World-Class, Lean Performance in the SMEs - Small and Medium Enterprises - by Carlo Scodanibbio, Industrial & Business Consultant - Lean Management Consultant

Carlo Scodanibbio
Industrial & Business Consultant
Lean Management Consultant


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World-Class, Lean Performance Tutorials and Case Studies - Tutorial 03
deployment of lean thinking principles in the retail sector
by Carlo Scodanibbio

A chain of retailers, specialising in ladies' underwear, wants to improve the "bra-fitting" process.

Present Status
The present status is described here below:

The partial layout of a typical retail outlet (bra-fitting section) is here below. The most significant items in the layout are: 4 bra-fitting rooms - the bra "utility" store - a large "service" counter - a large cardboard carton.

present layout of a typical bra-fitting area

The 4 fitting rooms are very plain: they are fitted with a mirror, hangers, and a sliding curtain.

The bra "utility" store consists of shelves on which the various models of bras are stored. They are positioned per size (i.e. 34D - 36EE - etc.) - per style (i.e. cup - balcony - "push-up" - etc.) - and per colour/finish. This is not the main bra store: this utility store contains approx. enough stock for one week sales, and is regularly refilled from the main store (downstairs).

Each bra is packed in a nylon bag, inserted in a stylish light-cardboard sleeve. Both the nylon bag and the cardboard box are labelled with the most relevant bra data (size - style - colour - finish…..).

The large "service" counter serves very little purpose: it displays promotional material (posters) and is also used as a utility area.

The large carton has a very special purpose that is described a bit below.
The bra-fitting process
There are a few specialised bra-fitting assistants who help ladies customers with their bras and swimwear needs. The bra-fitting job is a very delicate one: it requires sophisticated training, skills and rather long experience. The bra-fitting process (or the similar swimwear fitting process) consists of the following:

When a customer arrives, she is received by one of the bra-fitters (for simplicity called, from now on, "fitters) and lead to a fitting room. The customer undresses and the fitters take all necessary measurements. Then the fitter presents her recommendations, and listens to the customer about her specific preferences with regard to style, finish and colour. Eventually the requirements are clarified.

The fitter goes to the bra store, gets a bundle of bras (in their cardboard sleeve) of the required size (e.g. 36EE), assorted in styles, colours and finishes according to customer's preferences. She puts all the selected bras in a supermarket-type shopping basket. The number of selected bras may vary between a minimum of 6 (when requirements are very clear and specific) to 12 or more (when requirements are not really clear and preferences still "blurred"). This part of the process may take a few minutes or even much longer (see below).

Then she goes back to the fitting room, and the selection starts. The customers tries the various models, always assisted by the fitter with technical and aesthetical tips), and eventually she may choose to buy: one, two or even a few bras - or none at all - or she may require to be shown a second selection (generally other colours or finishes).

Eventually the choice is made. The customer dresses up again, while the fitter waits for her outside, in the counter area. She keeps on the counter the bras that the customer has chosen to buy. She throws all unselected bras in the large cardboard box.

This box was a "for-the-time-being" solution which dates back to many years before. The main reason why the box has always been used is because the fitters don't have time to put the unselected bras back into the store room, because putting back each bra in the nylon bag and each nylon bag in its cardboard sleeve takes time - and they don't want to leave the customer alone after she has dressed up again. So, all unselected bras, plus all nylon bags and cardboard sleeves are thrown higgledy-piggledy in the large carton. Also the nylon bags and cardboard sleeves of the chosen bras are thrown in the same large carton: in fact 99% of customers don't want to take with them neither the sleeves nor the nylon bags because it takes space in their handbag.

Eventually the fitter drives the customer to the till, greats her good-bye and starts assisting the next customer.
Unsatisfactory aspects
The unsatisfactory aspects of the present status are:

It happens most often, especially in the afternoon of busy days, that particular models required by a customers are not on the utility store shelves: this is because they have been shown to previous customers and, if un-chosen, thrown in the large carton. The net conclusion is that sometimes fitters have to "dig" and search in the large carton to find the model/s they are after, with horrible waste of time and the negative situation of customers having to wait longer time in the fitting rooms. Even worse, sometimes the fitters are compelled to go to the main store downstairs, and draw some stock of the wanted models (which may take up to 15 minutes…..).

At the end of each day, all fitters have to work one solid hour (paid overtime) to match unselected bras with their sleeves and cardboard boxes - repackage them - and put them back into storage.

Very often customers, after choosing their bras, continue shopping for underwear, pyjamas, and other goods. In which case, they just leave the selected bras at the tills to be more free while shopping. Sometimes, unfortunately, bras of different customers are mixed up. Some other times, customers forget completely about the bras they chose, pay for other goods they purchased, and go. So, at the end of the day, more bras must be collected from the tills and re-packaged with their sleeves and cardboard boxes, still lying in the large carton.


What can be done to make the overall process leaner?
What are your conclusions?
Think for a while, before reading my conclusions, that you will find here

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