Miracle Stories

Reily Foods: A Century of Culture Driving Productivity Into the Next

July Edition 2021

Founded in 1902, William B. Reily would be proud of what this still family-owned coffee, tea and packaged food manufacturer has become. 119 years and going strong, Reily Foods has grown through acquisition, expanding from its original Southern roots in New Orleans into the now flagship Knoxville, TN plant and more recently acquiring their Boston facility making New England Coffee. But as Mike Bearden, VP of Operations, describes, the original family culture is alive and well with fourth generation family CEO, Bo Reily, telling stories of his days working in the Blue Plate Mayonnaise factory.

Reily-made products are a staple of the South and across the US with brands like Luzianne Tea, French Market Coffee, New England Coffee, Blue Plate Mayonnaise, Swans Down Cake Flour, Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm and Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kits, La Martinique Salad Dressings, and Tiger Sauce Hot Sauce.

Mike and Scott Watson, the Knoxville Plant Manager, were fairly new to Reily when they went on a junket to the Pack Expo tradeshow where they were looking to fill a gap in their need for operational data. Mike had had experience with MES in his past roles working for manufacturing giants but was struggling with how to justify the expense—and complexity—of an MES to a smaller company. On their way out of the show, they met Redzone. The rest is history—and now the future. Mike decided to trial Redzone in the Knoxville facility first because of the talent he had with Scott and Ryan Holliday, Strategic Project Manager, who had been with Reily for some 7 years. “So, whenever you want to make a change, you go where there’s energy, right? The energy was here with these two gentlemen. And the result was exactly what I wanted. It created competitive suction from the other two sites.”

“I’ve been here for about seven years.” Explained Ryan. “We’ve always had a strong family culture in the plant—family-owned culture—where we have the freedom to make our own decisions and make our own pathways. And what we began to see was multiple sub-cultures forming. With the addition of Redzone, those sub-cultures started to cross-pollinate and really polish into a shiny unified culture.”

“I have three very competitive plant managers,” Mike adds, “and that drives a lot of innovation and creativity. Collaboration has been a foundational pillar—which has been empowered by Redzone. Collaboration brings the best ideas up front. And it gives you that Darwinism where the best wins. That competitiveness reinforces each of the bright minds that may not have had a chance to interact on a daily basis in the past.

We’ve always had a strong family culture in the plant—family-owned culture—where we have the freedom to make our own decisions and make our own pathways. And what we began to see was multiple sub-cultures forming. With the addition of Redzone, those sub-cultures started to cross-pollinate and really polish into a shiny unified culture.

A Winning Culture

So, is it any wonder that the competitive culture at Reily Foods, Knoxville resulted in their winning one of the coveted Redzone Productivity Awards for their 42% productivity improvement in the first 90 days? Apparently not to Ryan who said, “To me, the award was expected. Months after the implementation I saw what was happening. I’m just glad Redzone recognized it. When we received the award, I was like, Yep. I knew it. I knew it was coming!”

“I happened to be in Knoxville during the award ceremony, so I got to celebrate with the team.” Added Mike. “And then very quickly my other two plant managers called to complain that ‘The only reason we didn’t win is because we hadn’t been on Redzone for a year yet!’ I think it’s fantastic,” he continued. “I love to say, ‘Well, sure you could do it that way, but Knoxville’s doing it two points better than you.’ There’s no better way to get under a competitive plant managers skin…!”

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit for our success to Ryan,” chimed in Scott. “Ryan is able to do anything we can dream up and he was a huge part of our implementation success. And too, Amanda Tingle, our Quality Manager played a really, really big role, especially as we rolled into the Compliance module. It felt really good to win the award,” added Ryan. “It gave us an opportunity to celebrate with our teams and bring them all together to celebrate, and not just the award, but all the different milestones that we’ve accomplished over the last couple of years with Redzone. It was a great event for Reily!”

Lower Attrition

The Big Win And a success it has been. “Now, let’s not forget that we implemented all three plants during a global pandemic with lockdowns and travel restrictions—including our Redzone coaches,” continues Mike.

“We started laying out our plans with Redzone in January with what our miracle would be and at that time we were working seven days a week to meet our pre-COVID demand. That was draining on the staff. Before Redzone, our attrition was almost 16%; not horrible, but not where I wanted to be. Our dream of a miracle would be to run the plants on straight-time. Fast- forward to today—and throughout 2020, it was down to 5%. And we’re down to 5 days a week to give back work-life balance to our teams. Those are big wins in my book.”

“The other big win,” adds Mike, “Is that we turned the tables on the business from an operations perspective. The organization would ask ‘What are you able to produce?’ because operations was the bottleneck, and we were worried about people feeling safe enough to come in to work. Who else can make product? But, after the initial lock-down, the frontline teams came back with a vengeance and really did the unimaginable. They delivered an increase of 42% and Sales was elated that they could satisfy the demand. It really changed the dynamic on how the company perceived operations. When you have a compelling business need; you have the capability; you have energy; and you put all those things together, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you. And so, that was the story of last year.”

Sharing The Wealth

Mike adds, “And bringing it back to our culture, our increased productivity has allowed us to add a really fun reward program to say thanks to our team members for being part of the family. It’s called Reily Bucks and it revolves around these cards that look like money with the founder William B. Reily’s image where the presidents usually go. Managers can hand these out to worthy folks, and they can spend the denomination on the Reily branded merchandise like hats, mugs, jackets, etc. People are proud to don their Reily gear.”

“And from a team standpoint,” continues Mike, “not only did everyone perform through the COVID-craziness, but Redzone gave us visibility to the stand-out performers whom we’ve been able to create career growth paths for. Scott began to define—and redefine—what skills we wanted each of the operator levels to have and now he can invest in upskilling those who show potential. We’ve driven enough stability into the business to confidently and predictably deliver our production volume so Scott and Ryan can turn their attention to even greater improvement opportunities. It’s a virtuous circle of performance plus investment resulting in higher performance and greater results that can fund more investment! We’re going to invest in our folks and that investment is going to make them better for Reily, for their community and for themselves.”

A Continuous Journey

What will Reily be able to do with such an investment at Knoxville? “Well, it never stops, right?” Mike explains. “I mean, we are on a journey, and when it comes to continuous improvement and teaching our folks those tools and where we’re going, we’re kind of in our infancy. So, there’s a huge trajectory in front of us and we know we can get there. But, by definition it’s continuous. So, that’s where we continue to find new ways of using Redzone to help us on that journey.” Scott adds, “I mean our maintenance is a great example. Our maintenance group loves Redzone. We had a system before that would track work orders and that sort of thing, but they prefer Redzone to the old historical work order system. Redzone is real-time, so if I go out there today and see something, take a picture, make a work order—boom—it goes to the maintenance manager. He can delegate it or assign it to one of the people on his team. A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? They pull it up; they know exactly what’s being discussed or asked of them; and we’re getting a lot more work done as a result of that.” “We’re going to continue to skill up,” Mike continues. “I mean labor right now definitely has its challenges but from a standpoint of the employees we have, it really is about growing them, not replacing them. And that effort is going to take us to the next level of performance.” Scott chimes in, “Because of what we’ve created, it really turns the tide to where our folks are coming to us, asking how they can get these skills. It’s a pull versus a push. A perfect example is the fishbone diagrams. I mean, we made that one of the requirements to be an operator, so now our folks are asking, how can I get involved? How can I learn to do one of these?”

The Virtuous Circle

Bringing it back full circle, how does Mike explain Redzone? “It’s funny because Scott and I knew we didn’t have the data we needed, so my experience told me we needed an MES. Well, I got my MES, but I really didn’t realize how much else I got in the box. Connecting the workers brought my 3 plant cultures together and that resulted in that virtuous circle of productivity that feeds the culture that produces more productivity. I mean, wow! I wasn’t expecting that. In fact, the response from our team continues to exceed my expectations every time I turn around. Not to mention the access I have to my peers in the Redzone community. That has been a tremendous resource to benchmark ourselves and really learn while developing relationships with other operations professionals.”

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