Barista to Fashionista

It’s been a busy few weeks but these two stories came to me that demonstrate how the improvement techniques that Lean Thinking includes may be holding up in these difficult times.

They both relate to the application of Lean and business & customer led improvement in the retail trade – Lean Retail if you like.

  1. Starbucks To Test “Lean” Operations……   – apparently Starbucks are testing lean in some of their stores in the US. So next time you’re in the queue remember someone is trying to work out how they can improve the speed of service, the quality of the product and utilise green practices. What appear to be Starbucks staff seem to have a lot to say about this on the original blog posting, some them even sharing the ideas that have been tested so far; so I’ve posted an excerpt and a link to the comments at the bottom of this post. 
  2. As the lastest retail sales figures for February are released in the UK, a somewhat depressing picture is beginning to emerge – not really surprising when you consider that a lot of the major layoffs/shorter working time (Woolworth’s, Honda, Toyota, M&S, Wedgewood, the banks etc) didn’t start to kick in till January. 

The one ray of hope again appears to be Zara, especially when compared with similar companies in its’ sector, clothing. Two competitors, Next and H&M both posted reduced profits whilst Zara’s remained constant.

The excerpt from the BBC website stated;

“On Thursday, home improvements retailer Kingfisher said retail profit in the UK declined by £24m to £129m as it closed its subsidiary Trade Depot

Next said revenue and profits declined and that it expected sales to be negative for 2009 [revenue fell by 1.7% and profit by 13.9%]

Swedish retailer H&M, which has stores on many UK High Streets, reported a 12.6% fall in quarterly profit, blaming currency swings and lower sales

On Wednesday, the owner of the Zara fashion chain said its profits barely changed during 2008.   [Zara did actually record a 10% rise in sales as well, so they are attracting customers to spend more! – Lean Marketing ]”

You can read the latest performance press release as to why Zara is also upbeat about the rest of 2009.

So how come Zara are so holding up well? does it have anything to do with Zara being the Lean Fashion Leader?

As for the use of lean in Starbucks, well the quote below is from the comments on the blog, by a contributor named “JAVA JANE”  and gives and idea at to the journey they are starting on;

I work at a very large store in the NW – we started implementing Lean procedures last spring. The way it has worked for us:

We ran several “time tests” on daily processes, counting and timing each and EVERY step (making a frappuccino, ringing up and pouring drip coffee, making & storing prep, getting ice, whether the 4th register was necessary, sampling…) in order to weed out unnecessary steps. Also, we tried to rearrange certain stations to make them easier to use, for example, our cold beverage station was home to a couple of items that made more sense to keep at the bean counter or espresso bar as they were used there more often. Another example – we realized every time someone ordered hot tea, we were reaching around the brewing shuttles for the tea after grabbing the cup and then returning to the cup station to fill withhotwater…we just made room for the tea where the cups are. Basically – we stopped saying “It’s always been done that way” and started asking “Can that be done a better way? How?” We timed different methods of deployment, computed averages, came up with “lean” standards, and it’s been a great success! We definitely had some experiments that didn’t work, which is fine! You just have to be willing to change and go through a period of weirdness until it gets figured out. “

There are some additional posts from other contributors including a great one from ORSM, which details the first practices that have been trialled.

So whilst we can’t claim that Lean is the answer to all corporate ills, we do know that one Global retailer; who uses Lean and who is many years into the implementation has been able to maintain profits through this difficult period and another Global retailer has seen enough to give it a go! 

Could it help you?


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