I don’t often think about travel as being a noteworthy part of my career; it’s just something I’ve always done. From my first job working for a woodworking magazine, I’ve spent the last 17 years traveling around the country — occasionally internationally, too — to sit down with my story subjects and learn about what they do.
Admittedly, my career has given me some tremendous opportunities. I’ve seen baseball games in more than a dozen stadiums and spent way too much money in some truly excellent record stores. When I’ve been on the clock, I’ve toured a lamb farm in California, played with baby quail in South Carolina, and for this cover story on D’Artagnan, enjoyed a luncheon spread that was beyond compare. I’ve walked through brand new, state-of-the-art facilities and 100-year-old buildings that had been retrofitted and jerry-rigged to make do. I’ve come to appreciate the craftsmanship apparent in the smallest of production rooms, and I’ve been amazed by the massive plants that can process thousands of chicken.
As tough as it is to get away from busy schedules and family commitments, you should probably be traveling more too. Walking through someone else’s plant and seeing how they are solving their issues could give you some ideas to improve your own plant. It can be quite easy to be locked in to your company’s way of doing things, especially if it’s a system that’s been done for years. It often takes seeing a new system in operation to jolt you out of a rut.
If you’re a sausage maker, you shouldn’t just be interested in sausage companies, either. Visiting a poultry processor or a beef slaughterhouse can be beneficial as well. Even if the process isn’t the same as yours, there might be something there — the anti-bacterial systems, the signage in the plant, the way that employees interact with management — that you can utilize.
If you have processor friends in your neck of the woods, then connect with them and ask for a tour. Better yet, attend a state or national convention, meet up with a completely new contact, and start a relationship. Be an active member in a state or national association and befriend the other members, and respond positively when you are approached as well. Certainly, there may be some proprietary parts to a facility that have to remain off limits, but I’ve always been impressed at the ways that companies are willing to offer advice and share with others. There is room in this industry for both individual success and cooperation.