Lean thinking for business isn’t simply an idea for companies operating in the technology sector. A lean business approach can also apply to an old fashioned, brick and mortar-style company.
Winster, a Midlands-based supplier of industrial hose for businesses across the UK, is one of them.
When Managing Director Val Gardner took on the mantle of leadership at Winster a few years ago, she decided the spit and sawdust black country company needed more of a modern, smart approach to doing business.
Originally set up 70 years ago to supply hose for deep shaft mining, since the demise of the mining industry Winster has diversified and now supplies hose to a range of sectors, from the agriculture, fluid power and marine industries, to engineering, pump and plant, cleaning and drainage.
Nevertheless, despite this successful diversification, Winster had always grown organically – and been good at it. A few years ago, however, Val decided to explore ‘lean’ business thinking or ‘lean thinking’ as it’s more commonly known.
“We’re an old fashioned black country business; it’s great to have a family business, nearly 70 years old, that has remained in the family,” she said. “I feel privileged to take over the batten for the family. The business’s growth was traditionally very consistent, expanding over time from three people to 11.
“When I started I went to best practice events and learned about business improvements the hard way, what was right and wrong.
“Above all, I learned that to compete and attain business success we needed to be ‘lean’. To get our feet under the table, I brought ‘lean’ experts onsite and we visited them offsite.”
‘Lean thinking’ is based on the Japanese kaizen philosophy, which means ‘change for better’. Kaizen focusses on improving all aspects of life – personal and professional. When applied to manufacturing, the task is to eliminate waste in all areas of an organisation by standardising processes. “It has to be top down,” Val said. “But everyone has to be involved to move it forward. You can’t do it without the team.”
For Val taking a ‘lean thinking’ approach is to fundamentally improve systems in the design, manufacturing, sales, and distribution of products. This leads to a transformation in customer care and the quality of service. This also improves working conditions and incentives employees to think ‘lean’, empowering them to deliver an efficient, quality service – and enjoy their jobs even more.
“Along with improving quality and customer service, all the staff have joined the ‘lean’ approach to business,” Val said. “They’ve really adapted well, taking the lean approach to everything. It changes things in a good way. We need to all see change as a positive and embrace it.”
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