Kaizen Saves Kaas Tailored

“If you are not curious, move to the back so the curious people can get their questions answered,” says a guy in jeans and a button up shirt, as we settle in for early morning introductions. Last Thursday, about 50 King County employees gathered in the beautiful Kaas Tailored showroom in Mukilteo, to participate in their very popular Waste Tour. Kaas Tailored, a custom furniture upholstery company, has been giving these tours for many years to show the changes they have made in their efforts to continually ‘get it right’.


Turns out the guy in jeans is the owner, Jeff Kaas, and the ‘it’ he works to continually improve, is growing people. Their guiding philosophy is centered in the concept of ‘Kaizen’ which is all about continuous improvement.

Kaas Tailored started on their Lean journey in the late 90’s, out of fear, says Jeff, when manufacturing jobs were sent overseas and the company was challenged by their biggest customer to reduce waste for their mutual benefit.

To describe waste at Kaas is not to look for dust bunnies and garbage cans, although cleaning is part of the process. In this case, waste exists everywhere, and is an often unconscious part of the processes in every day life.

Jeff described each department of his company as part of an application; all relying on each other to operate. Too much waste means reducing their productivity and their overall profitability. J Kaas Tailored averages about $20 million in sales per year, and reducing waste has saved them about 10 percent, which is the equivalent of $2 million a year. Says Jeff, “For a small company like this, our lifeblood depends on this work.”

To get to that savings, employees are required to perform 12 Kaizen activities a year. This means employees look for areas to improve, suggest the improvement, and then carry out the improvement activity. Jeff says it’s not a suggestion process, in that the person who identifies the problem fixes the problem.


During the tour, Jeff and several employees broke down their definition of waste into simple terms.

  • Over-production: described as making more than what is needed and pushing work onto the next department. Jeff says keeping busy is not the right answer if it results in producing more than you need. The antidote? Small jobs, performed from start , called ‘Bit’ work (think Starbucks custom orders vs. mass produced burgers)
  • Transportation: can be seen in inefficient moving of people or things from one place to another. For example, consider the movement of paperwork between employees. The remedy? Reduce unnecessary steps, and go digital when possible
  • Unnecessary Motion: typically seen as bending, and moving – but when applied to knowledge workers it uncovers the concept of ‘searching and not finding’. How much time do we spend looking for something we need, to do our jobs? The cure? Understand the information management process and reduce side systems
  • Waiting – nobody likes to wait, and it can cost money to delay. To avoid this, understand capacity, and know what to do when you are working over or under capacity.
  • Processing – this can be broken into 3 areas: over, under, and no.
    • Over processing is adding unnecessary layers. Think in terms of meetings. If you added up the dollar value of a meeting, would you want pay for it?
    • An example of under processing is only using email, which may not deliver the value you need. According to Jeff, 80% of communication is body language. He gives his vendors an iPad and requires them to use online meetings like Skype or Facetime instead of email.
    • No process is not a good place to be with ad hoc methods and no standardized work
    • Inventory: Too much inventory is overproduction, but the real key here is to monitor work that is started but not complete. Work in progress was explained like this: Imagine a kitchen filled with cookie dough, taco fixings, and pizza crust all laid out but left partially uncooked. To a hungry 16 year old kid, it’s agonizing to not be able to eat it. Things left undone can weigh down morale and everyone feels it. To combat too many undone projects, Jeff limits his team to 3 top goals, and 3 projects, maximum.

Defects – Defects are mistakes, and require re-work which is more costly for the company than slowing down the process to do it right in the first place. An example of this is Team Training, where each day the entire factory shuts down so employees can train each other on a specific skill.

Darryl Peacock, the maintenance lead for Kaas, joined our group tour during Team Clean, a required part of each work day where employees stop their work and pick up a broom to clean the shop. “Before the improvements that reduce waste, we could count on $75 of productivity per hour per person on the floor, now we see about $135 to $145 per person.”

Darryl says the overall Kaizen philosophy is empowering, and along the lines of ‘don’t wait for someone else to fix your problems’. He went on to say, “It’s your house, what kind of improvements would you want to make that makes you feel safer, more comfortable, and more productive”.

-Terra Milles

One thought on “Kaizen Saves Kaas Tailored

  1. I was impressed with the Kaas tailored tour/presentation. I know as King county employees we are starting to implement these Kaizen principles to help us become more efficient and productive. We are always trying to improve just about everything we do. It is the right thing to do for our customers, the public tax payers that we serve.

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