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Maine MEP’s Innovation Program Helps ThoS. Moser Cabinetmakers Craft a New Culture

For more than 35 years, Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers has been a trusted producer of fine handcrafted wooden furniture. What began with former college professor Thomas Moser crafting furniture in an old Grange Hall in the small town of New Gloucester, Maine has boomed into a business with 190 employees, including over 95 craftspeople, and spans six showrooms around the country.

With the company expanding, Colleen McCracken, CFO, along with the senior management team wanted to ensure they kept competitive in the industry without compromising the craft. Employees had heard of Lean manufacturing concepts from a previous employee and had even been involved in some basic Lean training workshops with the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Maine MEP) in earlier years, but needed a plan to implement and sustain the principles.

"We were at a good time to explore Lean, and wanted to do it the right way. So we called on the Maine MEP, who would perform a business assessment for us," said McCracken. "We knew this would be an encompassing commitment, but we really wanted to make Lean part of our corporate culture and a way of life for us at Thomas Moser."

"As a company of artisans, these employees had always based their success on their individual work, and the Lean process asks them to think completely differently," said Wayne Messer, project manager for Maine MEP. "We assisted them with their continual improvement initiative through the Maine MEP Technical Skills Training and Innovation Program, which is funded through the US Department of Labor. This would improve their technical skills of their workforce to drive innovative thinking."

The first step was to perform a Strategic Assessment and Technology Roadmap, which evaluates the company’s procedures, processes, and core competencies for alignment and growth potential. Based on the assessment findings, the company was able to determine a strategic roadmap for the future starting with a focused workforce development plan.

The Need for Change
"The results of the assessment made it incredibly clear where we needed to change," added McCracken. Teams were trained in the TimeWise® Value Stream Mapping System, which shows process steps from start to finish and is key to identifying waste in a system. Next, Kaizen events, or quick bursts of activity are aimed to make small improvements at first, but would yield large gains in efficiency and productivity in the future.

To ensure sustainability of their lean efforts and to ignite a culture change, Ms. McCracken and the Thos. Moser management team saw the value of organizational development skills as a complement to their lean training and as a primary focus for workforce development. The introduction of lean technologies created a need for leadership skills and interpersonal behaviors that lend themselves to team-based work.

"The integration of the leadership and Lean skills training really brought out the voice of some employees at Thomas Moser. Some workers who had never offered up their opinion before were suddenly taking leadership," said Messer.

In all, 35 employees were trained using the Maine MEP Technical Skills Training and Innovation Program, with 110 employees total benefiting from the program.

"We were so happy with Maine MEP’s work that we will have on-going training programs to continue our progress and develop measurement systems to monitor our results," said McCracken. "Without the help of Wayne Messer and Maine MEP, we would not have been able to do a training of this magnitude in order to remain competitive. Now we’re moving along with increased efficiency, which is so important to us."

The Maine MEP is an affiliate of the NIST under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The national MEP is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Through MEP, manufacturers have access to more than 2000 manufacturing and business "coaches" whose job is to help firms make changes that lead to greater productivity, increased profits, and enhanced global competitiveness. For more information on the Maine MEP program call 1-800-637-4634.


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