The team at La Nuova Apparelmaster were out for the night. It was the midwinter Christmas party and they were lined up at the buffet. Bevan Broughton, the company's operations manager, overheard a conversation. "A few of them were discussing the way the layout of the food could be changed to improve how fast they could get through the buffet. They talked about the issues with the flow and the bottlenecks."
That really showed him, he says, how much of an impression the company's training had made.
He was delighted. "We're so proud of them. Our competitive manufacturing training has really given our team the tools to think differently, challenge the status quo and make a difference."
Thinking differently is crucial for La Nuova Apparelmaster. The laundry business is highly competitive. Margins are tight and conglomeration has created a challenging market for the small family business. The competition can be ruthless.
The La Nuova strategy has been to abandon corporate style and go back to "what we are really about", says Broughton.
Rather than enter a price battle, the company chose to play the local card. "Our opposition are international companies with resources exceeding ours, but they don't have, and cannot copy, our strength — a local, well trained team. We're taking them on in service and quality. Rather than try to get bigger, we are choosing to excel in a market where we offer a wide range of services."
Its strategy has been bold: the plan was to upskill the team, become the best at quality and implement a lean approach with an environmental focus. The company would then cement its leadership by winning strategic awards. All this would be encapsulated in the description 'La Nuova way'.
It resolved to compete very publicly for the mantle of industry leader. It would hold conferences in Taranaki, invite all comers to tour the plant — competitors included — and become the "plant of envy": the environmental leader in its field and the business to emulate.
So began a transformation. La Nuova developed its team and engaged them intimately in the mission to make the plant greener, more efficient, more competitive and pre-eminent in the business. It produced a laundry that is modern, efficient, clean, bright and perspective changing. "It almost always has the wow factor for visitors," says Broughton.
With its major competitor moving its production facility to a 'super plant' in Palmerston North, the differentiation has been accentuated. La Nuova is confident the local focus is the right call. Over the past five years the company has see 25% growth.
"Our staff's combined knowledge is power, " Broughton says. "Our plant and systems can be copied, but our team and our culture cannot."
The company is an open book. Clients, opposition, other laundries and suppliers, as well as tours, are all coming through the plant regularly. "It means we have to stay ahead of the game to be the best."
Broughton proudly points out to visitors the crucial role the team plays. Nothing, he says, gets changed without team involvement. "It's great to show off how great they really are."
Do you think public holiday trading restrictions should be relaxed?