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Kevin Kelly turns process to profit

Awnings & Canopies, Feature, Management, Perspective | January 1, 2013 | By:

Kevin Kelly increases productivity by implementing forecasting, planning and process strategies.

“Once we started opening our eyes to process, we were really able to take a big leap forward in productivity,” says Kevin Kelly, MFC, IFM, CPP, president of Globe Canvas Products Co., Yeadon, Pa. “Today we’re able to build more product in fewer hours. The purpose of improving process is not to reduce the number of employees; the purpose is to improve flexibility so we can take advantage of orders we would not have been able to bid on before—and grow.”

In 1984 Kelly graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business with a degree in economics, in addition to studying finance, accounting, engineering, science and math. At the time he was debating whether or not to work at Globe—the wholesale manufacturer of awnings, outdoor athletic pads and tents—started by his grandfather, IFAI Honored Life Member Jack Loman, in 1970. “My grandfather was holding onto the company until I got out of college,” Kelly says. “If I hadn’t decided to come on board he was going to sell it. I figured if I came into the company—like I did—at age 21 and very green, and messed it up, I had plenty of years left to salvage a career! Regardless, I would gain some valuable experience.”

Before Kelly applied what he had learned about what was then called econometrics (known now as forecasting or modeling of manufacturing operations), he resolved to learn as much as possible about awning manufacturing. Having already worked six summers in various production floor positions, he continued to learn on the job from Loman as well as by attending educational seminars at IFAI Expos, eventually earning three professional certifications: MFC (Master Fabric Craftsman), IFM (Industrial Fabrics Manager) and CPP (Certified Project Planner).

Kelly points out two specific strategies that have been significant in helping grow the business: shifting sales efforts based on strength analysis and implementing lean manufacturing techniques.

Strengths analysis

“In the early ’90s we got a handle on managing a lot of our data in an electronic format, which offered us the opportunity to look at a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios that we hadn’t been able to before that,” Kelly says. “We started identifying how much administrative time and sales support time was being spent on each account and related that data to the corresponding revenue and profitability, and saw the classic 80/20 analysis staring us in the face. We were spending 80 percent of our time bringing in 20 percent of the profit—and 20 percent of our time bringing in 80 percent of the profit. That’s when we started to ask ourselves what would happen if we increased our efforts in what is bringing us the most business and grew it to be even more.”

The way Kelly expands existing revenue streams is by helping his clients grow their businesses. “When we develop a relationship with a client that gets close enough, we offer to help them with inventory planning and sales forecasting. That’s when I draw on some of those analytical tools I learned years ago,” Kelly says. “By helping existing customers realize their growth potential, we help them grow. And in turn, we grow too.”

Lean and swift

Pursuing lean manufacturing is an ongoing effort for Kelly and the Globe team, one that started in earnest about the time of Y2K. “We were sort of stagnant in terms of our quality improvement and on-time delivery percentage,” Kelly says. “And as we were looking for ways to improve, our sewing supervisor mentioned that she thought we could be producing at least 50 percent more if we were better organized. Those two observations caused us to look more seriously at process improvement.” Up until that time, Kelly says, they had looked mostly at traditional plant layout issues such as where to put equipment, and not at the processes themselves.

Cross training is one aspect of Globe’s lean manufacturing strategies, and for Kelly and his staff that means cross training at work on a daily basis as opposed to simply being cross trained to take the place of an absent co-worker. “We’re not building multimillion dollar contracts here; we’re a small business,” he says. “At some point we may need someone to be running the automated cutter and later that same day, the fabric welder.”

Improved processes for customer sensitivity and defect resolution are also part of Globe’s lean manufacturing strategies. “We try to identify situations in our staff’s lives that might reflect what our customer is experiencing when something doesn’t go as planned,” Kelly says. “For instance, if a client is installing our awnings 40 miles away from their home base and a mistake on our part means they can’t complete installation, we might point out to our staff that it is similar to returning home from shopping an hour away only to find that the item you purchased did not get put in your bag. Thinking about the problem in that way changes how our staff approaches the solution.”

Employee engagement

For defect resolution Kelly has increased employee engagement in the tracking process. Employees are trained to identify defects, document them and work with three or four other employees to find possible causes and solutions. “We don’t identify on our tracking documents who might have been involved in the cause of the error, but we do identify who solved the problem,” Kelly says. “Engaging employees in this process has made big improvements in small ways. Most of what we discover is very solvable in a short period of time, and often at virtually no expense moving forward. That means savings for us and, in turn, our customers.”

Once the defect reports have been reviewed and processes improved, the reports are posted on top of project photos on a board located in the middle of the production floor. “The idea is that if you want to see the photos you have to work through the defects,” Kelly says. “When we first introduced this ‘defect action’ process we spent quite a bit of time overcoming the inherent negative connotation of the word defect. For our purposes we view a defect as merely an unexpected outcome.”

Whether it’s working with clients, manufacturing product or office administration, Kelly works to streamline the process to be the most effective, pointing out that there is always room for improvement. “You have to be confident enough to believe what the process is trying to achieve,” he says. “It used to be that a top-down management strategy worked. That’s not the way it is today.”

Sigrid Tornquist is a freelance author and editor based in St. Paul, Minn. She is also the associate editor of InTents magazine, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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