|The softly curving lines of this Bailey Chest draw attention in this living room. The chest is designed by Thomas OâBrien for Hickory Chair.|
Hickory Chairâs implementation of a new management philosophy has enabled the 95-year-old, high-end residential furniture manufacturer to remain competitive in the face of increasing global competition.
Three Wood Working Tips
1. Patterned after Toyotaâs management system, Hickory Chairâs EDGE system â Employees Dedicated to Growth and Excellence â encourages workers to take an active role in their jobs, including developing quality improvement and time-saving methods.
2. Hickory Chair has revamped its production process. Instead of large production runs of a limited number of SKUs, the company processes smaller runs of a variety of styles. This has significantly reduced inventory at the plant.
3. With improvements made in manufacturing, turnaround time has been reduced by two-thirds on casegoods, and by half for upholstered items.
Hickory Chair, by contrast, has added 50 employees in the last year, bringing its workforce to approximately 525. Sales, too, are on an upward climb, back toward their pre-9/11 level, Reardon says. (A Furniture Brands company, Hickory Chair does not release its sales figures).
Delivery Times Cut
The company's success can be directly attributed to the flexibility, variety and quick delivery Hickory Chair has been able to achieve through its implementation of the EDGE system. â[These] are tremendous competitive weapons,â Reardon says.
For example, the company has been able to drastically reduce its turnaround times. Casegoods, which used to take up to 22 weeks, now ship in four to six weeks. The turnaround time on upholstered items has gone from six to eight weeks down to two to three weeks.
Perhaps one of the most productive things the company has done, Reardon says, was to switch from large production runs of a limited number of SKUs to small runs of a variety of styles and items. âWhy should Hickory Chair make 50 of something,â he asks, âwhen we really only needed 10?â
Now, he says, âin a given day, we may work on 10 different styles.â Inventory, a major consumer of capital, has been cut 70 percent, Reardon adds.
Reducing inventory left so much free space in the former casegoods and upholstery plants that the two were consolidated into one facility approximately 2-1/2 years ago. A bonus, Reardon says, is that employees in both areas see each other on breaks and share ideas about more effective ways for work.
The combination of idea sharing and reduced production runs also has led to improvements in quality control.
Traditional wood working business thinking says large runs soften the impact of mistakes, and there is some truth to that, Reardon acknowledges. For example, if you cut 50 of something, and ruin the first two, that may not be so bad, he says. However, if you cut 10 and ruin two, âthat's 20 percent,â he says.
âThe real question,â Reardon adds, âwas âwhy are we damaging two?'â Through idea sharing and the EDGE system, employees have been able to find alternative methods of dealing with culls, such as using scrap lumber for the first two.
âIt's employees who think of things like that,â he adds.
One Idea Leads to Another
For other ways in which to get an âedgeâ over competitors, employees began to regularly ask themselves, âWhat is it we could do so that our flexibility could add value to the customer?â Reardon says.
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