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Continuous Improvement Accelerates (and Eases) Growth at Hub Pen

Millions of customized pens, 100-percent employee participation

Published: Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 15:56

Hub Pen Co., located in Braintree, Massachusetts, imports specialty writing instruments and imprints them with company logos and other customized inscriptions. In 2013, the company received a grant for training in lean and continuous improvement, which was delivered by the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP). Hub Pen’s three-year strategic vision called for a 50-percent increase in sales, a 50-percent reduction in scrap, a 30-percent increase in productivity, and 100-percent employee participation in the initiative. The company has met and surpassed most of these goals.

As a result of the training, weekly huddles take place at both the departmental and managerial level. At each department’s meeting, progress toward goals is reviewed, and problems and potential improvements are discussed. At the managerial level, the group assesses quality, service and costs, delivery, sales, safety and HR metrics.

During the course of the training, 21 employees received their Six Sigma Green Belts, and 41 received Yellow Belts, demonstrating their knowledge of Six Sigma measures and tools. This knowledge has enabled employees to conduct their own kaizen improvement processes. One such initiative set out to improve the sales-order flow time from order entry to shop. A team of customer service employees, with 50+ years of experience between them, analyzed hundreds of orders to identify internal and external causes of lag time. In the end, the team was able to reduce the time by 47 percent. The focus on service at this level contributes to more than 80 percent of Hub Pen’s orders coming from repeat customers. 

“Now, because of the Green Belt training, I have the proper tools and can uncover the real data to support decisions and improvements.”
—Steve McDonald, graphics production manager

Steve McDonald, the graphics production manager, appreciated the opportunity to earn his Six Sigma Green Belt. “I was always interested in statistics and measures but was flying by the seat of my pants,” he says. “Now, because of the Green Belt training, I have the proper tools and can uncover the real data to support decisions and improvements.” Raising the accuracy in his department led to reducing the art approval process from three days to just about one day. McDonald can also track peak and nonpeak times more effectively. He uses off-peak times for cross training and implementing new procedures.

“Each department has seen a dramatic increase in productivity from instituting the small changes we learned in the classes.”
—Robert McGaughey, general manager

“The biggest change we made was adding structure,” says David Borgatti, production manager, at Hub Pen observed. He instituted a visual management system of operator flip charts, which helped with language barriers. Supervisors can see at a glance whether an operator needs more pens or is having difficulty with a machine. The system also tracks the progress of orders, enabling easy redistribution of work.

Hub Pen’s improvement metrics aren’t just impressive in and of themselves: They are essential to managing a high-performing business. The company keeps tens of millions of pens in stock in more than 1,000 different variations, and it processes thousands of orders and ships millions of pens each week.

National Sales Manager Andy Arruda has been at Hub Pen for five years and has seen sales more than double in that time. He said, “Our growth doesn’t feel crazy; it’s been digested properly,” he says. “Continuous improvement both accelerates and eases growth.” He also points out that everyone helped with the improvement initiatives. “Everyone has played a part, including providing backup for implementation teams.”  The 100-percent employee participation in improvement is the most important measure of all.

It’s not just the business owners and customers who have benefited from these changes, though; employees have as well. The improvement work has resulted in promotions from within, less turnover, and more new jobs. “In my time at the company, orders have increased 50 percent, but people are less stressed now than when we weren’t doing as much business,” says Ken Phu, Hub Pen’s vice president of technology.

“The Hub team truly understands the importance of continuously improving their processes in order to satisfy their customers,” says Ron Pujalte, continuous improvement manager at GBMP. “It’s always a pleasure to stop in and see the creativity of the entire team working with the easier, better, faster, and less expensive mentality.”

“Leadership training and promoting lean principles and culture... creates beneficial, mutually dependent relationships with customers, employees, and suppliers.”
—Madhu Shenoy, a continuous improvement leader

Hub Pen’s president, Joseph Fleming, couldn’t be more pleased with the results. “The greatest thing about our association with GBMP is that we now have a much more engaged workforce,” he says. “Before GBMP, I was a little naïve, thinking our workforce was fully engaged—and it was engaged to some extent. Then GBMP showed us all the road map of how to share thoughts and ideas of how to make things better, and there was a flood of really great ideas from all corners of our company.”


About The Author

GBMP’s picture


Based at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, GBMP is your one-stop resource for continuous improvement education and facilitation. GBMP stands for the “Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership” but the nonprofit organization works with companies all over the world providing suggestions and solutions resulting in millions in cost savings and increased sales. Each year GBMP trains more than 7,000 people on continuous improvement principles in customized, on-site classroom and shop-floor training sessions and educates more than 1,000 participants in public workshops, plant tours, and the Manufacturing Roundtable.