Costco Toilet Paper, Sandwiches & The Lean Value Stream

A version of this article was originally published in the Summer 2017 edition of the Provender Alliance Journal.

I use to buy Costco toilet paper. I use to spend $20 on 30 very long rolls of TP. That’s $0.67 per roll, plus these rolls are on average twice as long as regular TP. Pretty good right! Yeah, that’s what I thought… until I discovered lean. What the BLEEP does lean have to do with TP buying decisions? Everything has to do with lean! Well, almost everything. Anything and everything that enters your home, be it material or information, is up for scrutinization by lean. Whether we like it or not we are all part of a same value stream at home, at work and everywhere else we make decisions that affect material and informational flow. And don’t even get me started on environmental flow! Ok, hold up, back off.

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3 Lean Tools To Put Out Those Fires… For Good

We all have days where we feel like all we did was jump from one fire to the next; reacting to what was coming as opposed to doing anything we we’re planning to do. Unfortunately this kind of work environment can more often be the norm as opposed to the exception.

Before my old business Plywerk went lean I had come to the false conclusion that being a business owner with employees meant that I was forever confined to a life of putting out fires. I was wrong.


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photo credit: North St Bags

North St Bags

I introduced Curtis, the founder & owner of North St Bags, to the principles of lean manufacturing. Then, over a period of several years, I provided ongoing guidance as he rolled out lean in his workplace and continued to deepen his knowledge.


Kjell’s advice and guidance on lean practices has been integral to our success as a growing manufacturing brand. From our conversations, and his reading recommendations, I’ve successfully implemented kanban systems, regular 5S and kaizen practices, as well as a culture of experimentation and self improvement company-wide. We boast a 1-2 week lead time for all wholesale orders, and the minimal inventory required to maintain that. We’ve also seen reduced costs and increased customer satisfaction since introducing lean systems to our business, rivaling much larger companies with similar products. I highly recommend going lean with any business, and Kjell’s passion and expertise on the subject make him an excellent guide in that transition.

Curtis Williams, founder & owner


North St Bags is a Portland, Oregon based designer and manufacturer of panniers, backpacks and bike commuter accessories. Their bags are made from almost exclusively from U.S. sourced parts and materials.


photo credit: North St Bags
photo credit: North St Bags
Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 11.28.20 PM
photo credit: North St Bags
photo credit: Grovemade


I led a company wide “hands-on” lean fundamentals workshop and took the majority of the production crew on a tour of the Leatherman factory in NE Portland. Worked with the COO and CEO to gather data for the drafting of a value stream map (VSM) & opportunities assessment for Grovemade’s iPhone case production line. Recommendations (based upon the VSM & opportunities assessment) were then presented to the CEO and COO.


Having already practiced lean manufacturing principles for 4 years, we were pleasantly surprised to see what perspective Kjell could bring from the outside.  He quickly challenged us on deeper questions on why we were doing things the way we were and that lead to some real actionable items of improvement.  He leverages first hand practical experience in manufacturing and theoretical ideals of lean for real world solutions that are realistic.  That combination allows him to be an effective consultant and teacher.

Ken Tomita, founder & CEO


Grovemade is a Portland, Oregon based product design and manufacturing company. They produce consumer goods focused on art, design, craftsmanship, and natural materials.


Kjell knows lean inside-out. He quickly identified areas in our organization that were in need of improvement, and then worked with our whole team to raise awareness and create actionable steps for change. I was impressed by how quickly we were able to take immediate action on Kjell’s recommendations allowing for an almost instant return on our work with him.

Jim Hassert, COO


photo credit: Grovemade
maple & leather iPhone case – photo credit: Grovemade
photo credit: Grovemade
photo credit: Grovemade