Power Players' Lounge: Product innovation -- balancing delivery of innovation vs. risks

On a recent trip, I had time to think about product innovation in the outdoor industry and came to a few simple conclusions. First, you need to be able to accept a certain amount of risk. Second, you have to have the utmost faith in your supply chain and manufacturing capabilities to be able to meet delivery timelines and quality control expectations. Finally, and perhaps the most obvious, is that you have to be able to justify the costs, risks and efforts of bringing new product to market on time that will actually SELL.
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In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors." To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry. Today, the 2009 SNEWS Power Players' Lounge opens in SNEWS. Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times. We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.

Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.



This column was written by Bill Gamber, co-founder of Big Agnes. (bill@bigagnes.com)

On a recent trip, I had time to think about product innovation in the outdoor industry and came to a few simple conclusions. First, you need to be able to accept a certain amount of risk. Second, you have to have the utmost faith in your supply chain and manufacturing capabilities to be able to meet delivery timelines and quality control expectations. Finally, and perhaps the most obvious, is that you have to be able to justify the costs, risks and efforts of bringing new product to market on time that will actually SELL. If your sales rep force and staff can't generate excitement and sales for a new product, then all the effort was a waste.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I spent plenty of time at our family business. With just a few key management-level employees, the decision-making style there regarding operations, sales, human resources and customer satisfaction was often made on the spot and that left its mark on me. With few layers of individuals and egos to wade through, there were few folks to answer to and that made for fast decision making. Primarily, I realized that at the end of the day, someone needs to make the final call on a pending decision and just run with it. The same holds true for new product design and that critical final decision of what will actually make it into the product line.

When it comes to product innovation, we tend to go full bore on a variety of projects and then some critical final decision making (often made by gut feeling versus market research), which is alive and well at Big Agnes. We're a Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based, outdoor equipment company manufacturing award-winning sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents and other camping accessories. Our original mission was to provide campers with a better sleeping system using an integrated pad sleeve to keep the bag and pad connected. We successfully introduced tents several years later.

Along the way, we've had to constantly stay on top of innovations in fabrics, zippers, tent poles and hardware and keep our fingers on the pulse of the camping equipment market. While our product development process may not mirror that of some of our competitors, it's worked well for us and enabled us to be nimble, responsive and right on the cusp. In the process, I've personally driven suppliers, manufacturers, staff and even media slightly bonkers, but when we deliver something new and innovative on time and it sells like crazy, that justifies it all. Remember that selling product to satisfied customers is the goal at the end of the day. If it won't sell, then don't make it.


We have made this article public access, to ensure all may be able to read it. If you like what you are reading, and want to be able to fully participate in the discussions and view articles and expert corner columns in our archives, you'll need your own SNEWS® subscription, which we've made really easy -- the SNEWS Freebie. Click here to activate your own SNEWS access today and become part of the strongest and most interactive outdoor and fitness industry community on the web today.

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