At some point in time, you may have looked at your product portfolio and realized it went stale. The same thing happened to Brad Wiandt.
He just had been named president of Madison Electric Products and the recession began to take a toll on the company’s sales. With 40 employees and nearly $30 million in revenue, he had limited resources to revamp the product line.
“The only way to accelerate the process is to add a bunch of overhead to the process or outsource,” he says.
Madison went with the latter. Well, kind of. The product provider to the electrical supply and manufacturing industries developed The Sparks Innovation Center in order to create partnerships with those in the trade who are looking to market their already developed product ideas.
If you’ve analyzed that you don’t have the resources or the time to develop or enhance your product line, perhaps it’s time to consult outsiders.
“The answers don’t always reside within your organization,” Wiandt says. “It’s easy to get confined with the barriers and the four walls that surround your company. Oftentimes you don’t have to look too far. Oftentimes the expense is even less than what you would incur internally to find solutions to problems that you’re facing. We basically outsourced our product development to people who know best.”
The Sparks Innovation Center includes a Web site that details the company’s history and product portfolio and allows inventors to submit ideas through a questionnaire. The proposals are received by Madison’s director of international sourcing.
You need to place someone in charge of the process to weed out proposals that are an obvious mismatch. But you cannot take a solo approach in determining whether a product fits your company. Every department that will touch the product needs to be included in the conversation to weigh the pros and cons.
Wiandt plays a direct role in the process.
“Even if we were a large business this is something that I would remain very active in because it is so important in so many aspects to our future direction of our business,” he says. “And I think anything that a president has passion about they should be actively involved in because passion is what drives business at the end of the day.”
He includes sales, marketing, sourcing and procurement, and engineering in the conversation.
“Everybody has a different vantage point and the decisions that we make on a product affects all of those departments,” he says. “I try to involve all of the facets of the business that are ultimately going to be responsible for the success of the product out in the market.”
Whether you’re brainstorming product ideas in-house or discussing those brought to you, there are very specific questions you must ask yourself. Do you have the capability to develop or manufacture and market the product? Does it fit within your wheelhouse? Does it complement your existing portfolio?
When Wiandt sits down with his team to discuss already generated product ideas, the first questions are directed toward sales.
“I look at them first and say, ‘Is this something you feel you can sell out in the market,” Wiandt says. “The biggest problem is what is the sell-ability of the product that’s the litmus test of the go or no-go.”
The analysis is crucial in order to make sure you’re improving services for customers. At the same time, when you’re taking on a new initiative, risk is involved.
“You have to be willing to take some risk, and you have to be willing to have some tolerance for failure,” Wiandt says. “Usually those are all learning experiences for the organization to springboard into becoming a better, stronger organization.”
Buying in to change
Chances are the word innovation is buzzing around your business. As companies tried to stay afloat during the deepest part of the recession and now begin to tread water, finding new, innovative ways to go about business surfaced. And with that comes change.
“Change can be painful,” Wiandt says. “But innovation requires change.”
To make employees comfortable with change, you have to maintain a healthy dialogue, explain the reasoning behind the change and ask for feedback on ways to better processes.
Wiandt leads his 40 employees at the product supplier company by maintaining regular communication, asking his staff for their ideas and following through on the good ones.
“(It’s) having an open-door policy, inviting the communication, but then following up and acting on that,” Wiandt says. “A lot of employees are used to sharing their ideas and never seeing anything happen or change with those ideas. I think the biggest mistake that managers or presidents of companies can make is not act on the good ideas. People buy in to the company and the direction and the changes that are being made if they see that at the very top their ideas are being heard and considered and acted upon.”
How to reach: Madison Electric Products, (800) 631-7775 or http://www.meproducts.net/