The Willington Companies Lean Transformation Becomes a Bonus to All Employees

August 14, 2008

The Willington Companies (TWC), headquartered in Stafford Springs, CT manufacturers’ nameplates, decals, labels and large format graphics for thousands of companies throughout the US and around the world. They have been helping companies to identify, brand and/or promote their product or service for more than 43 years. They are proud of their history, culture and reputation that has contributed to its stability and growth. They are committed to the success of its customers by being flexible, responsive, dependable and fast.

The Willington Companies (TWC) began their Lean Journey in September of 2007 due to their participation in and help from the Hartford’s APICS Organization. The Willington Companies has been very involved in the Hartford APICS Chapters monthly PDMs, and would send not just one or two people to the monthly Professional Development Meetings (PDM), but would consistently reserve a whole table and bring along associates with the top management to these informative high-energy meetings.

In less then one year the results have been remarkable. Not only are the customers benefitting from shorter lead-times, better quality and on-time delivery, the company has distributed two bonuses to all employees since the journey began.

“Using Lean as a “growth strategy” appealed to us,” says Mike Goepfert; General Manager and 2nd generation leader of this family business. “We asked every person in the company to attend ½ Day Lean Fundamentals Training. Everyone in the company is consistently looking for the 7 Lean Wastes as defined by TPS (Toyota Production System) and identifying opportunities for improvement. The elimination of waste allows us to better serve our customers and frees up existing resources to meet our growth plans for the business without significant expense.”

Through the APICS Professional Development Meetings (PDM), The Willington Companies gained awareness on what it would take to create a “Lean Culture” at TWC and developed a relationship with Leanovations, LLC. Fred Shamburg, President of Leanovations, a consulting company from Plainville, CT, is a frequent guest speaker for the Hartford APICS Chapter, and after a PDM Presentation on “Conquering Complexity–The Key to a True Lean Transformation”, Mike Goepfert called Leanovations to develop a Partnership.

Tom Dzialo (past President of Hartford APICS Chapter) and Fred Shamburg from Leanovations began to work with the Executive team at TWC and established a Lean “Drum-Beat/Plan” to meet their specific goals and vision for the organization. “At Leanovations we take pride in tailoring our approach to meet our client’s specific cultural, organizational and performance needs” states Fred Shamburg.

Mike and his Leadership Team at TWC committed the company to a monthly “Drum-beat” of Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) events. Leanovations has provided instructions on the Lean Fundamentals introducing Lean Concepts from the Toyota Production System. The monthly Kaizen events allow teams to practice the concepts while making dramatic improvements in target areas within the company. Some results after 9 months include a 23% reduction in Inventory, on-time delivery increased from mid-high 70’s% to consistently around 95%, and inventory turns have increased 28.4% on sales that consistently beats the business plan.

Leanovations coaching and teaching methods has provided a solid foundation for our success” says Kevin Malanczuk, Director of Operations and Controller, “The Nerf Ball Factory exercise they conduct provided a safe, quick, way for all participants to see and eliminate the 7 wastes and provide Lean terminology we all speak now, such as; Standard Work, Flow, Takt Time and KPI’s”.

One of the keys to The Willington Companies beginning their journey was the ability of Leanovations to secure different Lean funding to offset the cost of the training. Leanovations has established themselves as premiere “business coaches” for family run manufacturing companies in Connecticut, changing the organizational culture to Lean, by teaching Lean and Innovations to provide a competitive advantage. Leanovations is a “Registered ADI Lean Service Provider” for Connecticut’s Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) Aerospace and Defense Initiative (ADI Funding), are a “Qualified Consulting Group” for Northeast Utilities System PRIME Program (Lean Funding) administered through CL&P. Leanovations also enjoys a solid relationship and alliance with Connecticut’s Department of Labor (DOL) and Connecticut Works where 14 regional offices provide a unique collaboration of state, regional, and local organizations addressing the workforce development needs of the state.

“People are energized,” says Jeff Dwyer, Production Manager, “Management no longer has to select the monthly kaizen events, and the Team Leaders are now selecting Kaizen events in their departments. This is the result of working lunch meetings by our Team Leaders and others, where Management provides guidance only.”

The Willington Companies have also invested in developing Internal Lean Experts and Leaders, by sending two key employees, Mark Rainaud and Jessica Mitchell, to a “Lean Leadership Certification Program” developed by Leanovations, in support of CCAT’s objective to develop Internal Lean Experts at Connecticut Manufacturers, where normal ADI approval process applies. At a recent Kaizen event, Mark Rainaud watched a team develop a prototype of a new material/supply cart, where everything necessary to begin the next job came kitted for the press operator. Mark commented at the nightly Team Leader Meeting “That’s a no-brainer. We thought of it 3 years ago, but somehow never got around to it!” Mark then stated “Quick and simple solutions today beat complicated ones that take years or never get implemented. There was a working prototype cart on the floor today!” Jessica Mitchell, being relatively new to the company, asked Mike Goepfert General Manager about the vision and through their discussions, Jessica became a Team Leader to take the companies Strategic Plan and tie all departments KPI’s to the companies Break-Through Objectives. Jessica says, “This was one of the most rewarding and eye opening experiences I have had, it was exciting to be part of a team that had so much input in helping the organization develop the right performance goals and metrics. When we presented it to all the employees they were so engaged to see how we are doing, it was great”.

One of the things that sets TWC apart from others is they will close the whole factory down (60+ employees), on Friday morning to attend the teams final Lean presentation. The Willington Companies usually have 2 teams with 5-7 members on a team which means they will invest 15-25% of their workforce on the Kaizen Event, one week a month, which has created 100% of the workforce truly engaged in Lean every single day. After the teams make their presentations, there is a celebration lunch for the total organization and afterwards, they will go to the Gemba and visually see the team’s accomplishments. The complete Final Lean presentations by the teams and celebration will take 2-3 hours, where all 60+ employees are involved and engaged. “This really makes The Willington Companies a model of how to change the entire culture” states Tom Dzialo, Past President of APICS, “The Willington Companies honor the TPS Kaizen process and understand it is more about engaging the people then implementing the tools. The Lean tools need to support the people to reach their goals.”

“The Willington Companies is very employee focused and we believe that teamwork, training and strategic awareness is the key to our success.” Says Lynn Dwyer, Human Resource Manager, “The Hartford APICS Chapter provided a solid beginning for Lean awareness for us at The Willington Companies. We will continue to develop and work with our employees to enhance their skills to compete globally”.

For any additional information on The Willington Companies products, services or their Lean journey, please feel free to contact:

Michael J. Goepfert
General Manager
The Willington Companies
11 Middle River Drive
Stafford Springs, CT 06076
Phone: (860) 684-4281
Visit our web site at

Also, the Willington Companies cordially invites any person or company to attend our APICS Plant Tour with buffet dinner showcasing Our Lean Journey After 1 Year on September 9th at 5:00pm. Cost and registration information is provided here on the APICS website: If you are in the CT area and are interested in seeing LEAN in action make sure to register with APICS because space is limited. On behalf of the Willington Companies, we hope to see you there!