Transcript: What the Duck?! Episode 53

What the Duck?! Episode 53 Transcript

TURNING THE GEARS: Revamping manufacturing for lasting business growth with ­­­Dave Crysler

Welcome to What the Duck?! A podcast with real experts talking about direct spend challenges and experiences. And now, here’s your host, SourceDay’s very own manufacturing Maven, Sarah Scudder. Thank you for joining me for What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast brought to you by SourceDay. I am your host, Sarah Scudder, and this is the podcast for people working in the direct materials part of the supply chain. I’m @Sarah Scudder on LinkedIn and @Scudder on Twitter. Today, I’m going to be joined by Dave Crysler, and we’re going to discuss making operational improvements to the manufacturing process that unlocks sustainable business growth. And the key word there is sustainable, because not all growth is sustainable. If you work for a manufacturer and are looking for ways to improve operational efficiency, then this episode is for you.

I’ve known Dave—I want to say for a couple of years now. He’s very engaged in the manufacturing community. He’s spoken on some of my other shows. He is a consultant at the Crysler Club and the host of The Everyday Business Problems podcast. Dave utilizes his operations framework to unlock sustainable business growth by optimizing existing resources to operate with excellence. Welcome to the show, Dave.

Yeah, thanks so much for having me on, Sarah. Excited to get in this conversation with you.

So we both share something unique about our backgrounds in that you spent many years before you went out on your own and started your own company, actually in the printing industry. I, for many years, was in the marketing procurement world and sold marketing procurement software. The company that you were a GM for for many years, I know them very, very well. They were a supplier, and I know their VP of marketing and some of their exec team. Yeah, a lot, a lot of fun overlap.

So I like to start my interviews telling a little bit of a personal story for our guests. So, I’d like to have you start with how you got your beginnings in manufacturing.Yeah, I always love this story because, you know, I’ve… I’ve… I say I’ve been in printing and manufacturing at a greater level, really, my entire life. And what I mean by that is my parents owned and operated two different print manufacturing companies as I was growing up. So, literally, my entire life I have been in and around manufacturing, more specifically print manufacturing. And so that was the start of it for me. I mean, I can tell you story after story of, you know, being a young kid and going to the shop and doing that every weekend and all of the adventures we would have and the things we would get into and the things that OSHA would never want to know about that we used to do when I was a young kid. But I’ve been in and around it my whole life. It’s what I know, it’s what I love, and it’s why I still enjoy doing what I’m doing today for manufacturers.

So, the printing industry is a tough space to be. So, kudos to your parents for sticking in, your family for sticking it out, because it’s not an easy industry to be in, especially now, right in 2023. So much competition. So, you spent most of your operational career at an organization called Ennis, which is a very, very large conglomerate. I don’t even know how many plants and locations they have now. When I was in the industry, it was a lot, but definitely one of the biggest players in the printing space. So, I would like to have you start with some of the things that you did at Ennis from a strategic planning perspective and maybe those that had a big impact on the company.

Yeah, so I was very fortunate to have multiple roles while I was at Ennis. You know, as I say, I really grew up with that company and very fortunate to have a lot of people that saw something in me at a very young age and continue to give me opportunities. And through that, you know, as it relates specifically to kind of those strategic planning initiatives, as I started to have P&L responsibilities, we were doing, you know, S&OP planning and execution for those plans, and that was a consistent theme year over year. So, on top of kind of the generalized challenges that you are tasked with in that industry, right? Both growing top-line revenue, how do we optimize and grow profitability to continue returning value back to the shareholders? You know, combine those challenges with your typical strategic business planning cycle, and those were the things that I found myself doing time and time again. You know, what’s interesting about it is, as you dive into each one of those businesses, while they’re all related from the macro manufacturing dialed into printing, every single one of them has their own intricacies, their own types of customers, their own types of products and equipment. And for me, often what I was getting kind of thrown into was the fact that there was some sort of operational change at hand. Whether that was a decline in product, a decline in the market, could be another GM or somebody retiring, it could be an acquisition situation. So, in all of those cases, we were rolling in those strategic planning initiatives into all of these different layers of complexity. So, we had to be really great at understanding how to bring those silos together. You know, finance, operations, IT, sales, and marketing, and do that from a strategic planning standpoint. It’s really the foundation of what I talk about today. Right cycle of continuous improvement, key business systems, looking at things through a lens of planning, people, process, technology. These are all fundamental things that I learned while I was learning and executing S&OP planning and all of the other aspects that go into running a successful organization.

And to your point, creating systems, creating the ability to drive sustainable growth, and to do that in an industry that is typically a commoditized declining product segment. So, I got a lot of good lessons for a lot of years of my life by participating in that. So, I would describe it as a very, very low-margin industry.

Yes, typically it is. And you know, I kind of use that to our advantage, to be honest, because what was interesting about that is when you would look at a lot of these first, second, third-generation family-owned businesses, very typical single-digit net margins. And through the work that we would do, whether that was kind of ERP-level systemization or just generalized process optimization, we were routinely squeezing double-digit net profitability numbers out of those facilities. And what was really incredible was it was generally in declining product segments. So, you talk about the squeeze from both sides and understanding what levers do we need to push to be able to continue returning value to the shareholders, to pay for this newly acquired facility, or to justify keeping this particular facility open for one reason or another. I mean, there’s a lot of challenges, but very proud of all the accomplishments that we had as a team over the years because we did some really incredible things.

So, Dave, what was your role at Ennis? You moved up pretty quickly, but kind of as you ended your career there, what were you responsible for?

Yeah, so I had P&L responsibility for one manufacturing facility. It was a facility that we had relocated from Omaha, Nebraska, to a company-owned facility in Columbus, Kansas. And then, kind of in addition to that, I would get pulled into other acquisition facilities from the standpoint of helping with ERP implementation. I did a lot of mentoring of other leadership teams and, kind of, as a part of those integrations into company culture and from that overall systemization perspective. I got really deep into our ERP system and was really learning not just what were the levers to help implement them, but also how do you optimize with what we were given. And that was a bit of a unique situation where, again, kind of every facility being different, there were different factors that we had to take into account as we were looking for these opportunities to ultimately drive optimization forward.

So, you mentioned ERP, which is a topic near and dear to my heart. I host a Women in ERP show at SourceDay. We integrate directly with the ERP, so it’s definitely in my world and talk about it a lot. When you were at Ennis, you and/or your team, which I will want to dive into this, implemented an ERP system called JD Edwards. So, let’s start with how involved you were at all in the process of selecting and implementing a new ERP.

Yeah, so at its highest level, it was our corporate-wide system. It was selected and implemented in many facilities before I even had really any sort of touch to JD Edwards. Some of the earliest conversations I was ever a part of was really from a user standpoint, and that was from a very, very far distance because corporate was working on implementing JD Edwards at facilities that were well outside of the scope of the facility I happened to be at at the time—well outside of that scope. The first real touch I had with JD Edwards was when I had P&L responsibility for a facility in Illinois, and that was a relatively small facility as my first P&L responsibility role with the company. And we were in a situation where we were running a legacy system there. I was an AS/400 system.

And as I tell that story, we were literally—I mean, if you talk about tape backups, like legit old school tape backups, okay, that’s what we had on-prem. So, we were running our own tape backups there. And as I tell this story, we were literally one lightning strike away from losing our entire ERP for that particular business unit. And what was kind of, you know, interesting was we were such a small facility in the grand scheme of things that from an I.T. perspective, it was kind of like, ‘We don’t have the resources to help you do this.’ And you know, I was ambitious, and I was like, ‘Well, I can figure this out. Just give me some of the things.’ As I run across some challenges, right? Like, help me with some of the infrastructure pieces. But you know, when it comes to training operators and defining process flows and kind of all of these other pieces that you would typically have an implementation team on, we didn’t have that support. So, we, you know, figured it out on our own and we replicated kind of what we had. That was the first real touch I had with the system, and that was, you know, probably late—I would say probably early 2010, something like that time frame. So, that was the real first touch, and from there, it just kind of continued to expand. You know, as we got deeper into the system, as new opportunities kind of came up to have to be able to go through and be a part of those system implementations.

So, you were not a part of the decision-making process, which is very common. Sometimes it comes from very high up and there’s not a lot of involvement from the people on the streets. And so, you were kind of handed this and said, ‘Here, make this work.’ So, what were some of the challenges that you had to live through and experience and work out getting a new ERP system and not being involved in the selection of it nor what modules or functionality that it actually could do?

Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of the—you know, you get what you get scenario. And, you know, when you get dealt that hand, right, the immediate thought is, ‘Well, I’m not getting all the tools I need to succeed. So, how can I be held accountable for X, Y, and Z?’ And the reality of what it was, and you know, to be perfectly honest, it took me a long time to see it this way, and it’s easy to speak about it because it’s already happened, and I’ve already lived through it, but you know, the reality of it is it kind of forced creativity around process. And that was, I believe, the real big lever to learn how to be better at not just optimizing process, right? Because when people talk about that, it’s kind of, you know, this—it’s like a mystery. I feel like people make it this big thing, and the secret behind it is tapping into the people that are doing the thing and bringing those ideas to the forefront, understanding how you can prioritize those things in kind of that strategic planning cycle.

So, bringing back that strategic planning, you know, process and bringing all of those things together in the constraints of whatever it is we were working with, and in this case, it was JD Edwards. And kind of, ‘Hey, these are the modules that we have, these are the things that we know it can do.’ And then beyond that, it was all right, well, if I want to look at the ability to maybe, you know, handle a process flow in this manner, what are our options? Do we have any other options inside of the existing modules to be able to execute that? One great story around that specifically happened much later and at a different facility. But we were in a situation where we relocated this facility, and so, because we relocated, we had a tremendous amount of new people. And because we had a tremendous amount of new people, as you can imagine, people that are unfamiliar with not just the process, but the products, we had to figure out some way from a systems perspective to make it easier and to make it, you know, kind of more error-proof. And through, you know, a lot of conversations, a lot of ‘Can we try this?’, a lot of ‘Can we try that?’, ‘Well, what about this?’, ‘What about that?’, and that process optimization, we were able to figure out a way. And I say ‘we’ because there’s a large lift on the, you know, EnnisIT side to be able to figure out, you know, exactly how we could bring these processes together inside the system to help people get the answers that they needed in the speed that they needed and eliminate any potential for miscommunication, for errors, both internally and externally. And so, all of those things, you know, would not, I believe, have happened had we not had the constraints that we did. Because it’s very easy to sit back and look at and say, ‘Well, if I only had this module, if we could only do this thing,’ and, you know, it kind of limits in some cases your creativity and the amount of collective brainpower that you can really tap into to get, you know, to kind of get out there a bit and do some testing. That’s where the real wins in my experience have happened.

So, question for you. Our audience on this show is primarily people working in manufacturing, often at small and mid-sized manufacturers, and have some sort of direct materials responsibility or background. When you were in this role at Ennis, what was the biggest operational improvement that you made that impacted supply chain and, in particular, direct materials procurement? You weren’t necessarily a buyer, but getting your parts and materials and things on time was really, really important to meeting customer deadlines.

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, same thing, right? We had some constraints that we were working with in and around those bounds. I mean, you know, one of them, we were a single source. And so, you know, there were some challenges in and around that. Inventory management, kind of just generalized procurement process, right?

Dave, when you say you were single-sourcing, can you expand on what that—what were you single-sourcing? Because you bought lots of things when you work at a print facility, but what was the single source?

Yeah, raw material. So, paper was single source for us. And even, you know, some of the facilities that did products outside of kind of traditional print products, I mean, they’re still print-related. But even in a lot of those scenarios, like one of the facilities I was responsible for, we were a single source with a lot of our pressure-sensitive. Same thing, right?

Still, raw material, but because it was a very specialized product, we had to align ourselves with somebody that we knew could deliver consistently from a quality standpoint. And so, all of those things impacted what we were doing from a kind of process excellence standpoint. Obviously, within the system, being single-source made it somewhat easier from a kind of, you know, procurement process standpoint, right? But then there were other things that you had to deal with like stock outages or, you know, maybe we needed a 17-inch roll of material, but all they had was 17 and a half or 18. And how do we deal with that? How do we deal with not just the extra material and who is going to eat the difference? That’s kind of some of the most obvious things to have to deal with. It was, well, now we have to make sure that this item is set up in the item master correctly. And then, how do we actually account for that waste? How does that impact our processes internally? So, it was all of those types of things.

But to answer your question, I think when in all of those scenarios, the things that we were doing that really had the biggest impact was in and around being proactive from the standpoint of saying, ‘We know these are all the challenges that we’re facing because, let’s say, we’re single-sourced. So, what are we doing from a process optimization standpoint to be able to address those things on the front end?’ And then, you know, in a lot of cases, you do end up being reactionary, but reactionary from the standpoint of when an issue does arise. I can think of, you know, one specific example where we had an ongoing situation with quality—quality of material is what the ultimate root cause was. It was a pressure-sensitive label stock, and we ended up having to create a quality control process on the inbound side of that raw material to ensure that we weren’t, you know, not only delivering to our customers defective quality products, but that we weren’t obviously incurring the cost of putting all of the expense into producing those materials, right? So, it’s things like that where you end up finding a situation where we have to be reactionary, but then what does that do moving you forward? Well, now, you know, we look at the lens of, ‘If we take on this project, we know we’re gonna have to build in this QC process because it’s no longer an option to be reactionary.’ Because what it created was a very visible issue for a very high-profile customer that, you know, ultimately could have resulted in something catastrophic for that facility. So, it’s those little things that end up kind of becoming the big things in terms of overall success of that facility, back to creating sustainable growth for a business.

What would you say is the number one biggest project that you worked on at Ennis that had an impact operationally? Of all the things you worked on—I think you were there around 18 years—so lots and lots of projects. If you had to pick the biggest impact, what would that be?

Yeah, I mean, you know, there’s kind of two that I would wrestle with. One I kind of already talked about, so I’ll talk about the other one. The one that was probably the biggest was really the relocation. And there were a lot of factors at play, and that probably was kind of the largest project and kind of, you know, the biggest result. But there were a lot of other amazing ones along the way. One that kind of stands out in particular, we were not typically on the forefront, if you will, of capital expenditures and looking at new and innovative ways to do things.

It was a, you know, a very long-standing business, and, you know, had a very well-established model. But one of the things that we did that I was a part of was we looked at a project that allowed us the flexibility to share some workload across multiple facilities. And it was kind of new in an innovative way to handle it. It was plate making. So, you’ll be familiar with this, you know, proofing, plate making, kind of the pre-press workflow. And for anybody that’s not familiar with that, it’s basically all the stuff that happens before you’re able to print something. That’s the easiest way to think about it. It’s kind of all of the electronic, digital work that happens behind the scenes to be able to get to a point that you can print something. And we were in a situation where we had to address this workflow issue that we had. And what we ultimately were able to do was go with a solution. It happened to be a SAAS solution, a cloud-hosted solution, that allowed us to share that workload amongst like facilities. And what was unique about that was we were also in a situation where, from time to time, we did not have the manpower to be able to execute those process flows. So, it allowed us to spread that workload amongst other facilities that we would have had no other way to be able to execute. And so, this technology allowed us to do that. So, it was really the combination of, you know, again, the things I talk about, right? So, it’s the combination of the planning, the people, the process, and the technology that came together to deliver this project, if you will, that is still in existence today, still being supported today. It’s, you know, along with so many other things that we’ve done, but that was always one I looked back on and say, because it was pretty innovative for the time. Cloud-based solutions, especially in the enterprise level, were just starting to come out in that world specifically. There weren’t a lot of people doing those types of things. So, that was another layer of it. Yeah, there’s been a lot of fun advancements, though. A lot of fun projects over the years.

So, you decided to make a big career change a few years ago and you decided to launch your own company. What spurred this change?

Yeah, for me, it was, you know, as I tell this story, I was approaching my, what I feel like is my mid-life—you know, I was 40. I was relatively newly married. We were expecting our daughter to come into existence. And I kind of looked up and said, you know, we’re living in a place that we wouldn’t necessarily want to stay forever. And, you know, kind of just coming off of this huge relocation, a lot of turmoil, a lot of change in my life, and, you know, really a reflectionary period and said, ‘Is this what I want to continue doing?’ I always knew at some point in my life I would come back to kind of my roots. My parents have always worked for themselves, except for a couple of small stints here and there. And so, I feel like I was born into this. And it is certainly not for everybody. It is certainly a journey. I’ve learned just a tremendous amount. I didn’t think I had the capacity to learn as much as I have learned in the last four years, but I really wouldn’t trade it for anything. And it’s, you know, really, it’s what brought us back home, so we’re near our families. And so, yeah, it’s been a—it’s been a fun adventure, and looking forward to the next who knows how many years until you’ve actually had your own company. I’m not 30, it’s possible to realize how hard it is to do sales and marketing. Yes, yes, I wholeheartedly agree.

So, you were working with manufacturers now, helping them get smarter about their operations.

What are some of the key things that you’ve noticed in manufacturing in 2023 that are the biggest areas of improvement?

Yeah, I think there’s not a lot of change there, right? I think it’s a lot of the same hurdles that we’ve had, and I think unfortunately they’re going to continue to be exponentially more challenging as we go on. And I think a lot of it centers around people, you know, and where I see a lot of it centering around people, from my perspective, is we need to talk about process. So, it gets back to the four things I love to talk about. I talk about them in the same way every single time because to me you can’t have one without the other. And if you put them in any other order than the way that I talk about them, it just doesn’t work from a long-term sustainable standpoint. And that is based on more than a lot of years of doing this stuff and doing it different ways and making those mistakes. So, the big challenges for me are: how do we attract and retain top talent? And you can’t do that if you don’t have well-defined and documented processes. You also can’t do that if you don’t have technology on the back end to help you execute those processes. Now, all of that said, right, you can’t go at it and say, ‘Well, technology is our problem.’ It could be. I mean, it certainly could be, and there’s always a case to be made for automating or upgrading or looking at other solutions. But to me, where the opportunity lies to attract and retain top talent is in your planning and your processes. The people side comes in the form of engaging the people, engaging the people that are closest to and adjacent to the processes, so you can tap into that collective brain power and actually move the needle in your business. That over the course of time and looking at your business from a systems perspective is going to be what creates sustainable business growth. So, a lot of our audience works for smaller mid-size manufacturers. So, smaller teams, limited budgets, lots and lots of priorities, can’t get to it all.

How should somebody prioritize and figure out what process or area they should focus on versus other things?

Great question, and one that is shared by many. So, there’s a ton of different methodologies and tools out there. I personally like to deploy a prioritization matrix. We have one available on the website, it’s free, anybody can use it. But what you’re really looking at is to say, you know, what’s the impact of this? Rate that on a scale of, you know, one to five, right? What do I think the impact is going to be with this? How expensive is it? Like, is it free? Is it a million dollars? Rate that on a one to five. And then rate, you know, how hard is it going to be? How challenging is it going to be to actually get this thing implemented? Is it really easy? Going to take us an hour? Is it going to take us a month? Between those three areas, honestly, and you give yourself an average, that will give you a really great starting point in terms of what should I be doing one, two, and three. Because now you’ve looked at what’s the potential impact, what’s it going to cost us, how challenging is it going to be to get on board and actually do this thing. So, that’s where I always start. And again, that, you know, any sort of tool like that, though I would highly recommend, you know, deploying something like that.

One on the supply chain side, where should manufacturers be focusing their time from an operational perspective when it comes to supply chain this year?

I mean, it depends on what you’re challenged with. Always, you know, I like to look internally before I start looking externally. But, you know, that said, coming off of COVID, we’ve obviously had a lot of, you know, kind of overarching supply chain issues, right? So, to me, it depends on where the pain point is. If you’re struggling from a supplier standpoint, you know, that’s where I that I’m gonna go, where the flames are the hottest and the highest first. And then I’m going to start to peel that onion layer back. You know, generally though, you can have the biggest and quickest impact internally. And generally, those internal kind of levers are going to help you externally. Because what you’ll probably find as you start to move internal to external, there are things that are happening that will impact your supply chain. So, it could be communication-related, right? You know, kind of gets back to what you all do. It’s that back and forth communication. It’s the changes, it’s the complexities that are happening because, you know, Dave is ordering something from Sarah, who’s ordering something from Joe, who’s ordering something from… that’s where that supply chain complexity and those communication could just be lapses, right? Not even errors, but just lapses in time start to snowball and compound the issue. So, again, I look for where the fire is burning the hottest in terms of where do I start. But those are some areas, you know, to be mindful of.

I think any time you are looking at something and saying to yourself, ‘I know there’s an issue here, I see symptoms of what’s going on, but I don’t know where to start,’ like, what’s not, and it’s beyond the ‘how do I prioritize this,’ it’s kind of like, to your point earlier, you know, we have all of these different opportunities to take a look at our order-to-cash process cycle time, or inventory management, or our quality system. When you, when you know that you are seeing some inefficiencies in and around, as I say, kind of see all of the symptoms of what’s going on, but you’re not exactly sure how do we dig in, how do we figure out, you know, what’s the root cause of that, and are we, if we implement this, are we actually solving the problem, or are we just, you know, putting another Band-Aid on this thing that’s going to come back to us? You know, that’s, I’ve got a great story about that for a different time, but, you know, a lot of, again, a lot of hard lessons learned. But for me, you know, an independent kind of external look is generally not as expensive as you think, and generally pays for itself many, many times over. So yeah, thank you for discussing operational improvements for the manufacturing process that unlocks sustainable growth with me today. Dave, where would you like people, where would you like to send people to find you if they want to connect or learn more about your business?

Yeah, you can find me on my website. That’s probably the easiest spot, which is just And I’m also pretty active on LinkedIn, so you can find me there @DaveCrysler.

Then I mentioned in the beginning, you have a podcast, remind us again Go and search and download. Yeah, podcast is called ‘Everyday Business Problems,’ and we tap into everyday business problems. So a lot of the conversations that we had today, we talk about on the podcast, also bring on other experts and business owners, business leaders, kind of talk about those typical challenges, the things that people are running into on an any given day basis. If you missed anything, you can check out the show notes. You can find us by typing in ‘What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast’ in Google to have optimal search results. Make sure to add ‘Another Supply Chain Podcast.’ This brings us to the end of another episode of ‘What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast.’ I am your host, Sarah Scudder, and we’ll be back next week.