Success Story: Empire Bucket

Empire Bucket, Inc. Begins Lean Journey


Location: Hudson, WI
Headquarters: Hudson, WI
Years in Business: Since 1971
No. of Employees: 35

Products: Full range of ground-engaging products from buckets to trench shields

NWMOC Projects: 2 Principles of Lean Workshops, 5S Workplace Organization


Empire Bucket's sales had declined, overall performance and quality had decreased – something had to be done! Joe Pertz, President of Empire Bucket is a hands-on owner, but he was more than willing to listen to his General Manager, Sue Olson, and Sales Manager, Dan Miller, when they discussed the need to make changes to improve overall quality and increase sales.  Empire had been getting the job done since 1971, but the changing economy had greatly impacted their core customers in the construction industry. "Our customers are demanding lower prices, faster delivery and better quality" says Miller.  Olson and Miller knew they needed to make some changes, and that they would need some help with those changes. Empire Bucket has been a member of the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce for many years, and Olson knew several members of the Chamber who had recommended using the Northwest Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center at UW-Stout. Miller had attended  UW-Stout, so he felt comfortable starting there. They made a phone call to Dr. Renee Surdick at UW-Stout's Discovery Center. Surdick visited them and suggested some actions they could start with.


Project Managers from the Northwest Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center at UW-Stout conducted two Principles of Lean workshops, which resulted in all Empire Bucket employees obtaining an overview and basic understanding of Lean manufacturing.  

These workshops were followed by an initial 5S event: 5S stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Now, 5S events have become part of the everyday culture at Empire Bucket. Sue makes the rounds every Friday to ensure that no "relapses" to old habits occur, and rewards like new jackets and gift
certificates are given to those who best display 5S behavior and work areas. 

"You just start to build it into your culture," commented Dan Miller. "The enthusiasm and participation of our employees and management working together was unbelievable" added Sue Olson, who started with Empire in 1980 when they had only six employees. "We've done a lot of things to help improve our team, but watching everyone working together during the session was extremely valuable." They now operate much more procedurally, she commented. They've put procedures and standards in writing and are developing manuals for each department. No more vague work instructions; no more "rolling your own." Lean opens up opportunities for employees to get involved with changing their own work environments for the better. Employees have made fixtures to store work devices on the sides of equipment, making for a much less cluttered and more visually appealing work space.  

"NWMOC's services are much less expensive than others, " Dan added. "Your involvement and follow-up over time is a huge pay-off. We highly recommend your services to other manufacturers."

Projected Results

  • Increase annual sales by $520,000
  • Add 4 new jobs
  • Retain 2 new jobs
  • Retain $300,000 in sales
  • Cost savings of $150,000 in labor, $40,000 in materials, $4,000 in energy

Before 5S Event

After 5S Event

Empire Bucket

The enthusiasm and participation of our employees and management working together was unbelievable.

~ Sue Olson, General Manager