The best type of product to sell is one that is unique, delivers unparalleled benefits to its users, has no competition, and is in high demand. Such product innovation assures increasing sales at a high profit margin. Any company able to produce and go to market with products fitting this description truly becomes the “leader of the pack” in terms of their competitive position. However, the challenges associated with leading the market in terms of innovation may not be worth pursuing for every company.
For companies aiming to be the leader of the pack, the first consideration in product development is to determine the product’s function. Will it fill a current need in the market that is not yet being met, or is it intended to exceed the function of pre-existing competing products already accepted and used within your specific industry?
To build and sell a product that fills the need that is not already being provided for is the easier of the two options; it takes less time and less marketing efforts. Why? Because the market has a pre-existing demand for you to fill and as long as your product fits and is reasonably priced, people will buy it. The problem is that this category of market is limited and opportunities usually arise as a secondary factor of a primary product category needing assistance in the market place.
For the glass industry, I encourage you to keep tabs on the market place and look for niches of opportunity where you can provide a product that will fill a need that is currently not being met. Produce it, test it, price it right and communicate it’s availability to your targeted customer base. The distributors will come running, wanting to be part of the action.
However, success in this category of pursuit is usually short lived because the competition will come running too, to duplicate your efforts in a very short period of time at a lower cost. As a consequence, this aspect of being the leader of the pack requires you to be well on your way to a second product victory while enjoying the fruit of your labors from your first.
The majority of product innovations within the glass industry tend to fit within the second scenario (improving upon existing products). The upside of this pursuit is potential for higher profit margins. Additionally, it can take longer for the competition to catch up, particularly if you are able to secure some added market share protection through product patents. The real challenge, however, is the time, effort and money it takes to validate the worth of such a new product that will, in turn, yield sales.
Given the challenges and necessary investments, leading the pack isn’t right every company. Being part of the pack is just fine. Many organizations have made a deliberate decision to not be an innovator but, instead, a follower, and have made a nice living doing so. The theme to follow as a member of the pack is to provide a similar product to what is already in the industry, absent of any patent infringement, and make it for less money resulting in a lower resale price, and as comparable in performance as possible. The unfortunate circumstance in holding this position in the market is that you’re surrounded by tough competition that is on the very same mission and only one can maintain the low-cost-producer position at a time.
Carl Tompkins is national flat glass sales manager for Sika Corp., and the author of the book “Winning at Business.” He can be reached at tompkins.carl [at] sika-corp.com. For more information on product development and innovation, see Tompkins' article, “Lead the Pack in Product Innovation,” set to appear in the May edition of Glass Magazine.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.