One of the first concepts that pops up when learning about lean is single piece flow. This is a great concept and should be considered when it is appropriate. Cooking my french fries might not be the time to use single piece flow, but downloading songs may be.
My wife runs a small business of her own. She sells products online through her website and Etsy as well as events in our local area. Selling online and brick-n-mortar poses problems from time to time. One issue is wanting to provide a wide range of scents for customers, but not having large amounts of inventory on-hand because of the batch process of making the soaps in loaves.
After a year and a half, we think we find a solution to this issue. Most of her requests for custom scents come through her online sales. Typically, she has the fragrance available but can’t justify making 8 bars in a batch because the other 7 may sit for a year or longer. She has found a mold that works very well and is the size she needs that allows her to make one soap at a time. My wife can now fulfill the requests of her customers and offer more fragrances to her line in her online shop without the expense of carrying a year’s worth of finished product.
What about the live events to sell the inventory?
Good question. The events are always in the Sept – Dec time frame. So, if a customer orders a special scent in January, the rest of the finished goods would sit until September at the earliest. She could have used the raw materials for other products. The soaps that are high volume sellers and do well at the live events can be made in batches right before the event. Any finished product that is leftover after the event season can be sold online.
It is a good mix of using single piece flow and batch processing when it best fits the situation. It is about understanding your business needs and trying to meet those needs. Not forcing everything to one solution whether if fits or not.
What makes sense for your business?
There are many small start-up companies out there that create quality products and are trying to survive and flourish. Some are making new and innovative products while others are trying to fill a need that they see in the marketplace. The former describes my wife’s small business Crimson Hill Soaps and Scents.
My wife started the company because our kids and I are very sensitive to the detergents and chemicals that are in mass produced soap sold in stores. Following the suggestion of a fellow soap maker, we tried all-natural soap and were amazed at how quickly it helped our skin and we were hooked. After months of research and meeting many people, especially children, who were dealing with similar sensitive skin issues, my wife knew she had found a niche in the market that was untapped.
After months of trial and error and refining recipes, Crimson Hill Soaps & Scents was born. My wife has a complete line of natural adult soaps as well as soaps just for kids. My wife is very entrepreneurial, so she created her own website and online store and also started promoting online. She attracted local customers by attending handmade craft shows on the weekends. The soap business grew and, before she knew it, the soap was selling consistently and most importantly, she was passionate about what she was making and selling.
Isn’t this how all companies start off? A need, a passion, and a ton of hard work. From there some businesses stay small while others grow into giant companies like Apple or Microsoft. For instance, one of the suppliers my wife buys her materials from started with one woman making soap in her home to gain extra income to help support her disabled child. Her vision has grown into a multi-million dollar corporation that still has the best interest of the small businesses at heart.
There are people making incredible products that are affordable and very high quality. These are two concepts we talk about from a lean perspective. Managing cash flow is another metric we use in lean but it also applies to the small business owner too. Getting cash into their hands as quick as possible and not tied up in inventory is not easy for the small business owner, as it takes time to understand the marketplace and product demand. Now that we know the amount of effort that goes into running a successful small business, my wife and I find ourselves supporting small businesses whenever possible by buying unique items as gifts or for ourselves.
With the holiday gift-giving season quickly approaching, I encourage you to shop online at Etsy and ArtFire. These are great websites that allow small businesses to sell their handmade products to the world with ease. These websites started because of the vision, creativity and need of small business entrepreneurs. Who knows….one of these people could become the next Warren Buffet.