During the past couple of years I have discussed many of the innovative men and women I continue to meet in my travels. They are like most people involved in contract manufacturing. Their ideas on how to improve the process of a particular job, cut the cost, eliminate a step or just become more competitive are a necessary part of your survival. I hope that some of the information and ideas that these people have shared have enabled you to become more productive on the shop floor.
Process improvement is not very difficult, as important as it is. As you go about the day-to-day activities of running your business, it is something that constantly should be a part of your thoughts. If you can concentrate on fixing one little thing, then go on to the next situation, you should be in a position to recognize a problem and analyze the individual conditions. After you review the possible solutions, you can choose the one that appears right for your environment. Remember to go over the results and tweak the process as necessary to achieve maximum results.
Many shop owners have invented products that changed the way we all look at a process. These ideas did not just "pop into their heads in the middle of the night," but they were a direct result of a need to solve a pressing manufacturing problem to keep their shops viable. Others did not have a marketable product, but still their ideas improved the flow of material through their production cycle.
However, what do you do when you have a great idea that really does solve your problem? Is everyone telling you that this product is the best thing since sliced bread? How do you capitalize on this idea and get your product to market? I'm not giving a course in "Industrial Marketing 101," but there are a few simple things that you can do to get your product into the field as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.
I have a sign over my desk that reads, "Your ideas are like your children. None are better."
Over the years I have substituted the word "grandchildren" to more properly reflect the way most of us react to our new products. Nobody is going to have the passion for your new widget that you have, although it is perfectly natural to expect that others in the business will see all the benefits the same way that you see them. You now have to become a super salesperson. And believe me, the personality that helped you become successful as a job shop owner is not necessarily going to translate into success in convincing someone else to plunk down their hard-earned money on your idea.
What I want to caution about is your reluctance to spend as much time, energy and resources on the sales side of your new venture as you did the engineering and manufacturing parts. Consider these three "legs of your stool" to be of equal value, and you should be successful in getting the word out to the marketplace.
There are many different distribution channels to bring your new product to the marketplace: direct sales, catalog houses, general industrial distributors, and specialty distribution and manufacturer representatives. What is right for each new product depends on the benefit that it offers to a potential customer.
Next month we will explore some of the more traditional marketing channels that can assist you and your new products. Not all ideas result in a major breakthrough in technology, but they all can effect the performance and profitability of operations. Send a note by fax or e-mail and let me know how you have solved some of the problems in your facility. Remember—knowledge is a wonderful commodity. It increases in value only when it is shared. I look forward to helping you share your ideas.