When is the right time to change the products you
offer, or add something new
to your range?
While your current product or service
might work for the existing market,
chances are that you’re going to have
to evolve what you offer to stay relevant
to your customers.
Tasmanian business owner Allan Witt
is a case in point. With a family
background in woodworking and boat building, Witt started a furniture business called Flexidesk in 1984, producing height-adjustable furniture
to fulfil government contracts.
“We started the company as an employment-generation project in Tasmania,” he says. “We recognised the opportunity, worked with a university to test our prototype and made our first batch of furniture in time for the new university year.”
However, by 1995 the government had abandoned its state-wide
contracts. Luckily, Witt had learned from the collapse of the Tasmanian blackwood furniture industry in the 1980s and had already started making strategic changes.
“It’s critical to be alert to the environment,” says Witt. “If there’s a threat, there’s bound to be an opportunity.”
Witt made a strategic decision to change direction, moving from bulky commercial fit-outs to a mix of premium, eco-friendly, commercial and residential furniture, designed for easy shipping. In a happy coincidence, it was a direction that combined Witt’s personal passion for sustainable living with market demand for ecologically responsible products.
He collaborated with Tasmanian designers, selecting and commissioning pieces, then improving their manufacturability. Witt exhibited some of his new furniture in New York in 1996. Because the new lines were designed to appeal to an international market, Witt Design online fairly early on and has found its niche, with a local and international customer base.
While Witt Design offers a very different product to Flexidesk, both businesses are built on what Witt does best.
“I think it’s important to know your core competencies,” he says. “In my case, my core capability is integrating design, manufacturing and marketing.”
Businesses can then bring in additional expertise. “I’ve been lucky
to have some very good collaborations,” says Witt, “such as one
with Dr Peter Costello, who has a PhD in furniture design.”
Testing customer response to a new product can also pay
dividends, as Witt discovered when his love of working with wood
saw himdesign a wooden boat that won a design competition at the
Australian Wooden Boat Festival. “The festival organisers built the prototype and people were keen to build their own wooden boat,”
Witt worked on the design, refining the product. He now sells wooden boat kits through a separate site: Row and Sail. It has proven to be a remarkably good business move. “With the GFC, furniture sales dropped but the boats kept ticking over,” he says.
Five tips for evolving your product offering:
- Monitor your market for changes and trends, so you recognise the opportunities early.
- Plan what your response will be to changing customer needs and work out the implications for your business. Design for your target customer, manage your supply chain and be smart about your marketing channels.
- Know what your core competencies are and use them when delivering something new and relevant
- Bring in expertise in areas where you need it.
- If you can, test a product and refine what you offer before taking it to market.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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