A world-renowned manufacturer of climbing and hiking equipment, Accrington-based Karrimor began life in 1946 as a maker of cycle bags. Its co-founder Mary Parsons still comes in most days to open the post. The company diversified into rucksacks in 1957, into footwear in 1980 and into garments half-a-dozen years later. The broadening product range brought increasing complexity to manufacturing operations - plus a host of fashion-related problems. 'We had to learn to think like a retailer,' says managing director Robert Mattock.
The company's solution was to adopt 'stockflow', a ticket-based, rapid-response, re-ordering technique which originated in the US. Every item supplied to a retailer has a stock control tag attached. To re-order, the retailer simply returns the tag to the manufacturer as soon as the product is sold. The advantage of the system is that the manufacturer then makes only those items that are moving off the retailer's shelves. Neither Karrimor nor the retailer is left with a large stock of unsaleable items at the end of the season. Three-quarters of the company's UK business is now conducted by this means.
All products are designed on a CAD system which optimises the utilisation of expensive materials, and generates cutting sheets automatically. The company has invested substantially in semi-automatic and computer-controlled sewing machines that are capable of sewing complex rucksack sub-assemblies - pockets, straps, etc - in a single set-up. The fabrics used in the manufacture of rucksacks were developed jointly with a local supplier which delivers the material daily.
Karrimor's 230 employees all enjoy the same status, and are typically organised into multi-skilled, product-based cells and teams. Since piecework was abandoned in order to assist in reducing batch sizes, batches of 1,000 have been replaced by batches of 50. The company operates a policy of deliberate investment in overcapacity, as a further guarantee of flexibility and a quick response.
Small Company Award - Sponsors: Development Board for Rural Wales.
The Development Board for Rural Wales is responsible for economic and social development in over 3,000 square miles of beautiful countryside. 'Rural Wales, The British Business Park', offers 50 locations for every type of business, centred on country towns where old fashioned values co-exist with superb business incentives. These include quality premises to rent or purchase, custom built premises or greenfield sites, a unique discretionary development grant and naturally low overheads.