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By Amy Susan, Missouri Enterprise Communications Director

This Ferguson, Mo based wood gift manufacturer is nothing short of a good tale. Like Frankenstein, sometimes you have to make your own monster of a project to get things done.

You know those cool wooden stools and toy chests with puzzle piece names on them— it’s a toy AND a functioning tool— well, Hollow Woodworks is the company that makes them! The company had a problem easily and quickly putting together all the pieces needed to complete an order. It took a person several minutes to find the correct custom letters and colors. They needed a different cart/shelving system. And after visiting with our Continuous Improvement team lead Dave Goebel about ideas for a solution, the company began looking for what was available on the market. To their disappointment, they couldn’t find anything to meet their needs. The company owner, Jim Beachler, and his team decided to do what did they best— and created a custom wood product. Only this time, it was for themselves. The new shelving unit became... ALIVE!! The “Franken-shelf”, which is compact and rolls around on wheels, has sped up and improved the order filling process, resulting in $7K in direct savings. This is an incredible story and we are proud to have been a part of it. This is just one of the many examples of how this company has embraced and applied the continuous improvement philosophy. So much— it’s scary.

Sleepy Hollow... Woodworks’ Franken-Cart from Missouri Enterprise on Vimeo.

Color Me Bad

On top of "Franken-Cart", the company created a color chart system which is used throughout the entire process.... from the website where customers place their orders to the plant floor. Everything is organized and appropriately labeled by color. This ensures that every order is consistent and that all team members know where to find what they are looking for. Additionally, the company created another color chart to help streamline and track orders. This allows the team to flag expedited orders, change orders, as well as communicate where the order is in the completion process.

(Caption: Color charts being used on the plant floor and in the office where orders are taken.)

Matter that Disappears and then Reappears

Did you know, the company was able to streamline its processes and improve the flow of work so much that it was able to downsize and move into a facility nearly three times smaller, reducing overhead and saving money?!  And because the company is so dedicated to continuous improvement, it continues to carve away waste and inefficiencies and open more space for employees to relax during breaks. For the first time, the company now has a designated lunch area. The owner also instituted a new break policy which changes the two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch break to two 10-minute breaks and a 40-minute lunch break. This affords the team more time to enjoy their routine “on the house” lunch rewards for weeks they complete all orders on time. They even get to spin the food dial (it’s wooden, of course) to determine if the meal will be sandwiches, Chinese, pizza or who knows… let fate decide!

Death of In-Person Training

Don't let this subtitle fool you. In person training is still part of the overall onboarding process for new employees. However, Hollow Woodworks has created a series of online videos for team members to watch and learn about nearly every task they will perform on the job. This new way of workforce training ensures consistency and quality as well as lends itself to employees who may need a refresher course. How easy is it to be able to look up a DIY video if you forget how to do something at work? Genius. Additionally, the company has visual diagrams posted at each work station to show each step for that job. Again, this ensures consistency and takes the guess work out.

(Caption: Notice the instructions on the board for properly assembling a bench.)

More about Hollow Woodworks  

The company exports to customers around the world, around the state and around the country (even filling and sending a custom order to the White House!). They make stools, benches, toy chest, puzzles, monograms, wedding and anniversary gifts, and more all out of maple wood and ALL handmade. Another unique quality of Hollow Woodworks, if one of your puzzle pieces gets chewed up by your dog, misplaced, or mysteriously disappears (queue spooky ghost sounds) .... they will replace the piece for free. Now that's a scary good deal.   

 (Caption: Here is Ned Blome, our Area Business Manager, who works with Hollow Woodworks. He is a hands-on kind of guy.)