Betting on R & D
New product development is in some ways a really expensive betting game. It comes with a price tag of $30,000 to $200,000 excluding capital costs. That means we need to be really confident about the decisions we make. Also, when developing a custom caster, customers are looking for aggressive timelines. In many cases, we go from concept to engineering, design and prototyping in three to six weeks. Beyond the cost, that requires a tremendous amount of resources to be dedicated to one project.
So, the question is given the high stakes involved, how do you decide on which products to develop and which are a pass? The answer to that question often has a lot to do with where the product idea is coming from. From my perspective with almost 30 years of experience in caster manufacturing, there are four sources of new product ideas.
- Customer Driven. There are many occasions when customers bring us unique specs and requirements that can only be met by developing a new product. Obviously, in these cases, we need to evaluate whether the development cost will be offset by the sales potential. But you’ve also got to consider the relationship value. We always do our best to support our customers and provide them with the products they need to develop markets and opportunities. Sometimes, the application or environment in which the caster will be used presents a unique opportunity that we want to be a part of. A great example that meets all of these conditions is the Hero caster we developed last year. I’m proud to say it is now being used in the most state of the art healthcare settings. It also helped to cement our relationship with our customer and we believe it is a caster of the future with tremendous sales potential.
- Market Driven. Sometimes all you have to do is listen. I spend a tremendous amount of time on the road meeting with customers and distributor partners. In fact over the next three weeks, I have 15-18 appointments lined up. I’m always asking customers for their opinions and what they’re looking for. When you hear the same thing often enough, it could be a good indication that there is a product that needs to be developed. We made the investment to develop the Freedom – a moldon urethane wheel with an aluminum core – based on many different customers telling us “it would be great to have a crowned tread wheel that was really versatile with lots of capacity.” The orders that have followed validated that decision and we believe there will be even more sales growth in the future.
- Hunches. It’s true. Sometimes you‘ve just got a feeling that new product development is going to pay off. We developed our RollX™ nylon glass filled wheels based on little more than an inkling that the market would respond. We saw a similar material being used in much smaller wheels but this wasn’t just a matter of copying an existing product. I have always maintained that if we can’t make a product better, we’re not going to make it at all. We knew it would take significant resources to dramatically improve the product and develop it into something with the potential for wider use. We committed to experimenting with different materials and the accompanying testing. At the same time, our design and engineering teams worked on innovative moulds that would minimize weight while creating a great looking wheel. In the end, the hunch paid off. We’re getting very positive response to RollX and Lava, its sister high temperature wheel, and as more customers hear about it and see it, the sales potential climbs.
- Natural Growth. There are times when products take on a life of their own and need to be supported with continued development. Last year we developed new sizes for our Protech treaded wheels in response to customer requests and because it was a natural evolution for the product. This year, we have developed a new 3” tread widths for our RollX wheels and will soon be releasing new sizes for the same reasons.
In the final analysis, a huge part of our success over the past 47 years is a result of our commitment to new product development. It’s expensive and time consuming and not every new idea is successful. But it seems to me that to continually meet the needs of customers and respond to the market, you have no choice but to be product driven. Success, on the other hand, is a matter of sensing potential, being smart and just plain listening.
If you have an idea for a new caster or wheel product that will help your business expand or make your operation more productive, I’m ready to listen. Please contact me.