My first stop this week was excellent! I spent a day at Hadley in Grandville, MI. Why Hadley? Hadley is a mid-size manufacturer of truck components for semi-trucks and transit vehicles with 85 employees.Also, my college roommate is the Director of Sales, so it was easy for me to get an in-depth look. Their mirrors can be seen on San Francisco Muni buses and their air horns on thousands of semi-trucks driving down any freeway in the U.S. So next time you're driving and you motion for a trucker to blow his air horn, know it's probably an air horn from Hadley you hear.
First, Brian Kujala (Sales Director) gave me an overview of the six phase AP/QP process they follow when creating a new product, starting with the idea of the product, all the way through the learning cycle. Next, we took a tour of the facility where I saw how they kept their records for SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) compliance, their product development area, their receiving docks where their FIFO (First In First Out) process begins, and the actual manufacturing area where the focus is on TACT time and quality. After going through the entire manufacturing process, we went to the warehouse where all finished goods are kept and prepared for the shipping process.
Seeing all this was helpful, but the most interesting part of the day was when we discussed the other areas of Hadley's back office (i.e. systems, logistics, sales). That sounds exciting right? Brian walked me through their forecasting process. He forecasts twice a month and spends hours making sure the forecast is correct. Brian relies on data from Solarsoft. Solarsoft is Hadley's enterprise software and Brian says it's the backbone of their business. Their planning, logistics, sales, and reporting are all contained in Solarsoft. "Correct data is imperative and I'm confident that the data I get from Solarsoft is right," says Brian. Solarsoft allows Brian to analyze and find areas of opportunity to drive the business. One interesting fact that Brian did say about Solarsoft was that if they want a custom report created specifically for Hadley, it is extremely expensive to have Solarsoft create it. The high cost has driven Hadley to outsource some of their business report development to a local company that taps into Solarsoft and creates custom reports for Hadley at a fraction of the price. While this is much more cost effective, Brian says there is some risk when data is moved from one place to another and he tries to stick with the Solarsoft reports whenever he wants to be absolutely certain about the numbers.
The data theme came up again when I spoke with Luann Chiles (Customer Service). Luann manages customer orders and when I asked her what her biggest frustration was, she told me "bad data." In her example, bad data referred to orders coming in from the customer's EDI (Electronic Data Interchange)that didn't have up-to-date numbers causing a conflict with Hadley's numbers. This conflict creates errors that need to be researched and takes valuable time. So again, up-to-date and correct data was imperative to running the business. This was the same story when I worked for the Campbell Soup Company. If our systems didn't match up with Safeway's systems exactly, orders would get kicked out and shipments would be delayed.
So how does all this apply to Stitch Labs and our customers? Well it's evident that even mid-size manufacturers run into similar situations as even the smallest of manufacturers/designers. Hadley has to be sure they have processes in place to create their new products, manage their inventory once the products are made, and ship products to their customers in an efficient manner. Finally, they must be able analyze their business in a way that allows them to make the right business decisions so the company can make money. At Stitch Labs, we try to help with all these different aspects of running a business. How do we help create new products? We don't actually help with the design. But by using the data we aggregate, customers are able to identify trends and make new product lines that make the most sense, while doing away with those lines that aren't selling. Managing your products, customers and shipments are all built directly into our DNA and we're getting better all the time based on feedback from customers and research like our visit to Hadley.
My next stop on the tour is O&K America (formerly Solutec America).