A steady flow of ideas via end-user and distributor feedback, market research and brainstorming is essential to start the new product development process. Product ideas, however, must be evaluated by a number of criteria including user potential, manufacturability, and cost to determine if an idea really matters to the market.
Many companies, including Malco, were originally built around a great idea or two and research and development relied heavily on fortunate circumstances of intimate marketplace knowledge, keen observation, key contacts and dogged determination. As a company grows, easy communication and observation can be hard to come by and an otherwise efficient product development process must sift through everyday workplace distractions to create an environment for generating idea home runs and clear direction for boots-on-the-ground product development. Not an easy task.
Malco has been striving to refine its product development process ever since our steel-supply-salesman-founder introduced his game-changing metalworking hand tool inventions in 1950. His one-man approach to product development was a hard act to follow as well as a hard path to track. Malco has always focused on new product development and has had many product successes over the past 67-years. We have also had many different approaches to new product development:
An acquisition like the unique Anderson “Andy” Snip, the “Aluminum Handled Snip with the Strength of Steel” had a different look but garnered huge sales when it debuted as the “Malco Andy”. It has since spawned an 11-member family of Andy Pattern and Combination Snips.
The lightning fast “Zip-in” self-piercing sheet metal screw was inspired by the aggressive thread profile of a drywall screw and has changed the HVAC industry.
The millennial “Max2000” Aviation Snip was a much-anticipated answer to widespread dissatisfaction with a downgraded aviation snip category in the late 90’s. The Max generated waiting lists at distributors
The 2003 introduction of the original “TurboShear” Drill Attachment was arguably Malco’s first “leap innovation” since our founder’s hand tool inventions. The TS1 two-handed, metal-cutting TurboShear was a game-changer in the HVAC market that spawned a category of TurboShear and TurboXTool drill attachments and air tools that today number 24 models for cutting and fabricating a broad range of building materials and sheet metals.
So, what is “innovation?” We offer the following definitions: Innovation, in general, is something fresh, new, original or improved that creates value. The most common type of innovation is “new and improved” or Core Innovation, an improvement in design that was not previously available in a company’s product line. These inventions are closer to home and lower in risk and uncertainty; they tend to be lower reward but faster to market ideas. Improvements and huge line extension like those that followed originals like the Malco Crimper, Andy Snip and Turboshear are prime examples of core innovations. Finally, at the top of the mountain, a leap innovation is an original fresh design that was not previously available to a company’s customers. Described as game-changing with higher risk uncertainty but higher potential reward, these ideas are generally slower-to-market.
“Leap Innovations” may be elusive but they are very worthy goals that spur real growth faster. With that thought in mind, in 2014 Malco consulted with the Manufacturing Outreach Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stout to develop a more intensive process for generating, evaluating and prioritizing new product ideas. What ensued was the establishment of a Malco “Innovation Think Tank” that compliments and enhances Malco’s existing product development process with a fresh, more robust approach in the quest for “leap innovations.” The five permanent members of the “think tank” bring to the task a range of backgrounds and experience including design and manufacturing engineering, marketing and sales, and marketing research as well as a range of personalities. The group meets every two weeks for most of a day at an off-site location. Idea submissions and brainstormed ideas are pared down in a series of passes. Idea finalists are subjected to more rigorous scrutiny, with evaluation steps that require more fleshing out and investigation including: “Written Prototypes” for more clarity; Idea “Death Threat” ratings for design, manufacturability, cost and safety; “Market Potential”, including reorder rate and strategic advantages; and a “Malco Net Present Value (Hurdle) Calculation.” As ideas feed into Research, Concept, Design and Final Development, the “project” is shared with end-users to gauge delight and validate progress.
Two recent product introductions qualify as bona fide “leap innovations;” a Cleanable-Reversible Hex Chuck Driver for maintenance and HVAC technicians and, for auto body repair, a unique Conformable Sanding Block. The MSHC Cleanable-Reversible Hex Chuck Driver was a spin-off of an idea for a collated-screw driver attachment. A sub-assembly became an idea for a “cleanable” hex chuck driver, which then became both “cleanable and reversible” at the working prototype stage. This Patent Pending little wonder has become the number one seller in the entire Malco line, which promises future line extensions for additional driver lengths and hex sizes for this product.
CSH5 (5-inch) and CSH8 (8-inch) Conformable Sanders, for auto body repair and restoration, are a similar story. This patented product started out as an idea for a “contour sanding block” with fixed settings. It then morphed into a “conformable sanding block” with an internal memory bar that can be hand-pressed into convex, concave and S-shapes that conform to auto body contours in a mirror-like fashion. It can be quickly set and reset during the sanding operation for precise results. This product has also oversold but is back in stock and is being aggressively promoted to recapture the hearts and minds of auto body techs.