By Mark Davis, Staff Writer
(The Kansas City Star, November 18, 1995)
After seven years in business, Les Davis has one customer for his company -- the only
customer he wants.
Focus Packaging, Inc, which Davis and his wife jointly own, makes soap boxes for
Colgate-Palmolive Company. Each shiny cardboard carton becomes home to a bar of Irish Spring or
other soap coming out of Colgate's plant in Kansas City, Kansas.
The 21 workers and one high-speed press at Focus turn out 18 different cartons for Colgate.
Nothing else. Focus Packaging is a focused factory." I'll never have a plant with more than
three customers" Davis said. "You're always sacrificing one for the other."
Davis found the focused factory concept in a 1974 report by The Harvard Business Review. Show
a little interest, and he'll produce a stapled photocopy.
The report outlines a U.S. response to foreign competition. Focus a plant on a few products,
Wickham Skinner wrote, and it will "out produce, undersell and quickly gain competitive
advantage" over any that divides its attention.
Twenty years later, Davis offers Focus Packaging as proof to Skinner's theory.
The Kansas City, KS plant will generate between $5.5 million and $6 million in revenue this
year. Business has grown enough that Focus hired its own accountant last year and adds a print
manager to the payroll today. A third shift is being formed.
Davis counts many advantages to serving one customer.
Crews don't need retraining because they do the same thing, for the same customer, all of the
time. A typical large shop might run a customer's order every two months. Meanwhile, workers
have shifted their focus to another customer's tastes and demands. "So the guy's going through a
learning curve every time you do a job," Davis said.
The folding and gluing machine at Focus packaging handles only one size box, so it never has
to be reset. The press stops only to install a new roll of the thin cardboard on which it
Close attention to Colgate's needs helped Davis wrest its business away from his former
employer, a company in Richmond, VA for which he had been a sales manager for 15 years.
then (from left), Richard Williams and
Dennis Mueller work on a press at Focus Packaging, which is printing Irish Spring soap
boxes at the rate of 150,000 per hour.
Colgate had begun shifting all of its North
American bar soap production to Kansas City, KS. And, by Davis' account, kept asking its
Virginia supplier to consider moving production westward.
"They'd done that actually three years in a row," Davis
said. "It became obvious Colgate was dead serious about that."
Les and Claudia Davis funneled their life savings into
Focus Packaging. The plant was running by June, 1988.
Today, Focus supplies 90 percent of the soap boxes
Colgate needs, and Davis is pushing for 100 percent.
He is also scouting for another large customer. But,
said Davis, a second customer will mean a second focused factory.
(Epilogue: Les & Claudia Davis
recently sold their company after many years of success)