"Twenty years ago when the business was set up, no one worried about waste," he said. "But now we are in a different world."
Driving the introduction of a Lean management programme at Kernock, which produces 14 million plants a year, were three factors, Cooper told the audience of hardy nursery stock professionals - the highly labour-intensive nature of the business, customers wanting more for less, and the need to sustain growth and profitability.
Benefits have included an increase in collation rates of 48 per cent, a reduction in back orders, a reduction in transport costs and a reduction in the overall number of rejects.
However, Cooper said that cost savings hadn't automatically followed each Lean stage. In part, this was due to changes in staff and increases in labour rates. "Also, if we use Lean to cut labour, the next project won't work."
One example of a simple change that has led to significant savings in time was a decision to paint trolleys on the side where they are stacked. Now they are always returned to their bays in the right position, Cooper said.