The aim of this case study is to show how a market leader in manufacturing and retail has taken advantage of external consultancy support service to improve its position as a market leader.

The Organisation

The market leader designs, manufactures and sells hand-crafted kitchen and bedroom furniture. Its products are widely regarded as the embodiment of quality. Owner-managed they employ over one hundred people and sell direct to the public in showrooms, and through retailers and agents worldwide.
Their Chairman says, “From the very beginnings of our business in the early 1980’s we have taken the view that a forward-thinking, responsible attitude to strategic planning is central to our business. This means applying effective action plans for change across all operational areas.”

The Challenges

The business is labour-intensive in a retail industry which is notoriously affected by economic peaks and troughs. These are difficult to predict or control, and the Directors are acutely concerned to protect market share and profitability under all economic conditions.
“The gradual building of a skilled workforce is the cornerstone of our business,” said the Chairman. He approved a skills audit of all personnel and key managers up to Director level. The purpose of this skills audit was to identify skills needs for those involved in business growth activities to ensure that the company could maintain its market leadership.
Due to the need for absolute impartiality for the skills audit, they recruited an external consultant, Clive Bonny, on the basis of his experience as a hands-on business manager in manufacturing and retail, and his certified status as a qualified management consultant.

The Implementation

The first steps were one-to-one reviews between managers and the consultant identifying the strengths and areas for improvement of each manager. This assessment re-aligned jobholders priorities with company goals so they could work more effectively as a single team, and allowed the managers to produce their own personal development plans to improve key results.
A key focus was improving relationship management internally between managers and staff and externally between salespersons and clients. As the additional development needs were identified, a number of complementary projects were set up to improve output. These included:

* Ambitious targets and plans for Sales, Marketing and Customer Service.
* Tailored workshops onsite to avoid costs of absence.
* Improvements to appraisal and recruitment systems to attract and retain talent.
* Coaching for managers who were underperforming to get them back on track.
* Work-flow analysis for factory personnel to reduce goods processing time and cost.
* Improving the distributor training so outlets sold more at higher margins.

These were supported by the same consultant so that continuity was maintained. The Managing Director made an investment of only 24 consulting days spread over a twelve month period to enable change to take place without disruption to busy schedules, and with sufficient time to evaluate progress, and consolidate change.

The Outcomes

Clive Bonny facilitated a number of business improvement processes: A new Marketing plan was produced, providing a common focus for people and more effective tool for the Directors to measure marketing progress. The roles of Customer Service and Distributor Sales were clarified with specific deliverables, and the consultant also helped them to draft department plans to support the main business plan.
Employees participated in workshops building their management skills. These stimulated team-working and motivation with inter-active learning and involved the sharing of Success Stories. The programmes were improved in both design and delivery as they rolled out to the extent that participants stated them to be the best in the industry.
Factory managers launched a work-flow analysis programme, which resolved bottlenecks in the manufacturing, storage and order processing areas. The line managers were involved in developing a more effective “360 degree” appraisal system so that staff could appraise themselves and manage their own performance more effectively.
The consultant also advised a few key senior individuals, resulting in their behaviour change perceived positively by the Managing Director and staff.
The Managing Director commented, “The Stakeholders in our business include not just Directors but also our staff, suppliers, customers and our community. Actions to develop our plans and our people demonstrate our intent and motivations to build our business with a sound strategy”.
Last year their profits grew by 20%.