Strategies for small business success: A case study
Strategies for small business success:
A case study
It’s not every company that can count both the cowboy-friendly Calgary Stampede and the Westin Bear Mountain luxury golf resort as clients. Yet that kind of versatility is precisely what has enabled Calgary’s Ingrained Style Furniture Co. to grow from a fledgling mom-and-pop shop into a highly productive business that manufactures custom, solid wood furniture for the residential, corporate, and hospitality industries.
Founded in 1987, Ingrained Style Furniture began as a family-operated business and then incorporated in 1996 as The Pine Shop, catering primarily to the residential market.
Today, Ingrained Style Furniture boasts four employees, five furniture lines, and a client roster that includes a private equity group, a back country lodge, a realty investment firm, luxury resorts, as well as residential homeowners.
But achieving such impressive growth has meant adapting to challenging times. After all, today’s fluctuating economy has been tough on many small business owners. A tight labour market, stringent credit regulations, global competition, and high manufacturing costs have prompted many struggling businesses to tighten their bootstraps — or simply close their doors. Yet throughout these difficult times, Ingrained Style Furniture has not only stayed afloat, but has flourished.
Such success is thanks in large part to a well-written 500-word essay, according to Ingrained Style Furniture’s co-owners, husband-and-wife team Mike and Alisen Dopf.
Last summer, Ingrained Style Furniture was rewarded $20,000 as the national grand prize winner in Scotiabank’s “Get Growing Challenge.” The contest was offered to small business owners across the country, who submitted a written essay or a videotaped narrative about how a $20,000 financial incentive would help them grow their business.
Making positive workflow changes
Leveraging its winnings, Ingrained Style Furniture has been able to make a series of changes that have greatly contributed to the company’s ongoing success and future plans.
For starters, Ingrained Style Furniture shifted its focus from bolstering its retail presence to improving its manufacturing processes. Based on Lean Manufacturing principles, the company’s machines have been physically reorganized to better reflect the chronological order in which items are made. In addition to shuffling workstations, the company introduced material handling systems such as mobile carts and conveyor belts so that materials are routed swiftly through the production cycle rather than left sitting for hours on end.
By improving the flow of operations, Mike says that Ingrained Style Furniture has been able to increase production by a whopping 250 percent. “With Lean Manufacturing, you can have the exact same size workforce while doubling or tripling your production,” he says. “So instead of growing our business by simply hiring more people, we’ve simply adopted much more efficient manufacturing processes.”
This boon in efficiency has not only enabled the company to make better use of its manpower but it has also helped Ingrained Style Furniture tap into lucrative commercial markets.
“Because we are now able to move production through much more quickly, we’ve been able to reduce our backlog of work by two to three months,” says Mike. “Long wait times simply don’t fly in the commercial market so improved productivity levels have allowed us to land contracts we could never get before.”
The power of technology
Another practical use of Ingrained Style Furniture’s “Get Growing Challenge” winnings was an investment in software. The company recently deployed an optimization program that enables craftspeople to build a particular piece of furniture virtually — in order to determine how much material is required to complete the project. By creating a computerized facsimile of each item, Mike says the company has been able to reduce the amount of waste it produces from 25 percent to a mere two percent.
The purchase of cost accounting software has also helped Ingrained Style Furniture thrive in tough times. The program automatically tracks key business indicators such as the costs, hours, and productivity levels associated with a particular project or manufacturing activity.
For example, the software can measure how many hours it took an employee to design and create a solid maple round coffee table. Armed with this information, Ingrained Style Furniture can then determine the true cost of manufacturing this item. In fact, since deploying the software, the company has been able to identify projects that have failed to yield profits and refocus its attention on more lucrative undertakings.
By eliminating wasteful processing steps, building efficient workstations, and deploying software programs using its Scotiabank “Get Growing Challenge” contest winnings, Ingrained Style Furniture has been able to produce high-quality products with half the effort, space, and inventory compared to mass production.
But the company’s work doesn’t end there. The Dopfs now have their eyes set on expansion. Future plans include creating satellite offices in major city centres across Canada that will operate under the same manufacturing principles. That’s because Ingrained Style Furniture is one successful wood furniture manufacturer destined to grow…naturally.