Case Study:
Artistic Awning & Screens

Sector: Manufacturing & Retail

THE CHALLENGE
Improve the existing sales, manufacturing, and installation process for a booming awning and screen company to minimize order errors and reduce overall lead times.
THE OUTCOME
A redesigned communication system that requires 2 information hand-offs instead of 10 and a standardized ordering system that uses 1 form instead of 5, greatly reducing order errors and over a 40% reduction in lead time.
Artistic Awning is a successful awning and sunscreen business in the Okanagan. Over the last 10 years, the owners have taken a small 3-person operation and grown it into a local juggernaut with over two dozen employees. In addition, they have moved from only retailing products to include manufacturing their own line of custom sunscreens.

These days, their business is a complex amalgamation of sales, manufacturing, installation, and customer service departments. Thanks to the exceptional quality of their service and product knowledge, they have experienced incredible growth over the years, eclipsing most of their local competition.

However, this growth has not been without its own challenges. As the business has grown, processes and roles have been fluid, mostly cobbled together to solve the challenges at a particular time, with little to no thought for what happens next.

Furthermore, after adding the further complexity of manufacturing their own products, along with a portion of their staff being seasonal, the company noticed an increase in errors between sales and manufacturing. As well, lead times for products from sale to installation were starting to increase.

To add to these challenges, in the last year an international door company and a new, aggressive local competitor have both set up shop in the area. Both these competitors entered into the market using large-scale marketing campaigns and low pricing tactics, resulting in the loss of enough business to become noticeable for Artistic Awning.

Recognizing the need to improve the experience for their customers and their staff, Artistic Awning approached Nucleus Strategies with a question:

Can design thinking help solve the challenges of growth and competition?

To ensure the work was human-centred, Nucleus Strategies conducted a week-long series of workshops with the entire staff, in their off-season. The cross-functional team involved ownership, management, and staff from every department and at every level. The workshop series allowed the entire staff to contribute to mapping out the experience for all their main customer segments and blueprint the processes required to deliver these experiences. This created alignment around the needs, wants, and expectations of their customers, while fostering a deep understanding of how each they contributed to the delivery of these experiences.

Once this was complete, Nucleus spent a considerable amount of time in the field talking with customers and observing the sales and installation processes on-site. As well, Nucleus spent time on the shop floor with employees in context, interviewing them and observing the internal flow of communication.

This exploration revealed a few important themes:

  • The process of gathering and communicating product and customer information was inefficient and filled with opportunities for mistakes.
  • This process was affecting product lead times.

Given these insights, Artistic Awning and Nucleus Strategies redefined the problem:

How can design thinking improve the internal communications system to reduce lead times and minimize errors?

Building on the insights and feedback from the exploration, the team participated in a different series of workshops. Over the course of several days, the team developed a set of future-state blueprints of the communication system from first contact with a prospect through to installation and invoicing.

Using these blueprints as a guide, several adjustments were made to current communication flows. These adjustments were tested via mock walk-throughs to see which ones worked best in context.

In addition, the number of forms used to capture information was reduced from 5 to 1. The team worked together to create consensus around what information was needed for all departments, removing anything unnecessary or duplicated. Nucleus then designed 2 different versions of a form containing all this information to test throughout the entire customer lifecycle, in context. When it became clear that one form design was superior, Nucleus worked with the team to further define print materials, sizing, and other final details.

Once the work was complete, the number of different touchpoints required of a customer to provide information was reduced from 10 to 2. The number of forms used was reduced from 5 to 1. The chance of error in communicating key information was drastically reduced, and as a result the amount of errors dipped immediately. Finally, as a result of this improved communications system, lead times dropped nearly 50%.

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