Is Pottery Barn Lean?

By Ron Pereira Updated on February 11th, 2009

We’ve had the same couch for about 8 years. I love it. It’s one of those huge sectionals with the “captain’s chair” in the middle.

I’ve watched my Buckeyes win a National Championship while sitting on this couch.

I’ve also held and played with all my children from the moment they each came into this world on this very couch.

So, yeah, I’m connected to this couch in a strong way. But, alas, time has worn on my poor couch and its days are coming to an end.

Pottery Barn Here We Come

As such, my wife has recently convinced me that the time was right to buy a new one. So, after some shopping we decided on a nice three piece set from Pottery Barn. I’m still in shock as to how much we paid… but hey, that’s another article in its own.

But here’s the thing. This couch will be custom made. We picked the style, fabric, color, etc. This is pretty lean if you ask me. I mean we built exactly what we wanted.

Say What?

Then I got the shock of the day. The nice Pottery Barn lady told us that the lead-time for this couch was 2 months! Yes, that’s right 2 freaking months!

So, as we were leaving the store I kept mumbling under my breath. Part of the mumbling was likely due to the shock I was in for spending so much… but the majority of the shock was likely due to the massive lead-time.

Well, being the excellent spouse she is, my wife attempted to tell me how she was surprised at my reaction.

She challenged with me with a question… she asked me isn’t their approach the lean way? Her rationale was that we – the customer – are getting exactly what we want. She also said that it would seem that Pottery Barn will not have to hold lots on finished goods inventory since they are making to order.

Let the Conversation Begin

We commenced to have an excellent discussion on these comments of hers. But rather than me replaying our conversation I’d like to hear your thoughts.

So, what do you think.  Is Pottery Barn lean?

  1. Clint Bird

    February 11, 2009 - 9:45 am

    I suppose this comes down to the age old question of what the customer wants and what the customers willing to pay for… In this case you want to be able to customise your couch but I think its a fair statement to say youd like it in under 2 months as well (especially by the amount it sounds like you paid)
    Its one thing to preach lean but what happens to JIT delivery. 2 Months by anyones standards is a joke… This isnt a lean processes, its pottery barn holding no stock then simply ordering with (traditional/fatty) lead times. In my oppinion its a case of all care no responsibility.

  2. Ron Pereira

    February 11, 2009 - 9:50 am

    Thanks for the comment, Clint. And welcome to the blogosphere… I was just checking out your site and look forward to hearing your thoughts. All the best.

  3. Vladimir Dzalbo

    February 11, 2009 - 10:15 am

    Totally agree with Clint… That is hard to imagine why it takes 2 months to produce a couch. Are they growing trees specific to customer order? 😀
    I mean, seems like Furniture production companies have never heard about takt time and the way of its calculation.

    That’s quite amazing that this post came today as I was just discussing with my friends the same furniture problem over here, in The Netherlands. The choice over here is
    a) to go to small shops with good quality goods, which will make you wait 2-3 months (and yeah, prices over there do bite a lot)
    b) IKEA.. well, no wonder they are such a huge success

  4. Jason Stokes

    February 11, 2009 - 10:59 am

    Most major furniture stores/brands are like this. I’ve purchased from both Ethan Allen and Lay-z-boy, and both took almost 2 months to get my furniture delivered. I’d love to do a VA/NVA analysis of their value stream. I imagine it’s terrible.

    Making a couch just can’t take that long. They’re as far from lean as possible, in my opinion.

  5. Darrin Thompson

    February 11, 2009 - 11:07 am

    What’s the value stream for the couch look like?

  6. Vladimir Dzalbo

    February 11, 2009 - 12:08 pm

    I’ve happened to be at an Italian furniture factory once somewhere in the suburbs of Milan.. That was pretty small but very well automated one. I could see the whole production process: it took no more than several hours (there were some steps where they used prepared sub-assemblies)… Where do these 2 months come from?

    That must very slow, non-optimized Supply Chain.

  7. Evan Miller

    February 11, 2009 - 3:43 pm

    They can call it lean as long as no other vendor produces exactly what you want in a lot size of one and does it fast. But I agree with all the other comments. This is traditional practices applied to customized production. Lots of churn.

  8. Lisa Angell

    February 12, 2009 - 10:21 am

    I am going to assume based on the long lead time that there is certainly a lot of waste within Pottery Barn’s process; which doesn’t strike me as a lean process but just “make to order”….or more likely “procure to order”. My best guess is that the largest cause of waste may be related to the transportation of either the materials (fabric) or the end item (couch) from the eastern hemisphere of the globe to your local Pottery Barn warehouse. A value stream analysis would be very interesting here.
    Either way, you still bought the couch?? What was the order winner?
    Lisa Angell

  9. Penny Riordan

    February 12, 2009 - 10:24 am

    Definitely not lean. Nowhere close. Yet another example of an antiquated way of doing business – and the industry remains shocked that they’re losing business to companies like IKEA. Do you know how long you have to wait for a sofa from IKEA? If you bring your own van, no wait! If you want to change the color, pick up the slip covers in the color you like. Now that’s lean.

  10. Chris Young

    February 12, 2009 - 10:29 am

    As a consumer myself, I can without any hesitation say that the customer wants more than order specifications to be met. We want a good quality product, delivered when we want it, at a good price and to our specifications. With the quality question still in the air, it looks like the Pottery Barn is batting .250. That won’t get you into the Hall of Fame. May I suggest some “lean steroids”?

  11. Sheila Watson

    February 12, 2009 - 10:31 am

    IKEA may be lean but they are no Pottery Barn! Just ask our First Lady, Michelle Obama: http://tinyurl.com/dhtypf.

  12. Robert

    February 12, 2009 - 11:10 am

    I guess waiting for two months quite atrocious waiting time. Somebody like me might even lose interest to buy such a thing. I am not aware of reality of the factory so it would be hard to say where are major waist laid on. One rule of the sales man is if he or she could not get the cash when the customer is in he/she has burned up to 95% of possibility of sales.

  13. Scott

    February 12, 2009 - 11:23 am

    Lets not hang Pottery Barn out yet. As long as the customer continues to order there is no reason to change. As was stated it would be nice to understand their VSM as far as the ITO and OTR process. Do they do a combined corporate purchase weekly, where are the units fabricated, and then are the units shipped to a central distribution center which are then delivered to the individual stores? So it comes down to Pottery barn if they are able to turn the process around and give 2 weeks delivery or less, does this enhance net OM?

  14. Ron Pereira

    February 12, 2009 - 11:44 am

    The comments above are fantastic! Thank you and please don’t let me stop you!

    One thing, if I could share some more thoughts, that was important to my wife was the ability to get exactly what she wanted.

    She actually looked at IKEA and JC Penny and a few other places. She even found the same couch… with one difference – there were feathers stuffed in them at these other places and both me and my daughter are deathly allergic to feathers!

    So, the only place she found the exact couch she wanted without feathers was Pottery Barn. And since she’s waited so long to get this dream couch waiting a few months wasn’t a big deal at all. To her at least!

    Me, yeah, I’m still in shock but writing about it helps. 😉

    @ Lisa – We got the couch in the picture… only a darker brown color to better hide the spilled drinks, etc.

  15. Mike

    February 12, 2009 - 12:14 pm

    I toured an office/school furniture plant where all of the orders were custom made. Their lead times were within a week if I recall, a very lean facility. All of the custom fabrics were pulled from inventory, cut to size and sewed, and then delivered in the assembly order to the assembly work cell (multiple fabrics in a pile based on the order book). That was lean. This example is not.

    And for those questioning if a customer wants a faster delivery, any industry can gain market share by cutting lead time. The best story I heard was from a company that sent 2 request for quotes out, and when the second company finally got thier quote in the customer replied that the competitor already quoted, manufactured, and shipped the item.

  16. Mindo

    February 12, 2009 - 3:19 pm

    Is PB lean? I don’t know. Custom built is not the same as lean. If waste is anything that a customer would not pay for, how do you define payment? Is money the only factor? How about a customer’s wait time. Is PB avoiding inventory waste by creating longer lead times? Is that just transfering one waste to another?

  17. Genni Pereira

    February 12, 2009 - 8:30 pm

    Just for fun I thought I would comment here – the couch is 10 years old and although my husband, Ron may have been “attached” to the couch, he couldn’t stop telling me how embarrassing it was as it got more and more worn out. It got especially embarrassing when our children made a minute tear in the couch very big and Ron tried to sew it. And he also talked ME into Pottery Barn (which was my last resort because it was more expensive than we would like to pay) after he wimped out of furniture shopping after the 5th store. LOL – I couldn’t resist telling my side of the story! In all seriousness, thank you to my wonderful husband for working so hard to give us the very best!

  18. Ron Pereira

    February 12, 2009 - 8:39 pm

    Now that isn’t even close to being right! My wife calling me out on my own blog. Man oh man. 😉

  19. Trish

    February 13, 2009 - 3:46 pm

    I would have had to leave the store without the “couch order”. The Pottery Barn would be making my couch exactly as I wanted-but sticking to the “VOC”-I would state that I wanted my couch earlier. No, I don’t think the PB is lean. Although I do love their furniture!

  20. Leroy

    February 16, 2009 - 1:50 am

    I loved your blog, and can relate to it very well. We make components that are highly configurable – some products have over 14,000 options. It is therefore very difficult to create a lean JIT environment.

    In the case of PB – I would have suggested some form of Change To Order approach (outlined in The Toyota way). PB could create skeletal coaches on Takt time and then configure the part made unit to reduce lead time.

    Also Trish’s comments ring true. One dimension of VOC is usually speed of delivery.

  21. Rich

    May 25, 2009 - 8:13 am

    I’m not a supply chain guy — I found this site by looking for approximate delivery times on PB couches as I am now, like you were, waiting for a pottery barn couch to be delivered and hoping PB was just being ultra conservative. We wanted to buy the exact couch they had in store and were told it would take 8 weeks. Dumbfounded, disappointed and ill-prepared (first apartment, sitting on a blow up mattress) we decided to leave the store to shop elsewhere only to find that same story (or worse) at every other store we visited. PB offers some limited models/colors in 1-2 weeks if you live in a big city and order only from the limited choices. We had our hearts set on this particular model (found only at PB) and so 2 months seemed a short wait for a couch we’ll have for 10+ years. However, if I could get it quicker elsewhere, I would not have hesitated. Furthermore, I would have paid an extra $X (200, 300, 400) to have it delivered within 1-2 weeks. This was not an option, though it seems like a revenue stream loss to me. I don’t like sitting on a blow up mattress.

  22. Cesar Hernandez

    October 20, 2011 - 12:49 pm

    The furniture industry has the complete range from nothing to very lean, but based on your example I believe that the company you are talking about is Lean and will take two months because is in China. How long it took you to receive it?

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