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Last Update: Sunday April 11, 2021

Key Idea: Make Change Fast And Easy

Saris Cycling Group invested in cellular manufacturing to reduce the cost of change. 

Key Question:

A: 

Soon after Chris bought Graber, he could see that future customers were looking for bike rack styles and functionality to change with their fast-paced lives. To meet customer demand, Chris had to free his plant from old manufacturing techniques.

Q:  What did Chris do to make change easy?

A:  Chris made a commitment to change when he invested in cellular manufacturing. To help you think about changes you can make that that will gain the most and lose the least, read the book, The Goal. It was written in 1984 by Dr. Eli Goldratt and in this important work he laid out his ideas now well-known as TOC, the Theory of Constraints. Dr. Goldratt says to make improvements we have to know:

What to change -- what is the leverage point.
What to change to -- what are the simple, practical solutions.
How to cause the change -- overcoming the inherent resistance to change

Think about it

What is your weakest link? What can you do to strengthen it? Where does the flow in your processes seem to divert or slow? 

Clip from: Saris Cycling Group aka Graber

Madison, Wisconsin: Sara and Chris Fortune bought Graber Products in 1989 when it had 24 employees and $3.3 million in sales. When we taped this story there were up to 60 employees and with revenues over $10 million. They continue to grow, changed the name of the company to Saris Cycling Group, and are very committed to keeping their manufacturing in the USA.

Actually, manufacturing is on its way back to the USA!

That is not prophetic verse but the reality of our advancing technologies where highly educated workers can do it better, often faster, and sometimes cheaper than anywhere in the world.

This episode is a case in point: And, this story comes from the heartlands of America. These are the kind of people who love this country and all those basic freedoms to do the right thing in the face of adversity. They have done it right and now they ship their products around the world.

When Chris and Sara bought Graber Products, they bought a solid business with a good reputation, but the sales were flat. The employees were dedicated, but the company needed fresh energy to start growing again. To dump the stodgy image of the company that he bought, Chris found an Italian fashion designer who came up with improved form and function for his bike racks. Chris believed that the market was ready, willing and waiting for new ideas and he was right. Customers have flocked to the new products and employees love to come to work.

They are their industry leaders. They have kept manufacturing in America. And, their industry recognizes them for their generosity of spirit, moral courage, and ethical leadership. These people are quiet heroes,  new pioneers making the world a better place.

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Saris Cycling Group (once known as Graber Products)

Chris Fortune, CEO

Visit our web site: http://saris.com

Business Classification:
Manufacturing, Sports (Biking), wholesale

Year Founded:

Make Change Fast And Easy

HATTIE: What are your top business issues?

SARA: Innovation. Product development. Go beyond what is out in the market--don't copy somebody else. Innovation builds market recognition.

HATTIE: So now, Bob, explain to me what this is.

(Voiceover) Everyone at Graber talks about innovation. Chris's dad invented the Bike Bank, which Graber is selling worldwide.

BOB FORTUNE (Chris Fortune's father): You open the lid like this, and place your helmet, your fanny pack or whatever gear you have, into the locker and lock it.


HATTIE: So how did you think of this?

BOB: Well, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal about the cyclists starting to commute. The problem was that when they got to their destinations, they had no place to store their personal belongings, and they were concerned about the bike. This locks the bike and secures your personal things.

HATTIE: What is it like to have your dad around this place?

CHRIS: It's just great to have him around. You know, he's dedicated and committed to getting it done, and it's just a pleasure to have him around. My dad's my best friend, and it couldn't be any better than that.

BOB: You couldn't ask for much better than that, could you?

CHRIS: This is Brian Butchen. Brian has been with us 17 years. He is an extremely talented toolmaker.

HATTIE: Are you constantly innovating?

BRIAN BUTCHEN (Employee): Yes, we're constantly innovating. You have to be.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Chris and Sara took advantage of the University of Wisconsin Stout’s Manufacturing Technology Transfer program to help improve efficiency.

CHRIS: And one of the elements that they focused on was cellular manufacturing. With cellular manufacturing, quick-change tooling is a very important aspect. For example, in our business each time you touch a part, it costs about 5 cents. So Brian developed a tool that when the press came down and hit the part, instead of hitting it twice, it only hit it once.

BRIAN (demonstrating process): This way, we're taking a raw tube (you can see it's not formed or punched in any shape or manner) It takes it from the round tube, forms this U-shape into it to fit into the receiver of the hitch.

Unidentified Employee #2: And basically, I just bent the tube down in there.

BRIAN: Then you go into the next stage, poke the tube sideways, and it punches the holes.

HATTIE: And you built the tool that does that?

CHRIS: Right. Brian built the tool. Cellular manufacturing has done several things for us. One, it's improved the quality of the parts because we have a much smaller production run. Two, it's reduced our work in process inventory, improving our efficiency by almost 25 percent.

HATTIE: How is that different from an assembly line?

CHRIS: Well, it's very similar to an assembly line. However, some assembly lines are set up to feed parts that have been processed in an operation outside the assembly line, whether that be in an assembly line set up in a different part of the company or parts that have been brought in from outside of the company. With the cellular manufacturing, everything is processed right here.

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