Multiwood Products Limited is a leading supplier of bespoke cabinet doors to independent kitchen retailers across the UK. Now over 30 years’ old, the family-run business in Bury employs more than 30 members of staff and has begun to expand its in-house capabilities as a made-to-measure manufacturer.
Bringing manufacturing in-house
Before 2020, the majority of Multiwood’s products were sourced from Italy. The company offered 12 door ranges in a variety of colours, along with bespoke drilling and painting services.
However, the outsourcing of manufacturing came with a number of challenges, including longer lead times and the need to order in bulk, which made it difficult to control inventory. Multiwood recognised the need to invest in its own in-house manufacturing capabilities and approached GC Business Growth Hub to learn from manufacturing experts.
Creative Director Ben Allan was matched with Manufacturing Advisor Martin Hyman for tailored one-to-one support, and also joined the Hub’s online Made for Manufacturing programme for business leaders.
Ben explains: “We had decided to invest in an automated spray line – our first big investment in machinery – and Martin pointed out that it was the perfect opportunity to implement lean manufacturing principles at the same time so we could start from a position of best practice.
“The Made for Manufacturing programme was jam-packed full of useful information. I almost didn’t do the course because I didn’t think I’d be able to fit in, but I’m so glad I did.”
Ben enthusiastically took onboard the lean tools he learnt and, with Martin’s guidance, began embedding good manufacturing practice across the factory. Visual Management Systems were introduced onto the shop floor as part of the ‘5S’ approach to continuous improvement, and Ben also pulled together a suite of videos on lean principles to share with his team.
“I’d been trying to introduce continuous improvement into the company for some time, but the added support I received provided a clear structure for me to follow,” Ben continues. “We began to eliminate waste that previously went unnoticed, which meant that our production speed and capacity increased. It also helped with the general organisation of the shop floor and improving the flow of goods.”
The measures put in place provided an excellent foundation for successfully introducing the new spray line – even helping to identify material that could be relocated to free up the necessary space to install new equipment.
A silver lining during the pandemic
Multiwood’s transition to in-house manufacturing came at precisely the right time. The COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on the business, leaving it with little choice but to accelerate the manufacturing rollout, Ben says.
“Supply chain disruption was the biggest factor for us. We had two to three-month delays on orders coming in from Italy, which left us with massive holes in our stock. That really forced us into a situation where we had to scale up very quickly to do this work ourselves.”
The Growth Hub’s Account Management team was on hand to provide information and access to the emergency funding available to Multiwood, including the Key Sector Fund and Recovery Expertise Fund, which were set up to support those particularly affected by the pandemic. In total, the Account Management team helped Multiwood to secure £62,500 through these programmes.
In hindsight, Ben describes the supply chain disruption as a “blessing in disguise”. Now able to invest in additional manufacturing equipment and put lean knowledge to use, Multiwood employed six additional staff members and is now in a stronger position than before the pandemic began.
“We’ve gone from being able to do around 100 doors a month in-house before the pandemic, to being able to do 2,000 today,” Ben adds.
Marketing done right
Multiwood’s new-found manufacturing capabilities also led to the creation of an entirely new product range which needed launching. Thankfully, Ben had previously been introduced to marketing agency Wilson Cooke through a Manufacturing Champions Network event, and had received a £3,600 Manufacturing Growth Fund grant to work with them on a combined brand growth and marketing strategy project.
“Wilson Cooke did some really useful market research for us – speaking to our existing and ex-customers, looking at where the market was going and where we fitted in,” Ben elaborates. “They came up with a marketing strategy and also identified strengths that we have incorporated into our company goals and objectives.”
The project was so successful that Multiwood carried on working with Wilson Cooke on an ongoing basis, and the agency helped to launch Multiwood’s new product range at the start of 2021.
“The product launch was a huge success,” Ben confirms. “It just goes to show that when marketing is done right, it can have a really dramatic effect.”
A mentoring double-win
Multiwood’s journey didn’t end there. Away from the shop floor, Sales Director Caroline Allan had been working with the Hub’s Executive Development Programme to support her priorities in leading change, operational efficiency and performance management in the company.
Through the programme, Caroline was matched with business mentor Jaan Scott, whose support over the course of 2021 resulted in two new managers joining the company.
Ben is now working with Jaan to deliver projects on the shop floor: “Whereas Caroline has been working on our skills matrix and company strategy, Jaan’s knowledge also feeds into my work around lean very well, so I’m working with him on process flows and organisation in the warehouse. Having a mentor who’s seen and done it all has been really valuable for the both of us!”
Meanwhile, Caroline also made good use of the Peer Networks programme, which allowed her to share her experience with, and learn from, other business leaders.
Multiwood is also receiving support with digital technology after being referred to the Made Smarter programme, which is helping the business to introduce a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solution.
Phase 1 of the project to put the groundwork in place is already complete. Phase 2 in 2022 will see Multiwood introduce new ERP software that will enable it to automate shop floor data collection and present data on digital display boards on the shop floor.
Ben explains: “As we outgrew our current ERP system, the Made Smarter team were able to offer advice in seeking out a new solution by providing us with a greater understanding of Industry 4.0.
“This project is currently underway, but once implemented it will streamline many processes and drastically improve visibility throughout the business, along with many other benefits.”
Accessibility is the key
Ben concludes: “The Growth Hub’s support is so accessible. If I’ve got an idea or a problem, I can just fire it over to Martin or another advisor and nine times out of ten they are able to help or will know somebody else who can.
“The combination of courses and access to advisors has put us on the path to lean manufacturing and the development of leadership skills within the company, as well accelerated our adoption of solutions that will improve competitiveness. The Hub’s events have also connected us with other companies, some of whom we have developed long-lasting relationships with. There’s so much knowledge and experience to tap into.”
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