Magazine article Management Today

MT AWARDS FOR MANUFACTURING: Winner Best Engineering Plant; the Renaissance South Yorkshire Award - Stannah Stairlifts, Manufacturing Plant of the Year

Magazine article Management Today

MT AWARDS FOR MANUFACTURING: Winner Best Engineering Plant; the Renaissance South Yorkshire Award - Stannah Stairlifts, Manufacturing Plant of the Year

Article excerpt

Products: Stairlifts for private domestic use Turnover or equivalent: pounds 44 million Employees: 329 Highlights: Continuous improvement, customer service, logistics, quality, labour efficiency 

Oh, yes, and that you can't compete with the Far East from a high-cost base like the UK.

Stannah is a home-grown story in the best possible way. The company was founded in the 1960s by the entrepreneurial family that still owns it.

(Other companies in the group make lifts and distribute the products.) Partly through Stannah's pioneering efforts, the UK is the world's largest stairlift market, and the company prospered quietly until the going got bumpy in the 1990s. At that point a period of rapid demand-led expansion was followed by stalling volumes and declining profits as an unfavourable exchange rate pushed up export prices and foreign competitors took advantage of a weakening euro to undercut them.

'We were very paternalistic, and part of that was shielding people from the bad news,' concedes managing director David Walton. The crux came in 1999, when the company was faced with what has come to be known as 'The Graph' - a grim-looking return on sales chart that finally destroyed the illusion that life could continue as before. Stannah had no choice but to address fundamental issues of quality, cost and product and people development, which had been disguised by the sellers' market of the early 1990s.

Since then Stannah has worked hard to overhaul every aspect of the business.

As ever, it starts with the customer. As marketing director Peter Gilbert points out, stairlifts are not an aspirational product: no-one buys one until they have to - at which point they want it next day. They also require it to work faultlessly out of the box and to keep on working. Safety and reliability are paramount.

On the other hand, Stannah manufactures only in the UK (it has a second site at Blaydon, Newcastle), and every stairlift is made to measure. Meeting this demanding customer need requires sensitive marketing, accurate design and manufacture, and brilliant logistics, including installation carried out by distributors. Working through both products and processes, Stannah has reorganised itself into manufacturing cells and teams, improved standard operating procedures, overhauled the supply chain so that many of the most important components are vendor-managed and delivered direct to lineside kanbans, and redesigned the product. …

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