Curt Brannon is a man who loves process.

Brannon is the owner of Inner-Salon Designs Inc. in Omaha, Neb., a company that for nearly two decades has made a name for itself producing custom casework for the hair care and private salon industry. For many, this would be the time to sit back and enjoy leading a profitable business.

But not Brannon. He's now taking his company in a whole new direction one that is completely process-driven and serves the franchise market.

Brannon's vision of process at Inner-Salon is one that is system-wide and includes tracking and quantifying everything from the cabinet builder on the floor to the driver who delivers Inner-Salon's completed product.

The initiative has required a company-wide overhaul. Every employee needs to understand and embrace the concept of process, which Brannon says means accepting change.

Early indications appear to show that Brannon's chutzpah is paying off. In 2003, Inner-Salon's sales were $2.3 million. In 2004, sales were $4 million. In 2005 sales are projected to come in at $6 million and Brannon already has $8 million in committments for 2006. Those figures reflect only the first steps of Inner-Salon's run into the franchise market.

Structure of Inner-Salon

Inner-Salon has 35 employees, but only 13 of those work building cabinets. The staff consists of interior designers, drafting personnel, project managers, engineers, architectural services, customer service and delivery personnel. Inner-Salon offers complete "concept to delivery" service, of which manufacturing is just one component. "There are items that we'll buy and sell through, items that we'll buy partial and add value to and sell through, and items that we'll manufacture here and sell through," Brannon says. "We do our own install. I can deliver my final experience to my client in the best manner possible."

In its design department, Inner-Salon uses Microvellum software for designing as well as AutoCAD. The use of parametrics is an important aspect of Inner-Salon's design work.

Brannon doesn't have any sales or marketing personnel on staff because he believes the business is already there, waiting to be served

Working with franchises

To date, Inner-Salon's franchise work has been very successful, including companies such as Sport Clips, Complete Nutrition, Sola Salon Studios, Beauty First and Hair Color Experts.

Brannon says the company is building a business model that can support a number of different industries. "Our model is not based on the configuration of the cabinet, because we understand mass customization we worked at it for 10 years. We understand how to make a large volume of cabinets in any configuration, because we built our infrastructure around it."

The gospel of process

Being a process-minded person is essential for working at Inner-Salon. "When you're a process person, you're not focused on the product, you're focused on the process," Brannon says.

Brannon likes to occasionally take individual, one-time jobs in order to test Inner-Salon's systems and to give the entire company a learning experience. The results give everyone an opportunity to stretch themselves and forces them to move out of their "comfort zone."

Finding system-oriented employees has not been easy for Brannon, but he believes the wait and work to find them is worth it because of the importance of process to the overall operation of Inner-Salon.

For 10 years Brannon searched for a software system that would accommodate his vision of a process-driven company. Ultimately it was CFO Jim Harding who located the software, a program offered by Made2Manage Systems Inc. Brannon, Harding and the Made2Manage designers have studied Inner-Salon's processes to fully adapt the program to its needs. Inner-Salon employees are taking online classes to learn the program.

In tandem with the Made2Manage program, Inner-Salon has spent a considerable amount of money on its Web site so that clients can see the percentage of completion on their orders and locate information, including PDF downloads of anything specified within a store from an interior design standpoint.

Adding tools

Brannon says Inner-Salon's recent purchase of a Shaw-Almex thermoformer was a logical addition to the company's operations because it is a well-known, standard machine with good features and benefits. Because of the size of the thermoformer, the staff at Inner-Salon cleared a room for its use.

Inner-Salon uses mostly MDF, which is sprayed with adhesive before going into the thermoformer. The thermoformer is primarily used for doors, drawer fronts and applied logo pieces, as these are components that normally don't come in contact with harsh chemicals that can damage the thermoformed surface.

Inner-Salon is just beginning to do some production work with the thermoformer and is still learning the technology as well as the limitations of the machine.

"We're trying to introduce it going backwards, doing some re-engineering on some parts, and showing our clients what we can do with it," Brannon says.

Production

In the shop, MDF panels move on a large curving conveyor belt with several side stations. Depending on the project, material is cut at one end of the shop on either an Routech Record 130 router or a Record 240 twin-table router, and if appropriate, an SCM panel saw. Individual pieces are delivered on racks that Brannon calls bread trucks to a Brandt edgebander.

From the edgebander, material continues on the conveyor belt in one of several different directions, depending on what the piece needs. Completed pieces are picked up by warehouse personnel who log the pieces in the computer as finished and then move them to the appropriate place in the warehouse. Items that are going to be thermoformed are delivered directly to the Shaw-Almex thermoformer from the router.

With the addition of the Made2Manage software and the new focus on process, Brannon is enthusiastic about Inner-Salon's future, and expects to grow dramatically.

"This software is going to help us get there," he says. "This is the first opportunity to have a full enterprise system that's all built on the proper way to do process. When you can automate at that level, it's freaky what you can do. I can't wait."

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