Managing a New Product Launch Amidst Tough Competition
NOTE: This is an excerpt from Tony Moore’s book, “One Of A Kind Making Things Happen” and is one of four articles published in various business magazines.
“One of a Kind – Making Things Happen,” is available on Amazon at:
This article was published in Business View Magazine (BMV) – January 2015
With so many U.S. companies facing competition from overseas;
What does it take to produce excellent U.S. made products competitively priced to compete. I was General Manager of a U.S. glove company when a new glove came into the market from Pakistan. Within a short time it had taken 20% of our sales, and with such tight margins, it wasn’t long before we were facing losses that would shut the company down unless we did something fast. I had to do something fast, as I had some seventy staff that would be left jobless as a result so urgent decisions had to be made. I could either go offshore (they lose their jobs anyway) or I could try to make a better product here in the USA. Going offshore has very high set up and initial delivery costs plus the transfer of information leading to a completed and acceptable ready to sell product.
We were in the certified firefighting glove market requiring that all of our products had to be tested and certified annually. I called a meeting with all my factory staff and laid out not only our firefighting gloves but those of our competitors. In most cases factory or
production staff seldom, if ever, actually see competitors’ products to compare them to what they are making. I laid out both our products and our U.S. competitor’s products alongside. I invited my staff to see for themselves the differences and to show them the
comparison of our products with these less expensive and very comparable products.
I had already taken this U.S. manufacturing company from Batch into continuous LEAN manufacturing, that had reduced our production costs by 33% with a streamlined operation, but we were still more costly than these imports.
I shared my vision of what it would take to produce a superior and more competitive product that would enable our customers to choose a U.S. made product, reasonably priced and one that could be chosen in I began the design process focusing on nothing else but I also involved the entire factory in this solution as their ‘buy in.’ My factory staff, with their own knowledge of production and sewing techniques, helped me to produce the best sewing processes into the new glove design, so that it could be produced cost effectively, with as few production steps as possible to be produced in potentially large quantities.
The outcome was that, after many hours of focusing on designing a brand new and state of the art product, that matched the vision I shared with my entire company; we finally had exactly what we needed. The final product was better I had envisioned and was very different from all other products in the current U.S. market. Cash was now very tight and we could not afford to promote the new glove, so, instead we made 80 pairs and sent them out to the top 80 distributors for feedback.
The finished glove had the best dexterity, feel, grip and form fit of any existing product in the U.S. firefighting market. I focused on keeping to standard components but developed a state of the art adhesion system that had never before been used in U.S. glove making. I
targeted the manufacturing costs to an end product that would be priced in the midrange of all competitive products so that initial end user cost would not become a barrier for a new product entry. Over time, and with the gloves increasing success, I raised the
price, to where I had planned it to be, with no market resistance at all, due to its increasing popularity.
I called the new glove ‘Blaze Fighter’ and not only did it do exceptionally well, but it became the biggest selling firefighting glove in the entire U.S. firefighting glove
Within six months of its launch we had sold $1 million in sales and the sales continued to climb as more and more distributors came back on board. I firmly believe that U.S customers should not choose a U.S. made product solely because it was U.S. made; but should choose the best product at the most acceptable price. I set out to make a more desirable and a more competitive U.S. made product that my customers would choose over a less expensive imported product.
What can be learned from this highly competitive issue:
• Share the existing problem with your staff and let them be part of the winning strategy.
• Show a comparison, if you can, with your competition’s products explaining why yours is losing market share.
• Ask for your co-workers help in the solution and involve them in the process.
• Share your vision of what will be required to stay in business, and no sugar coating the issues, as they will help drive the energy required to complete the process.
• Focus, focus, focus, on the task at hand and do not become sidetracked with interim issues.
It’s hard to focus on a solution while sales and profits are diminishing but if you allow other problems to take precedence you will lose.
It is not easy to develop a new product against a backdrop or losing market share, profits and reputation, but what’s the alternative?