Nice guys finish … First
What does being the first to bring a product to market say about a company? Some might say it’s creative or innovative. Others might conclude it invests significantly in R&D. Still others might see that company as highly competitive. All of those things might be true, but from my perspective in the caster industry, being the first to introduce a new product means that you have powerful relationships with your customers – and that Leo Durocher was wrong when he said, “Nice guys finish last.”
All of the industry-firsts that we have developed were in response to customer requirements. For me, the most impressive example of that was when Algood was the first to put hub caps on casters.
At the time, thread guards were all the rage. Everyone was putting them on casters to protect them from dirt and debris. But they weren’t very attractive. We had a customer in the store fixture business that was working on a new display that needed to be totally outstanding. In fact, he told us he wanted a wheel on the casters that would make people say, “WOW!” So, we set out to satisfy our customer and break new ground.
The inspiration came, as it often does, in a very ordinary moment. I was in the car with one of our sales reps and noticed the great looking wheels on the car beside us. “That’s it!” I said. “We should we put hub caps on those casters and make them look as cool as that car.”
It had never been done before which meant we had to do tons of research. I went to the SEMA auto products show and came back with catalogues and magazines. Our design and engineering teams explored all the possibilities. We developed a number of designs and processes and worked with the customer to narrow choices. In the end, we came up with an industry-first, created a gorgeous caster and had a customer who was simply ecstatic.
The other great thing about this project was that it demonstrated how casters can contribute to the overall aesthetic of a product. So often casters are an afterthought. We’ve seen many situations where casters aren’t even included in the product specs. Then we get a panicked call from a buyer, engineer or product manager either needing casters in a real hurry or having to meet some unusual spec – or both. It was wonderful to work with a customer who saw the caster as an essential part of the product.
Of course, other caster producers tried to copy the WOW hub cap but none of them matched the quality and attention to detail. We are used to having our products copied. It goes with the territory. On more than one occasion, I’ve been in offshore manufacturing facilities and have seen exact replicas of one of our proprietary products being made. It’s frustrating for sure, but I prefer to see imitation as the highest form of flattery.
The truth is that, in some ways, we are always creating new products. With our integrated manufacturing facility we have almost unlimited resources at our disposal. We routinely modify existing products with new moulds, dies and stampings. Our 3D printing station allows us to go beyond visioning and be able to closely examine prototypes. Whether it’s custom stems, modified top plates or unique braking systems, we are always innovating. These products and components may not be as sexy as hub caps, but they are just as much a result of our dedication to meeting customer requirements.
Product innovation also makes our casters less of a commodity. It’s great for us to be able to quickly satisfy buyers with “off the shelf” products that can be delivered quickly. On the other hand, our customers know that we have the unique capability to create configurations that don’t exist in any company’s catalogue.
Ultimately being the first to market with a product is a result of putting your customers first. When you value your customers you’re prepared to innovate to meet their requirements. In turn, they value your commitment and creativity. When that happens you’re both number one.