Fitting In

Run Of The Mill: An Offsite Manufacturing Facility

Kelly Lester is glad that her employees don't show up every morning in her Tarzana, California, homebased office. While her six workers report to a factory 10 minutes away, Lester enjoys performing administrative duties in a peaceful home office. "I love the flexibility that this approach allows me," says Lester, whose company, Switchplates by Art Plates, creates decorative switchplates, generating annual sales of $500,000. "I could set up shop in the factory, but this way I also get to be home with my three children. Even though I'm completely responsible for the company, I also kind of feel like a stay-at-home mom. The factory keeps going while I'm away."

Lester answers customer service calls from her home office and is in contact with the factory throughout the day. She also visits the factory daily. "I think this approach has worked so well for me because I have a great forewoman who can run the factory as well as I can," she says. "I do, however, give my workers some leeway to do things their own way. Owners who aren't on site have to give up some control of how things are done. Fortunately, if the employees make a mistake, the materials aren't expensive and the product isn't something time-sensitive. People can wait a little while for switchplates."

Over the years, Lester has found that despite her absence from the factory, employees work very hard. "I've never gone in and found anyone not working. The orders always get completed and shipped," she says. "I trust the employees and let them create their own schedules, which they really appreciate. There have only been a couple of occasions when an employee took advantage of the situation, but other employees told me about it."

When a homebased company is running nicely and there is good management, an off-site factory or shop situation can work very well, says Lewis of the NAHBB. "When they get away from the glare of the main office or shop, business owners can be very productive," he says.

Is working at home with a shop or factory down the street for you? Answers these questions and find out:

  • Do you have or can you find an employee who can virtually take your place? Are you good at training people to run things while you're working off-site?
  • Are you comfortable with someone doing the job differently than you would?
  • Can you trust employees to work while you're not there?
  • Do you have a product or service that people can wait for? If your product is needed quickly and workers are out, you'll need to drop everything at the home office and go in to the off-site facility.
  • Are you able to safely give out your key to the factory or shop to an employee or employees? Or are the items highly valuable and at risk of theft?
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