When Ellis Yan visited the Mirage in Las Vegas, he wanted to take the house or at least its light bulbs. As founder and CEO of TCP Inc., he wanted the hotel to switch to his company’s light bulbs, but he faced a challenge from the manager.
He was staying on the 19th floor of the L-shaped hotel, and the manager told him to stand outside the elevator, located where the two seemingly endless halls converge, and look down each hall. One was equipped with all TCP bulbs, and the other with the hotel’s original bulbs. Immediately, Yan knew what the problem was, and the manager told him if he could fix the problem, then he’d be happy to give him his business.
“The problem was the color,” Yan says. “Our color just doesn’t match what we call ‘Las Vegas color.’ Las Vegas has a special color warm, fuzzy, it’s called ‘Get you!’ color ‘Get you to spend the money!’ It took me three or four months, and today, we have a full product line called ‘Las Vegas color.’”
Innovation like that didn’t just win over the Mirage’s business. It’s been crucial to growing TCP, but it’s also crucial for any business to focus on.
“Today, because the people, the technology and the environment change so fast, you have you to have something new constantly,” Yan says. “If we do not show people any new stuff every quarter, all of a sudden the perception out there is people feel that you’re a little boring nothing exciting so basically the innovation becomes the foundation of how the business grows.”
You may think that innovation is too difficult or maybe your product is such a commodity that you don’t know how to make it more innovative, but Yan points out that even something as simple as a toothbrush always manages to look different from year to year.
“You may argue that it’s the same toothbrush, but at the same time, they look different,” he says. “Sometimes, people are saying, ‘Oh innovation! You have to have something absolutely new, next generation.’ Not necessarily. Something has to be different; something interesting. ... All you have to do is pay attention. All they have to do is have a little daydream about something kind of crazy, something kind of out of the ordinary.”
For example, on a business trip, Yan learned about a product that the Japanese paint on the sides of their buildings. When it reacts with the sun, it absorbs foul odors in the air, thus making the city smell nicer. He was fascinated by it, so he found out what the product was and who made it, and he tinkered with his light bulbs to create the right setting to simulate the sun. Then he applied the product to the bulbs, and the result is the first odor-eliminating light bulb.
“Just pay attention,” he says. “In your daily life, and at the end of the day before you go to bed, you think through every day, all day what you talked about, (who) you met, what you thought about, what people offered you and you’ll find a tremendous amount of ideas.”
You also need to get your people thinking about new ideas, too, so Yan and his team meets weekly to come up with as many crazy ideas as they can. Out of one of those sessions came the idea to take their boxes and make them without any glue so they could be turned inside out, mailed back and recycled, which had been an issue in the past.
But even when you have a bunch of ideas, they’re nothing if you don’t act, so it’s important to move on them quickly.
“Today, if you stand still, you lose,” Yan says. “You have to move. You have to move very fast. You have to move your idea very fast. You have to convert your idea into action. Sometimes, I tell people, ‘Even if you push out a stupid idea into the market, the idea may be stupid, but the perception is innovation.’”
And perception is reality, so you have to keep up that appearance.
“People, the market, the customer, the consumer looks at you not necessarily how wonderful you come out with every single best product,” he says. “The way they look at you is by perception, by how you as a company are moving forward, so good, bad, ugly, don’t worry about it. Just keep moving, and keep pushing it out. If you push out something so stupid, so ugly, people laugh about it, but remember that laughing is good, too.”
HOW TO REACH: TCP Inc., (800) 324-1496 or www.tcpi.com