American Leather

A worker builds a new recliner

American Leather makes leather and fabric furniture in more than 130 collections carried by more than 650 stores.


El Centro College – Bill J. Priest Campus


Lean leadership and process improvement training to a diverse population of employees at a furniture manufacturing company.

Lean principles were first created by Toyota to reduce waste by defining, measuring, analyzing and improving processes in manufacturing. Lean management seeks to eliminate wastes of time and money through team-based problem solving.


American Leather was founded in 1990 by CEO Bob Duncan on the principles of “just in time” manufacturing modeled by the Japanese automobile industry. The company, based just outside Dallas, makes leather and fabric furniture in more than 130 collections carried by more than 650 stores, with mass customization through the latest technology and manufacturing systems.

Goal and Target Population

The company wanted to invest in training across its employee base to improve operations, production and processes. Initiatives for improvement were largely based on implementing Lean concepts.


Funds in the amount of $259,175 were awarded by a Texas Workforce Commission Skills Development grant for a 12-month period. The program funded by the grant was named Growing Excellent Manufacturing Skills (GEMS). ​​

View a transcript.



​​The 270 American Leather employees who received training in Lean process improvement completed a total of 3,750 training hours. Job titles participating were buyer, customer service manager, engineer, framer and padder, machine operator, maintenance janitorial staff manager and technician, marketing and sales coordinator, materials handler, merchandising designer, production scheduler and supervisor, receptionist and administrative assistant, accountant, ​textile cutting machine operator, and upholsterer.

Challenges and Solutions

American Leather had already created a culture of continuous process improvement and learning with previous training based on Lean concepts. The company wanted to align current training with that position and culture, and by thorough discovery on client needs with strategic communication, El Centro was able to provide seamless training in the same vein.

An employee at American Leather uses a computer-guided laser system to ensure a piece of leather is the perfect fit before cutting.

Strategies for Success

Lean and leadership classes were designed and customized to meet company initiatives at American Leather. College workforce staff and training instructors met with company leaders to design a comprehensive plan to meet specific requests and needs.


American Leather measured record sales during in the 14 months following training, reporting operational improvements that have resulted in increased productivity. All 270 employees completed their training in this grant, and 14 new employees were hired during the grant period.

Lessons Learned

Continue to be flexible and work with the company, understanding that business is fluid and trainers must adjust accordingly to gain best results.

What Our Partners Say

Julio C. Wong
Julio C. Wong
Director of Human Resources, American Leather
“I have not worked with a more professional group of individuals. As we increased our workforce and improved our business process, the [El Centro College] Bill Priest Institute has been instrumental in helping us create a culture of continuous process improvement and learning.”

For More Information

El Centro College – Bill J. Priest Campus
Continuing and Workforce Education