Most Innovative Companies #3: Starbucks

This week, we'll be counting down the last five of what we consider to be the most innovative industrial companies covered in-depth by and its sister publications throughout 2013.

Our #3 choice is a very well-known one: Starbucks. Starbucks recently won the AME’s Manufacturing Excellence Award, and is using unique and innovative managerial techniques in order to streamline production and boost efficiency. Starbucks’ Carson Valley production branch went Lean in 2009, and has tweaked its procedures in company areas like shelving, interaction with partners, company safety and plant improvement. Their efforts have been largely successful, and Starbucks is gaining media attention again for its unique business innovations.

After winding along hairpin curves up through the dense mountains of Northeastern California, Minden, NV is a welcome reprieve. You can see for, literally, miles — until the skyline is interrupted by snow-capped Sierras. You couldn’t ask for a better view; it’s the kind that makes you want to curl up with a cup of good coffee.

And if it’s good coffee you’re looking for, the Starbucks Carson Valley Roasting Plant & Distribution Center is going to be your favorite part of Minden. Even its lobby smells like a rich and flavorful cup of joe. If you get them talking, the crew here will tell you everything you need to know about how roasting and brewing methods affect the flavor of coffee in so many ways. And just as the smallest of modifications can dramatically affect the flavor of the cup, Starbucks Carson Valley has learned that – likewise – small steps towards continuous improvement can yield returns in big, bold bursts, or in subtle, mellower notes. It all starts with the effort.

Manufacturing Excellence

This visit to Carson Valley came on the heels of a prestigious distinction for the facility in 2012 — The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME)’s Manufacturing Excellence Award. AME, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to continuous improvement and operational excellence, honors select facilities annually, citing North American plants that demonstrate significant progress in their journeys towards operational excellence over a three year period. This award supports AME’s mission of inspiring commitment to enterprise excellence through shared learning and best practices. According to Paul Kuchuris, AME President, part of why Carson Valley was selected had to do with its ability to demonstrate progress in a short period.

For Plant Director Jason Tollmann, progress was the key goal when the plant decided to re-focus its efforts towards Lean in 2009. “I think with most companies going through the Lean journey, it’s sometimes viewed as the flavor of the month. So we didn’t want to come out and say ‘Hey, we’re doing this Lean thing again.’ I think we’ve been pretty creative in creating our own version,” says Tollmann. But the leadership team at Carson Valley didn’t just take a book on Lean, dust it off, and follow it to the letter. Instead, they tried to take an approach that really integrated the team members’ ideas (Starbucks refers to them as “partners”) into the plant’s goals.

Read the rest of the article here.

See the rest of's Most Innovative Industrial Companies For 2013.

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