Posted on March 17, 2017
On a Monday morning over a decade ago, Kate walked into our studio. After spending ten minutes looking at our range of products, she exclaimed that nothing had changed in the last six months; the same products were lying at the same place. She already had many of the displayed products and there was nothing new for her to see or eventually buy. That was the day when I realised that without innovation our loyal customers were going to look elsewhere. Since then, there has not been a quarter when I have not released new ranges of products. In the past, I have seen many brands die a slow death due to the lack of innovation in their product portfolios. Consistency in being innovative and at the same time maintaining quality is the key to retaining old customers and ensuring brand loyalty.
Innovation is tricky, it requires a lot of research & development, brainstorming, prototyping and can affect your bottom line if costs are not properly monitored and tracked. For every new prototype, production has to be stopped to make way for samples that may or may not see the light of day. Your team has to have a lot of patience and believe in your ability to create products that are eventually well accepted by your customers and most importantly, they should sell. I believe the best test for a new product is its commercial success. A product may garner rave reviews but its real test is on the shelves and dead stock adds to your inventory costs. Every time you create a product which is not successful and has a poor ROI (Return on Investment), it lowers the morale of everyone involved, so as a leader you have to accept the responsibility of the failure of a product and keep the morale of your team high by continuing on the innovation path. A successful product will catapult you to stardom and a failure will weigh in on your finances.
When you think of doing something new, let me be honest, it has already been done! The challenge is to tread a path that clearly differentiates you from your peers. Be it the form, functionality, packaging or intended use; you have to look for that differentiating factor for it to be noticed.
Innovation and persistence go hand in hand, it is a combined and time-taking process. You learn from trial and error. Your team learns from you and it percolates down the organisation. I have seen representatives come up with award winning ideas, just being in a creative environment gets you thinking on a different tangent. If it is encouraged, then the flow of ideas become a deluge.
Innovation involves a complete eco-system, every person or department is a cog in the wheel; you cannot succeed without the participation of all departments. First, comes the idea, which usually strikes at the oddest of places and you must have a pen and paper handy to make note of it, I usually prefer typing it on my phone under an easily searchable phrase like “idea pool”. My meeting starts in the evening when the office has closed down and I have completed my day job of being an entrepreneur. It involves my key craftsmen, production assistants, technical hands and supervisors. I am immensely proud of my decade-old team that I have put together from across genres. Ideas are discussed threadbare, I am the only one representing the customer, I have to speak for them, their likes and dislikes, their acceptability and their sensibility. We talk about the technical aspects and the tools needed; debating every possible nuance. Once everyone has agreed in unison, the idea moves to the next level, which usually is a technical drawing. Flaws are reworked and the design is further sent for prototyping. Detailed discussions are held over the prototype, a decision is made if this will surpass the expectations of our customers and production challenges are discussed. At this stage a rough calculation is done on its feasibility; many a time a prototype remains a prototype because of a very high cost in its making. At every stage, I am looking for that one sign that discourages me from taking this to the next level. At any given point of time, there are hundreds of products under development, some take days, some take years and some never leave the studio. With time and experience, you learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. Quick decisions are important to save time and money, therefore, you learn to say no to great ideas that lack commercial viability. This is a great responsibility when you are running a business as you have to strike a balance. There are other aspects to it like packaging, branding and the narrative that will accompany each piece. Every piece of art at Anand Prakash is a story waiting to be told.
In my quest for innovation and newer ranges, I have forged relationships with suppliers and vendors across India. We are working with teams across geographical boundaries to come up with that one innovative product that our customers will love. We have taken the conscious decision to pursue and find the best, be it a master craftsman in south India, a quality material supplier from central India or sourcing material from other parts of the world; nothing is out of reach for us.
Being innovative has helped us create loyalty amongst our customers, we never fail to surprise them and this has always brought them back for more. I have personally known people who still remember that one piece that they cherish from decades ago, every time they cross our store, they always find a new story.
Every time you do something creative, your customers are going to love your brand, even though they end up buying the same product that they have been doing so for ages. When customers buy your products to gift, they are expressing themselves, they wish to be seen as creative, rare and different and it is for brands to nurture this loyalty by being consistent with innovation.
This was first published on LinkedIn
(The above is from experiences through my entrepreneurial journey that started many years ago)