Innovation strategy for tanners

16 February 2003

This was the starting point of the talk by Richard Malin, Pittards, Leeds, at the UITIC* conference in Budapest, Hungary, in October on how and why the leather industry should innovate. He said innovation has to start at the top of a company and percolate down. It was not that bosses had all the good ideas but they could create the environment for good ideas to germinate and bloom. 'The best way to start', he said, 'is to form a team responsible for product innovation; a team which can compile the information, conduct research, clarify the direction and make the product decisions. 'Firstly, you have to be clear what you want to achieve - not on the product in every detail but for your business. 'There are two basic types of product innovation in the leather industry. The relatively long-term developments - major technical 'revolutions' - and those prompted by fashion and lifestyle movements. Both are vital. It would be useless to have a wonderful consumer benefit where the product was aesthetically inferior or irrelevant in terms of current or future trends. You may decide to have two teams, one mainly technical, the other with a wider mix of inputs. 'The team has to focus on the objective and set the date for ideal completion. Many say this is not important, but in my experience', said Malin, 'with no sort of deadline, projects ramble on and may never make it to market. Someone should be responsible for reminding the team of the crucial milestones and alerting them if the development is running late. 'The functions of the various members have to be clear and the regularity of the meetings must be set. I believe in little and often; short meetings every two weeks. 'Whenever the team meets, it will need huge quantities of information and inspiration. Some information may have to be bought in. 'Outsiders can add that vital extra amount of information or see the topic from a different angle. But a word of caution: just because they are a consultant does not mean they know everything. Weigh and measure every bit of information received.' Malin said meetings should be relaxed and informal. 'You need to record actions taken and the reasons why. Some decisions will be tough. Weeks of work may have to be scrapped if the wrong course has been taken. However, it is better for the team to reject a prototype than for the marketplace to reject a fully developed product.' 'Always remember that however good a product is, a better product with even more impressive results can be found. One of the most serious mistakes made by even some of the best innovators is to be lulled into a false sense of security. 'Just because a product is successful does not preclude its successor being sought. It is vital to constantly seek to develop new fresh modern products.' *International Association of Shoe Industry Technicians

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