American Christmas Increases Sales by 400%
American Christmas CEO Fred Schwam knew he needed a little outside advice as he continued development of his business. American Christmas's business growth had outstripped the management structure currently in place. He’d never worked another job in his life, having come to American Christmas straight out of college. American Christmas Decorations Inc. is a Bronx, NY-based designer, manufacturer and installer of holiday displays for department stores, national retailers and large Manhattan office buildings.
American Christmas had a quality product, a blue-chip list of clients (including Radio City Music Hall, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue) and the opportunity for enormous growth, but very little internal operating structure. Without routine business procedures, Schwam was stretched thin and was unable to keep his attention on business growth. ITAC coached Schwam in leadership and management skills and helped him to develop more business.
ITAC helped him develop a budget and engaged in financial planning. Once American Christmas had a budget plan in place, they were able to better understand their business’s position and how they might adjust to take advantage of business opportunities.
“Prior to ITAC, I had never worked with an outside consultant,” stated Fred Schwam, CEO of American Christmas. “My business's experience with ITAC has directly led to nearly 400% growth for my company in the past 5 years.”
Reflections on Rosco, Inc’s Productivity Improvements
Rosco, Inc. is a Queens-based manufacturer of mirrors, visors and visual safety products for buses, coaches, trucks and RV’s. A family-owned business, they have been operating since 1941 and currently employ over 100 people. In 2000, Rosco’s sales growth outstripped the capacity of their current facility, resulting in cramped, inefficient quarters. Once they obtained a variance to increase the size of their existing facility, they decided to construct a 50,000 square-foot addition. After learning about Lean Enterprise techniques at one of ITAC’s Lean 101 seminars, Rosco turned to ITAC for plant layout and process improvement advice.
ITAC staff worked with Rosco’s staff to accomplish two key goals; to train employees to improve manufacturing processes and to design a layout of the new facility. ITAC’s staff worked with Rosco to develop a new plant layout that improved workflow and overall production efficiency. ITAC engaged Rosco staff at all levels in a series of workshops aimed at integrating lean manufacturing techniques throughout the production process. In response to customer demand for consistent standards of product quality, Rosco worked with ITAC to establish an ISO 9001 Quality System, which provides a formal methodology to ensure consistent quality. With ITAC’s help, Rosco has become a more responsive, customer-focused manufacturer.
“ITAC helped us change our entire company culture”, noted Ben Englander, Rosco’s Vice President of Engineering. “Lean enterprise has helped everyone in our firm think about how to do things better and more efficiently. Staff at all levels have embraced the process, and constantly examine everything we do with an eye toward reducing waste and increasing efficiency”.
Spotlight on Productivity Improvement at Nulux
Nulux designs and manufactures architectural lighting for commercial and residential markets; they employ 50 people in their Ridgewood, Queens facility in New York City. Their primary clients are architectural lighting designers; the end users include museums, art galleries, retail establishments and high end residences.
Although Nulux’s innovative standard and customized products are in great demand, the company needed to streamline production and improve efficiency to meet this demand. They turned to ITAC to learn more about best manufacturing practices. ITAC started with a company-wide on-site Lean 101 workshop in the summer of 2003. “The Lean 101 workshop was truly a breakthrough experience”, recounted Bob Friedman of Nulux. “It really opened the eyes of staff from the bottom all the way to top management to the potential for improvement”.
With ITAC’s support, the firm adapted Lean to their most complex product line. The results were astounding; lead times were reduced from 78 days to 1 day, work-in-progress inventory was reduced by 98%, productivity was increased by 200% and the amount of space the firm needed was reduced by 35% (200 sq. ft. to 130 sq. ft.).
In 2006 Nulux was forced to relocate their entire operation. ITAC’s staff laid out the entire move process for Nulux, educating them on site search, lease negotiations, plant layout and relocation logistics. Nulux found space in a nearby Queens neighborhood. Friedman notes: “The plant design we developed with ITAC has proved to be a benefit to productivity and a boost for the spirit.”
In 2007 ITAC helped facilitate management’s change initiative with the initial focus of creating an effective organization. This has included building an organizational infrastructure, hiring of a new manufacturing manager, defining the company mission statement, the creation of an employee handbook, and the formation of a ’Steering Team’ which will meet on a regular basis and provide direction to the company. These initiatives are already showing results in sales growth, productivity and cost controls and are positioning the company for significant growth and competitive position. Friedman states “ITAC has been gently prodding us to look at these issues for some time. We finally felt ready, and ITAC was there with the guidance and services we needed. The organizational improvements we have now made are transformative and challenging.”
Friedman added: “The most critical task for the future is to deal with major changes in our industry due to current energy legislation.” In March 2008, in response to such green trends in the market place and in line with the company’s owner’s personal philosophy, ITAC helped Nulux brainstorm ways to apply green design and marketing strategies to the company’s products and market positioning in order to leverage their sustainability practices and plan ways to further green their products.
Springing Forward with Greater Customer Satisfaction and Increased Sales at Lee Spring
Lee Spring, a manufacturer of springs since 1918 employs approximately 200 individuals in its Brooklyn, NY location. Al Mangels, President of Lee Spring had been hearing about the benefits of Lean Enterprise for some time, and thought that certain aspects of Lean Manufacturing might be beneficial to his firm. He contacted the Industrial and Technology Assistance Corporation to learn how he could use Lean Enterprise techniques to address Lee Spring’s excess inventory.
Like many manufacturers, Lee Spring had difficulties around maintaining appropriate inventory levels. They offer a catalogue of stock products, and are able to produce customized items for clients as well. Mr. Mangels got a taste of the potential of Lean to transform his business into a more efficient and productive firm at ITAC’s introductory Lean 101 seminar. He invited ITAC to bring Lean training to the Lee Spring facility. ITAC worked with him and his employees at all levels to incorporate Lean Enterprise techniques into his operation from top to bottom. Since 2001, Lee Spring has conducted staff trainings in every one of the individual offerings in the Lean Enterprise suite of services, including Value Stream Mapping, Setup Reduction, Cellular Manufacturing, Pull/Kanban and front office Lean. Lee Spring even organized its sales force around the principles of Cellular manufacturing. The firm was so impressed with the ongoing Lean transformation in its Brooklyn facility that it has introduced Lean techniques in each of its other 4 US facilities. In addition to Lean Enterprise trainings, ITAC was able to help the firm achieve ISO certification.
The productivity gains of each Lean activity complemented the achievements of preceding activities, resulting in significant efficiency gains. Lee Spring consolidated the full operation of their 4-floor facility to 2 floors, freeing up 95,000 square feet of space to generate rental revenue. ITAC developed a new plant layout for the firm, based on the lessons learned through ongoing development and refinements in manufacturing cells. Lee Spring was able to double their productivity per square foot without laying off any employees. ITAC’s efforts at Lee Spring helped them solve their excess inventory problems. The benefits of this complete physical reorganization and re-designed production process are still unfolding, but preliminary results include: reduced lead times, increased service levels, improved customer satisfaction and lower costs.
- Greatly reduced excess inventory
- Productivity per square foot doubled
- Lead time cut nearly in half
- Customer satisfaction increased as a result of better product supply
- Lower operating costs
- New revenue stream generated, through rental of 2 floors of plant
“Lean Manufacturing is a wholesale philosophical change,” noted Lee Spring President Al Mangels. “The process is ongoing throughout the operation. Some of the principles are common sense, and some are counterintuitive. Ultimately, Lean Enterprise provides opportunities for a company and its employees to achieve another level beyond traditional manufacturing practices by identifying and solving problems. A firm can move ahead and be a contender in a competitive environment with fewer and fewer opportunities.”
Off to the right start
When John Haller of PortableApps.com completed ITAC’s FastTrac program, he knew he was well on his way to developing his business idea: a community website and platform for computer users to replicate their PC on any Windows-based computer. But Haller also recognized that there was more work to be done to bring his product to market and create a viable business.
ITAC helped Haller finalize his business plan, prepared him to meet with financial backers, and introduced him to a team of professionals — including an intellectual property attorney, a technology PR firm, and potential investors — to launch his product.
PortableApps.com has received widespread coverage in the mainstream media and leading technology publications such as PC Magazine, Information Week, and Wired.
Investing in their own growth
Lucien Harriot saw that competition was increasing in his marketplace, with more firms developing the 3D film and TV animations for which Mechanism Digital was known. Recognizing that he needed to know more about the “science” of business to remain competitive, Harriot registered for ITAC’s FastTrac entrepreneur boot camp course.
When class discussion turned to marketing his firm to outside investors, Harriot was initially skeptical, as he was planning to keep the firm privately held. His viewpoint shifted when ITAC convinced him to view himself as the key investor when gauging the wisdom of company expenditures.
Through FastTrac, Harriot gained an ability to analyze potential business strategies and quantify outcomes, resulting in better targeting and wiser expenditures. He also improved his productivity by more effectively leveraging the expertise of his staff.
Hendrickson Custom Cabinets:
Putting Waste to Work
Hendrickson Custom Cabinets (HCC) designs, manufactures and installs custom cabinetry for high-end residences across New York City. Due to the customized nature of its work, HCC faced large amounts of leftover lumber and wood waste that it wanted to reduce in keeping with its corporate credo: Courtesy, Respect, Generosity.
ITAC conducted a Lean assessment to identify ways in which HCC could reduce waste. Lumber is now repurposed into art materials used by more than 70 City elementary schools and sawdust is sold to the Bronx manufacturer of a compound to clean up oil spills. The company has also adopted greener processes, including a new finishing technique that lowers VOCs by 30%.
With the launch of a new consulting practice, HCC has turned its “green” expertise into a brand-new revenue stream — advising other firms on the use of green building materials.
Laying the foundation for growth
Though Architectural Grille was thriving in its new Brooklyn location, the Giumenta family knew it could improve its processes for manufacturing grilles and vents.
Together with ITAC, the company conducted a series of training and strategic planning sessions to upgrade the firm principals’ general business skills, identify growth opportunities, and steps to increase workforce efficiency.
As a result of these sessions, Architectural Grille is overhauling its production processes and refining its personnel policies, including the development of a new employee manual, to ensure compliance with current federal and state employment regulations.
As Architectural Grille grows, it will promote floor staff to supervisory and sales positions and continue to rely on ITAC to help build the skills of its workforce.
Lucky’s Real Tomatoes:
From Red to Green
Top restaurants and their customers love Lucky’s red ripe tomatoes — harvested in Florida and transported with care to New York City and 20 cities across the country.
This vibrant family-owned business was referred to ITAC through the North Brooklyn Relocation Assistance Program, when it felt limited by its current facility and an inability to expand due to new zoning regulations. Luckyâ€™s soon found that there were numerous ways it could take advantage of ITAC’s expertise. By applying the principles of Lean enterprise, the company was able to improve functions as diverse as order processing, truck parking and product distribution.
ITAC was also able to improve Lucky’s waste handling processes, locating a vendor that recycled tomato waste into organic compost for farmers — an improvement that reduced Luckyâ€™s trash hauling costs by 30%.
With much of its middle management staff promoted from the production floor, upper management at North Brooklyn-based Wonton Foods recognized that these employees needed additional training to become more effective managers.
Wonton turned to ITAC, which created a training program for 22 middle managers from 14 different departments. The program, conducted in English and Chinese, addressed skills such as effective management practices, communication, time management, goal setting and delegation.
As a result, Wonton management reports positive changes among all 14 departments. Uniform policies and procedures were established and enforced, departmental functions were improved, and better interpersonal relations among the staff has led to decreased conflict.
G.A.L. is a 100 year old, 350 employee manufacturer of elevator components; they are located across the street from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. We started working with this company in October, 2006 with a Lean Assessment. The company had been growing fast and was planning to add an additional 90,000 SF to their existing 100,000 SF facility. The ITAC team combined lean training and a new block layout which increased the capacity and reduced the need for the same amount of additional space. As a result of the lean training, the company was able to decrease lead time by more than 25% which in turn reduced inventory and space requirements. Consequently, the company is planning to expand by only 40,000 SF instead of the planned 90,000 SF. Unlike many of our smaller clients, G.A.L. was able to jump start their lean implementation the day after we delivered the first Lean 101 Workshop. They have now mapped key processes and have re-organized several key departments.
Adopting Lean Manufacturing
This fourth-generation Bronx metalworking firm, which produces and repairs silver plate catering pieces for the hospitality industry, needed to improve its work-in-process (WIP) and turnaround times.
Company VP David Haber worked with ITAC to learn more about Lean Manufacturing and implement its techniques on his shop floor. ITAC trained Haber and his staff in Lean principles and reorganized processes to improve efficiency — including cross training the production staff to create a more flexible workforce.
D.W. Haber was able to drastically reduce WIP and significantly improve its lead times. Repairs that previously required six weeks are now turned around in just three.
Thanks to the increased production capacity gained from Lean improvements, the company has shipped record amounts of product in the last few months, with no overtime or additional hires required.
Children’s Progress develops specialized software to assess learning abilities in children. ITAC staff advised them about the Federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program as a possible source of R & D funding. ITAC assisted in the preparation of two SBIR proposals, both of which were awarded funding. ITAC also made introductions which enabled them to commercialize their technology. We are currently working with the firm to raise additional capital.
New York City’s continuing building boom, combined with heightened interest in green building products, represented a significant growth opportunity for DFB Sales in Long Island City. To keep up with demand for its solar shades and durable applied wall surfaces, the company needed to expand its operations and add a number of skilled positions.
ITAC worked with DFB to create the infrastructure needed to support the expansion, including a new organizational chart, job descriptions, and recruiting.
The company’s new employees have all flourished, reports DFB President Harvey Fein, particularly the inside production manager. With his expertise, DFB has implemented a number of cost-saving measures.
DFB’s dedicated workforce is the key to the company’s growth, and its ongoing partnership with ITAC only serves to make DFB stronger.
IceStone durable surfaces are made from 75% recycled glass and concrete, making them a premium environmentally friendly material. The company employs 32 people at the Brooklyn location. Peter Strugatz, co-CEO of IceStone came to ITAC to address workflow issues and product quality.
ITAC staff worked with IceStone to examine their processes and identify opportunities for improvement. ITAC made a number of suggestions, including separating casting operations, re-calibrating equipment, revising their patching process and other changes to improve the quality of the product. ITAC also prepared a revised factory flow layout to demonstrate how they could integrate proposed improvements in their current space. ITAC’s recommendations will be phased in the near future. IceStone has taken advantage of NY State Department of Labor training grants to provide Lean Enterprise training for employees, including a training session translated into Tibetan. Many other Lean Principles are being implemented in the production facility.
According to principals at IceStone, ITAC assistance came during a period of rapid growth. Revenues were increasing and process improvements were underway. ITAC helped them focus their strategic approach and helped ensure the success of their innovations, including providing a model to evaluate impacts of process changes instead of using a “trial-and-error” approach. IceStone recent results include increasing revenues by 250%, increased employment and reducing curing time by 50%.
“ITAC helped us look beyond day-to-day operations and focus on strategies to grow the firm” stated Peter Strugatz, co-CEO of IceStone. “They brought resources to us to help broaden our vision and learn how to tackle problems systematically. They helped us tap into the collective intelligence of our diverse shop floor personnel. Staff contribute not just to improvement of company productivity, but to the creation of the rich culture of the company. With staff from all over the world speaking 7 different languages, creating a company culture is one of the greatest—but most enjoyable—challenges”.
- Architectural Grille
- DFB Sales (window treatments)
- D.W. Haber (silver-plated items)
- G.A.L. (elevator components)
- Icestone (countertops)
- Lee Spring
- Nulux (lighting)
- Rosco (vehicle mirrors)
- American Christmas (holiday displays)