Part of the furniture

Posted on 7 Apr 2010 by The Manufacturer

Edward Machin meets Daval Furniture’s Simon Bodsworth to talk stock holdings, supplier loyalty and a Lean transformation which has seen the company post growth figures of 7% in 2009.

Having traded as a limited company since 1978, 2010 finds Huddersfield-based Daval Furniture as a leading mid-market manufacturer of household furniture applications, supplying to a network of 140 independent retailers within the UK.

Founded by David Bodsworth — who remains as managing director — to manufacture bedrooms for the booming residential market, Daval’s offerings have expanded to include both bespoke bathroom and kitchen installations.

As a natural extension of its original remit, the company first began producing a range of on-suite bathroom twelve years ago — while its kitchen offerings, almost wholly driven by customer demand, were introduced in 2005, and currently represent 25% of turnover.

Remarkably, given the battering that many in the sector have taken of late, Daval experienced a growth rate of 7% in 2009. Such expansion in the face of perilous economic conditions is, says Simon Bodsworth, the company’s marketing and development manager, “Largely testament to the implementation of production technology unique to Daval, entitled Option-i. Indeed, we have been developing this design system internally since 2005 — the year representing a fork in the road for the company, so to speak.” Increased outsourcing to the Far East — with the associated driving down of prices — meant that Daval was in danger of losing the design capabilities, innovation and market share it has worked so painstakingly to accumulate.

“That new side of competition suddenly came into the market, not to mention hugely improved offerings from the highstreet,” explains Bodsworth. “In order to secure the independent market, 130 therefore, we had to change our business model from a successful batch producer to an agile, lean manufacturer.” To realise such an end, Daval worked with a vastly experienced lean consultant, John Pegg, and Factory Control Systems, the latter of whom wrote a bespoke ERP package to enable the company to run its manufacturing processes in a seamless, ultra-efficient fashion. While Bodsworth accepts that Daval’s cellular manufacturing techniques are not unique to the industry, “The technology had never been there to link production to the front of the business. With this software in place, however, we are now able to produce competitively priced, made-to-order furniture on an industry-best three week lead time.”

Recgonised as a Lean leader within Europe thanks to its dedication to efficiency advances, a change in company culture can nonetheless be a bitter pill to swallow for workforces used to operating in entrenched, ‘comfortable’ patterns. With such concerns in mind, how did Daval go about introducing its team to the mystifying — on first inspection, at any rate — beast that is Lean manufacturing? “Very simply, from the outset it meant increasing our communication to staff on what this new, hugely exciting direction meant for each and every person in the company,” says Bodsworth.

Equally, however, the business sought to involve as many external organisations as possible in its drive towards becoming a Lean, green, manufacturing machine. Working with the Chambers of Commerce and completing a Lean auditing programme with Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), for example, Daval are currently in talks to begin a suite of training schemes with the latter organisation.

Similarly, the company is fresh from its first batch of NVQs in Lean Manufacturing — undertaken by twelve leading performers on the production floor. This NVQ training program was run through Daval’s partnership with CEL Training, and has resulted in CEL delivering the program at no cost to Daval; as they, along with majority of CEL’s clients, qualify for government funding for the NVQ programs they provide.

Says Bodsworth, “Given that as a company Daval places great stock on the willingness to learn and adapt to changing market conditions, we would never be so narrow-minded as to dismiss the considerable benefits of external advice.” Although a spongelike approach to self-improvement has existed at the company since its founding, Bodsworth acknowledges that the technology wasn’t always on hand to develop the Lean manufacturing base that Daval has striven towards for the last decade or so.

“However, the combination of technological advances and what others have brought to the organisation gave us a kick in the right direction,” he says, “and I am delighted to say that we have never looked back.” “Both John and Factory Control Systems remain very active in the advancement of our business, in the sense that we find ourselves endlessly tweaking efficiency, innovation and design processes. While it is very much an evolving system, the fact that improvements are being made internally, with John and Factory Control, and MAS, the Chambers of Commerce and our NVQ accreditations gives the company a balance of input that was perhaps not here previously.”

Now you see it, now you don’t
With Option-i enabling the company to remain at the forefront of design and innovation within the industry, the ability to avoid excess stock equally lies at the heart of Daval’s manufacturing strategy. Indeed, says Bodsworth, of particular restriction to furniture producers is that when operating on a stock basis, and any given product doesn’t go quite right, it is very costly to turn around and recover. “A no-stock basis, on the other hand, allows us to be in a much more healthy position. We can pick up on and dip into the latest design trends, colours and innovations that come to the market and implement them into tomorrow’s production as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The majority of providers within the company’s industry are volume manufacturers, he continues, “So we are rather unique in this sense.” Similarly, the foundations of a Daval product — carcasses; materials; fittings — are the same across its offerings, enabling customers to choose from a range of finishes and price bands. “The beauty of Lean manufacture,” argues Bodsworth, “is that we possess the capacity to bring in the materials needed for each unique job. For example, the company introduces new products on a six month basis which, again, is somewhat uncommon in our industry; the majority of manufacturers offer volume-based lines on an annual basis.” Operating rather like a fashion catwalk, by continually communicating with its customers and supply base Daval is thus able to maintain a balanced product portfolio while ensuring that it isn’t carrying any dead or slow-moving ranges.

Such ease of manufacture does not come without continued investment, however — be it in technologicallybased or more ‘traditional’ production equipment. By way of example, Daval recently purchased a heat exchanger, designed to significantly reduce the company’s carbon footprint. Confirms Bodsworth, “We not only want to produce a best in class furniture portfolio, but one which is done, as far as practically possible, by eco-friendly means. Given that a commitment to sustainability is increasingly becoming a purchasing differentiator, moreover, we see this feature of our business as key going forward.”

Loyalty card
A further pleasing aspect of Daval’s operational model, especially given these times of economic uncertainty, is the degree of loyalty to which the company shows its supply base.

Indeed, it has sought to retain the same suppliers for many years; working in collaboration to devise and develop products which are mutually beneficial to both parties. In this way, Daval is given trusted access to ongoing market requirements, coupled with the fact that, says Bodsworth, “We will only ever be as good as our suppliers.” “What you see in the current market is an increased willingness to switch the supply base at the first sign of trouble,” he continues.

“Obviously this will work for some, but since our inception Daval has actively worked with its suppliers to make improvements where needed — whether that be re-engineering, bringing through products that have a better margin or negotiating more favourable buying terms.” “Moreover, we are continually pushing on innovation and product development through our supply chain; the heart of Daval Furniture’s recent successes,” says Bodsworth. “For example, the company is previewing our spring collection — largely based around muted and softer tones — as we speak, and to no little success, it must be said.”

Word of mouse
Internally, Daval is working on the introduction of an online ordering system, designed to expand the breath of Option-i and the concurrent accessibility that the company’s customers have to such technology.

Explains Bodsworth, “The European Union (EU) has put together a grant to help fund this development so as to ascertain whether such systems can secure a greater number of sales for Lean manufacturing companies across Europe.” “We are currently testing the system, with a view to going live within a three month period and, as far as I’m aware, Daval is the only business chosen by the EU to undertake so pioneering a programme,” he says.

While undoubtedly recognising the company for its industryadvancing working methods and assisting European manufacturers battle against the likes of China, Daval’s online system will, crucially, ensure a greater degree of control to its client base. In allowing customers to order semibespoke products online and track orders from manufacture to delivery, says Bodsworth, “An even greater degree of efficiency will be added to our operations — with the removal of misinterpretation in orders being merely one example.” Lean, it seems, never sleeps. But Daval Furniture, having cultivated a company-wide culture of production efficiency, are bedding down just fine.