In 1991, when Reebok International Ltd. wanted to use Jeff Bleecker's bicycle air pumps to sell with a new inflatable shoe it was releasing, the Tucson, Arizona, entrepreneur had a big problem--the shoe giant wanted a million units just to start.
"The order was 50 times what we were used to," recalls Bleecker, whose then-2-year-old company, Innovations In Cycling Inc., made about 200 pumps a week with just a handful of employees. Facing the immediate need to hire many more workers and unsure what would happen when the Reebok contract ran out, Bleecker turned to temporary employees. Before long, he had 120 temps turning out up to 17,000 units a day in Innovations' expanded plant. When the contract ended, he shed the extra employees without costly severance or other expenses.
Management experts have a name for the practice of using temporary or contingent workers to easily expand a work force to meet changing business conditions. They call it "accordion management," and it's a powerful tool for squeezing the most out of seasonal, infrequent or unpredictable sales environments. Today, Bleecker presides over two healthy companies, including a new subcontract manufacturer, with 23 permanent employees and a temporary work force that fluctuates wildly. For his success, Bleecker credits good luck and a flexible work force. Says Bleecker, "We would never have been able to do this on our own."