"Neither of our husbands are effective or interested teachers," she says. "After more than 20 years of on-the-job training of hundreds of employees, both Don and Ari have been frustrated for years by turnover in labor along with unmotivated, unproductive employees. So, they are no longer interested in making that effort."
Partly out of frustration Don had long ago returned to operating as a one-man crew on smaller jobs, and as of the end of April Ari is no longer involved in the business at all. Don remains with the company, operating more as a consultant. "Now we'll try to get all his knowledge and expertise transferred," Birchfield says.
Not only did their knowledge not get passed along on the job, it probably cost the company some good employees. "If the crew couldn't do it right the second time Don or Ari would just take the paint machine and do it themselves," Birchfield says. "So because of the way we operated we lost some quality people because we wouldn't let them do what they were probably capable of."
To manage this transfer of information, which Birchfield acknowledges will be an ongoing process as employees come and go, RTM created the position of operations manager. "We are training one competent individual as operations manager to develop manuals and implement 'training and procedures' for all aspects of operations, from set-up of crew and trucks, to 'how to' operations of each piece of equipment, to the methodology and approach of layout and installation," she says.
The operations manager is also heavily involved in inventory and equipment maintenance. The issue of inventory control rose its ugly head, when RTM began adding crews. Ari learned the business from Don, and the two shared the load. When materials or tools or parts needed to be ordered, each would order what he needed then pick it up for each job. The two men would order what they needed, but that didn't account for what other crews needed. Crews were often short of material, and the company even lost money because everyone wanted to use the new stock - up front in the warehouse - as opposed to the older stock buried in the back, which occasionally went bad.
"It became a question of who is responsible, and for a while we didn't have an answer to that question."
But they do now.
Carl Decatrel, operations manager, supervises and directs all field activities, controls the inventory, including placing orders and checking with the crews to see what they need. "We're training him to be a replacement 'me' out in the field," Birchfield says. "Once a project is awarded he checks the site, phases it out, plans which vehicles to use, and follows up on jobs to keep an eye on productivity and quality of work. He hires, fires, schedules crews, makes sure vehicles are maintained, manages the warehouse, and pre-checks all jobsites.
"Now we have weekly management meetings with the staff to discuss what jobs are coming up, how many bids have been awarded, amount of work in progress, in order to prepare for site visits and reviewing the status of on-going projects," Birchfield says. "The operations manager is an integral part of these meetings so he knows what's coming up, he knows what's likely to be needed, and he knows or at least can check on what we have in inventory and order what we need."
As new people began working in the field, getting accurate information back to the office for billing became a challenge, primarily for specialty and aviation contracts.
"Some of the striping we do is very complicated. We bid the work, especially airport work, in a very specific way based on various contract requirements and bid sheets, so the client knows what's going to happen, and so we can cost the job as accurately as possible," Birchfield says.
Once the bid is accepted and contracted, the field crew needs to report back to the office what quantities and bid items were completed in order to match the work with the estimate for billing. "Because this work is so complicated you have to understand how the job was bid out, and that's how it's got to be reported back," Birchfield says. "But except for Don and Ari, the people in the field are not familiar with that. They don't understand or know how a job was bid or why it was bid a certain way. They're out there just putting paint down."