Why Do Lean At All?

For an owner or manager of a gases and welding distributorship who faces pricing pressure, workforce turnover, quality problems and profitability issues, you have very compelling reasons to use Lean thinking in your business. You must connect Lean transformation to both the long-term and immediate needs of your business, especially during these troubling economic times.

Competitive pressures have been increasing for some time and are likely to continue. What might have once been a regional business is now subject to large corporate competition. This means there is pricing pressure, along with delivery and quality pressure, that is beyond what you have seen historically.

And things will only get tougher. Price is not always tied to costs, but your ability to reduce price, if required, and remain profitable is tied to your ability to reduce costs and continually drive waste out of your business processes.

Today, more than ever before, consolidation is a growing concern in the welding distribution business. The competitive performance and skill base of your organization will allow you to control your own destiny—to stand alone or buy and improve someone else. If you haven’t grown your organization’s skill base, you will not be in a position to compete.

Another good reason to engage in Lean efforts is what it does for your people, not just what it does for your performance. A knowledgeable workforce is critical. Developing a culture that engages the entire workforce and drives continuous improvement will help you recruit and retain the best employees. If this seems obvious, then why don’t more companies incorporate Lean into their businesses? Let’s explore some of the myths that prevent companies from exploring Lean’s opportunities.

Myth: Lean is really about Japanese culture and only works in Japan.

Fact: Being a Japanese company doesn’t give anyone some mystical advantage. In fact, some of the most efficient plants using Lean are in the United States, i.e., Harley Davidson, the U.S. Navy, Intel and Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant. Today, more than one million companies worldwide use this business model.

Myth: Many companies associate “Lean” with “less people and less inventory.”

Fact: This is not all that Lean is. When Lean transformation is done well, you will have fewer people touching the product to get it out the door, your costs will be lower, and you can capture more market share—thus allowing you to create more jobs. There are few companies doing everything that needs to be done for the long term outside the basic production process. Lean makes processes work better by encouraging training and technical skill development, along with getting production people involved in quality problems on a daily basis.

Myth: Lean is just for large companies.

Fact: Lean is about the development of people systems, a shared way of thinking and shared vision by all employees. It aligns problem-solving and improvement activities. Under these conditions, you can see that Lean is applicable to hospitals, banks, utilities or gases and welding distributors.

Your Lean journey will change what is done on the front line in a dramatically positive way. It is a journey that starts strong and never ends. The only real question is how to get started and build in a way to learn from what you do.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
GAWDA’s Lean Operations Consultant is TAP Resources, headquartered in Orefield, Pennsylvania. You can reach Paul Matlock or Al Coulter at 888-803-3918 or by e-mail at matlocpe@earthlink.net and acoulter@earthlink.net