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Small Businesses Growing in Wisconsin which is an online magazine focusing on business in Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin had a great article about small businesses that are growing during the economic downturn.

The overall article is good and highlights several companies.  The first company highlighted was Bradley Corp. which makes commercial bathroom fixtures and equipment.  The article mentions the expansion to a new facility with a lean design.  In fact, that is the only mention of lean in the three page article.

What I liked was the approach and and strategy the company took to growth and planning.  Brian Mullet is the president of Bradley Corp.

“As a company, one of our foundations is we don’t look to make changes on a quarterly basis, we look more towards a long-term vision,” Mullett said. “There’s no better time than now, than today, to build a new building.”

In an example of Bradley’s forward-looking investment plan, the company purchased the 32-acre property for its new lean manufacturing plant in 1997, knowing it would allow for flexible use in future expansions.

More from the article…

The key to Bradley’s success, Mullett said, is a family focus on planning far ahead for growth. There are always five-year, three-year and current year plans in place.

“I’m the fifth generation here in the business, so I think that’s been distilled into our family,” he said. “It allows us to plan and be more effective in our business.”

This is more evidence of how thinking long-term has helped a company grow even during uneasy times instead of changing directions several times because of short-term thinking.  It sounds like they may not be a publicly held company which can make it easier sometimes, but it sounds like the family values planning long-term.  The family bought land in the 1990s and held onto it for over a decade waiting for the right time to build on it.  It would have been way to easy to think short-term and build immediately on the land so they were paying for two pieces of property or sell it to get more cash during hard economic times.

I can’t say if they are a lean company or not, but thinking long-term is a good quality to have to build a foundation of lean thinking.  Small businesses are going to be where more jobs come are going to come from to help with the employment rate.  I hope more of them are thinking long-term.

I don’t know what is in the cheese in Wisconsin but I hope it spreads to other states and if it has how do we advertise it more.

Adding Inventory…A Good Thing?

For as long as I can remember, I have been working to reduce inventory.  My experiences have always been with companies that employee a few hundred people or more and have revenue of at least $100 million a year.

Now I am working with a company of two people and revenue of under $10,000.  It is the very small company that my wife has started out of our home.  Last year was year 1 and it went pretty well.  Well enough that this year we decided to take a few more calculated risks in order to grow the business and reach more customers in the area.

Because my wife is the marketer, salesperson, developer, manufacturer and everything else ‘er things have to be run a little differently.  We have kept the manufacturing batches rather small so far.  One batch of 8 bars of soap per run.  With more risks we have to add inventory.

One risk we have taken is adding our product to local store.  We own the product until it is sold at the store.  This almost doubled our inventory since we have to have inventory ready for internet orders and the events we do around the area.

Another lesson we learned last year was 90% of the events we participated in are from Sept. – mid-Dec.  It was very hard last year to make only the soap sold in the 5 days or so between events.  This year we are going to participate in bigger events, plus some of the same events from last year.  As we get more and more repeat customers, the making just-in-time is going to be harder and harder.  So this year we will building inventory of our main products ahead of time.

While we will be adding more inventory earlier, we believe this is the right thing to do this year.  We can’t afford to hire someone to work for us and trying to raise two kids while running a business is hard enough to do without pulling all-nighters to make product.

We know it will tie up cash for a little longer but we are willing to take that risk this year.  What are your thoughts?

Small Buisnesses Are The Backbone To Our Country

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.