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How to successfully launch a new product; Three entrepreneurs explain how they approach innovation and product development

How to successfully launch a new product

Three entrepreneurs explain how they approach innovation and product development.

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Miranda and Roland Ballard started their burger business in 2008 with £60,000 they’d originally saved as a deposit on a flat.

By James Hurley

6:46PM BST 15 Aug 2013

DO GO CHANGING

Mark Adams, chief executive of furniture manufacturer and retailer Vitsoe, is tired of hearing the word “innovation” used as a synonym for invention. His London-based company prefers “better over newer”. “Everyone has got hooked on the new – we’d all be much happier if we lost our attachment to novelty.” Vitsoe, which is projecting sales of £5.8m this year, was founded in 1959 to market a shelving system invented by Dieter Rams, the German industrial designer renowned for the gadgets he produced with Braun. The shelves still form the heart of the business – but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. “People look at us from the outside and think we’re boring. In fact, we’re innovating every minute. You’re constantly taking the original idea and making it better. It’s just like evolution – small steps, not a new species every year. Our shelving system is 50 years old and we’re still developing it. That’s what design is all about – you have to keep it moving.”Not that Vitsoe never launches new products – it’s just that they often have a nod to its design heritage. A chair Rams designed in 1962 has been “reworked from the bottom up”. “We’ve spent two-and-a-half years and hundreds of thousands and looked at every screw, nut and bolt. We’ve ended up with something that is better quality, lower in price and is quicker to produce.”

Adams believes the most common reason for failure of a product launch is a “lack of thoroughness and a haste to get the product out there”. “We don’t get hidebound by deadlines.”

When testing new ideas, the company asks both its front line sales staff and customers for guidance, particularly on price.

“We go back to the production engineering team with their verdict – we work back from the retail price and make the production cost fit, not the other way around.”

START SMALL

When it comes to product development, the idea itself is often the easy bit.

Roland and Miranda Ballard, co-founders of Muddy Boots, say they made a classic mistake when they decided they wanted to create a chilled, rather than frozen, premium burger to sell in supermarkets: forgetting how difficult it can be to explain a new product to customers.

A posh burger might not sound like a hard sell, but since almost all of their rivals produced frozen, rather than chilled, burgers, the Ballards found it tricky to get shoppers to try their product.

“Now, we always say to ourselves, bananas came with instructions when they first arrived,” says Miranda Ballard. “In the past, we have underestimated how much education can be needed to change a consumer’s mind.

“We see so many small businesses say, ‘my friends love it’ and they’re surprised when it needs an awful lot more than that to make it work. The more innovative you are with a product, the harder you have to work to explain what it is.”

Don’t bother asking friends and family what they think of your prototypes, she adds. “Only ask the opinion of people who will be honest.”

Since various iterations will be needed as the product is developed, the business tests its new products in its independent retail stockists before trying to put them into larger stores through its biggest relationship, Waitrose. “You have a lot to lose if your idea falls from a great height. You need to play with it, correct and improve it before going for your biggest contract.”

The Worcestershire-based company also advises having another idea lined up in reserve in case the one you’re working on fails. “The new ideas is the fun part,” she says. “You live and breathe what’s going on in the industry, look at peers and the competition, and then you start playing.”

PERSEVERE

Gripple, a Sheffield-based engineering business, has a dedicated “ideas and innovation” department to help it come up with new products – but inspiration is just as likely to come from its sales force.

“Our philosophy is, find out what the customer’s problem is and find a solution. Our salesmen are on site all the time – they find out what the issues are and we think about what we can do,” says founder Hugh Facey.

Gripple, which makes wire joining and tensioning products, typically only manufactures products it can patent, and has set a rolling target that a quarter of sales should come from products launched in the past four years. The employee-owned company also insists that 5pc of sales is spent on product development each year. However,

Facey warns that even great ideas can end up being a waste of time. “There are a lot of good ideas around, but will people pay for it, is there a benefit they will understand? Make sure there’s a market before you invest.”

When the £40m turnover company developed a rope grip, it initially failed to take off. “It was driving me crazy. Then we had the idea of selling it as a kit [with the rope] and it flew. People were used to buying rope with ferrules [in a single purchase] so we had to make it easier for the customer. Now that’s 70pc of the business.”

That, Facey argues, proves that “perseverance is key”. “We could have given up. Innovation is about open-mindedness, creativity and persistence.”

The Festival of Business will provide business owners with free expert advice in areas such as finance, sales and exporting.

 

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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