Marena Group: All Star Lean manufacturer

This month’s issue of Apparel (free sub) features the industry All-Stars, an industry wide competition of the trade’s best and brightest. In the past, this has usually also meant the biggest but this year is the exception (one can only hope the trend will continue). The winner of this year’s All Stars is the Marena Group, a lean domestic manufacturer from Lawrenceville GA. From Apparel:

The company, which was started about 10 years ago, produces compression garments. Its ComfortWear® brand of garments includes everything from bras and girdles to facial wear, vests and post-surgical exercise wear. There are some 4,000 SKUs in all, and Marena manufactures and ships approximately 250,000 units annually under the one roof of its Lawrenceville facility.

This award is pivotal for several reasons. First, this company is tiny; maybe about fifty people and as we all know, the apparel industry typically ignores small players. More importantly though, the company is a lean manufacturer. And by lean, I mean real lean, not the co-opted or perverted definition of lean manufacturing that’s been adopted by players menacingly waving big sticks at their overseas producers to get them to move faster. Everything is produced at their location in GA. Again from Apparel:

… the company is very, very fast. He points out that Marena offers same-day shipping on all orders regardless of style, color or size. It takes orders until 6 p.m., and one-third of its production work force is scheduled to work until 7 p.m. to ensure it can produce and ship the garments that same day. Many orders arrive at the customer’s location the next day by 8 a.m.

Significantly, Marena is not able to deliver so quickly because of a mammoth warehouse supply of goods. What little “emergency” inventory Marena stocks is kept in a small corner of the factory near the loading dock and overnight shipping station. “When people hear about our order-late/same-day shipping service, they always think we must have a couple of big DCs in New Jersey or somewhere, and they have a hard time believing it all comes out of here,” says Rogelstad. “We cut it, sew it and ship it … kind of straight from the sewing station to the FedEx truck to the customer.”

The company uses a mix of technology solutions. As you may expect with single order processing, they’re using a single ply automated cutter, reportedly from Eastman. I didn’t realize Eastman made those; Gerber gets most of the press so I’ll have to look into that. There wasn’t a lot of information about sewing processes but a sidebar mentions the implementation of team sewing via TSS (Toyota Sewing System) which I’d mentioned in Becoming a lean manufacturer. Marena plans to implement more of these stations and predictably, they’ve seen as much as 50% increases in productivity on some sewing lines.

Also predictably is focus, doing one thing -or nearly one thing and doing it well. Everything is pull driven; there’s no forecasting future demand that may fail to materialize. At Marena, the theory of 80/20 drives product focus and production resources:

About 80 percent of the company’s sales are related to about 20 percent of its overall SKUs – its most popular size and style configurations. The remaining 20 percent of orders represents unique, one-off orders of garments required in special sizes or in unusual configurations.

The company operates on a pure demand-driven model and is managed by an intricate IT platform that automates workflow. Marena does not do forecasts or schedule production as most manufacturers do, but rather flows work through its facility in a priority-driven manner. Put another way, Marena does not measure its success according to its level of on-time shipments but instead by its level of speed in getting shipments out the door. As Rogelstad says: “We ship 100 percent on time, so our metric is, ‘How fast do we ship?’ “

Read the article for more. Unfortunately not included on site are the informative sidebars. Other sources of information on Marena is a report from the Aberdeen Group, and a case study from OpenMFG, the ERP software company Marena uses to run its engine. OpenMFG can be a great solution for manufacturers but it’s still out of bounds for most start ups. I can’t say anything officially just now but a new PDM software product will be launching soon having been tested over the past two years. The latter is designed -and priced- specifically for small companies. I’ll be going to Los Angeles next month (Jan 18-21) to test drive it.

Returning to Apparel’s industry All Stars, the other winners -some also surprising- were:
Chardan Ltd.
Goodwill Industries (yes, that Goodwill)
The Hirdaramani Group
Lori Coulter LLC (DE made to measure line)
Dr. Deborah J.C. Meyer-Brosdahl, Kansas State University
Spyder Active Sports Inc. (another small company)
Trina Turk

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