the same. It ought to come out the same way every single time and be able to make that repeatable. Once you get that process built-in place, you’ve created a program, now you can make money, now you’ve got the fixtures built, you’ve got all the other things working and you can make money off that. But until that point comes and you don’t have a good fixture, what you find yourself doing is tweaking the fixture to get the end result that you want so that the product isn’t scrap. You end up with a lot more waste.

“That becomes extremely frustrating. At some point, people start throwing up their hands and saying, this is ridiculous. I can’t hire anybody. There’s nobody out there worth a flip anymore. Truthfully, you created your own chaos because you got in such a hurry. 

“Hammering that process is my mindset and the way I want to create – it’s one stone upon another. Are you really trying to build a product, or are you trying to build a business? There’s a difference.”

Again, I think Cass makes a number of very valid points and probably made a few of you think about your own shop and how it operates. Do with that advice what you will, but I believe in a new year bringing a new beginning, so for some of you, maybe this is your chance to change things up. 

I know in talking to a number of manufacturers about 2023 versus the past few years, they’ve been hard at work changing their processes to keep up with demand and adjust to the supply chain and employment issues they’ve experienced. Much more on that story on page 34.

Anyhow, enjoy our annual LS engine issue and have a great 2023! EB

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