Today I had the pleasure of spending the morning with Rob Vandermark the CEO of SEVEN Cycles, perhaps the world's foremost process-oriented custom bicycle manufacturer.
Housed in an unassuming factory in Watertown MA, Rob and his team have built an amazing business which worships at the alter of great cycles, manufacturing excellence, and business profitability. After 12 years of business, they have learned a thing or two about manufacturing in a local environment for a heavily involved customer, and those learnings are magical for us to share in.
With a shockingly low investment in machinery and tools, SEVEN, can produce 8 custom bicycles per day at steady state with hyper quality control. What you do not see from a casual cruise around the factory such as in this YouTube video is the flex time that Rob and the team have devised to allow each member of SEVEN to work on his own time to produce the required product with maximum personal freedom and enjoyment. To achieve this freedom in a single piece flow system, Rob has had to improvise by modifying the Toyota Production System (TPS). The result, however, is a compelling vision of small volume manufacturing.
Rob and I spent the best part of the day comparing notes. The bike industry is decidedly different from the car industry, but perhaps the single greatest attribute that both LM and SEVEN share is the core belief that economies of scale are not the only way to succeed in manufacturing when there is a strong market for differentiated products...in fact, diverging from some of the basic scale economies is almost a prerequisite for success in such a market. Heresy? perhaps, but when Ford built the Model T, there was no where near the precision machinery and supply of quality parts that is available today to small manufacturers.
What a phenomenal day. Kudos to SEVEN. Someday I hope to see a SEVEN Mountain bike on the rack atop a Rally Fighter...maybe my own :)