Those of you who occasionally read this column may remember this quote from last week. It is something to dwell on. Invention, innovation and new product development are complex subjects even before we start deciding what is to be done in house and what is to be outsourced. 

The location of technologies within the leather industry has seen great swings over the past 150 years as leather manufacture adjusted from a craft into a scientific industry. From being tannery based, research was moved to specialist research institutes with the IULTCS and SLTC, along with a variety of powerful industry liaison bodies acting as guides and overseers. The specialist leather chemical industry soon started to rise as new technologies created opportunities for fatliquors, dyes, retans and finishes and slowly the research elsewhere fell away.

Regulation and consolidation

More recent changes with consolidation within the chemical industry and hugely increased regulatory demands, means a lot of tannery specific research is being thrown back onto the tanneries themselves. This is a difficult moment as in many parts of the world where the boomer generation has dominated we have a period where there is a surge of some 20% in retirements at a time when the much smaller X generation offers few suitable candidates to fill the posts. The rapid move forward of much younger management offers the exciting mix of fresh, potentially innovative, minds; but untried and untested. 

Perhaps such a big generational shift is useful since the world of business has transformed so much even since the start of this century that a whole knew thought process is essential. We used to think of innovation only in terms of product, process and service, with the degree of newness – from incremental to radical – relevant for a lot of leather where seasonal ranges have to link in with more fundamental ideas. Today new business models – the way a firm delivers value and makes its profit – have become significant: just think of Rolls Royce aero engines “power by the hour”.

The new models will be driven by identifying such as changes in attitudes to ownership, seen as market shifts which along with a company’s assessment of future customer priorities create opportunities, or requirements, for innovative new strategies. From this a business is redesigned and the product and service offer can be built. This is a different, and more involved approach than searching for applicable new technologies from other industries or from a company’s own ideas box and testing their applicability to the current situation, although that must continue.

We are dealing with creatures of emotion 

Alongside all this we must remember that the classic, considered, multi stage approach to purchasing is hardly used at all these days. Purchasing is about impulse, habit and emotion much more than it is about analysis, testing and judgment; even with expensive items. Companies need to remember what Dale Carnegie said: “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.”

It is not surprising that in general industry most new products end up as failures having been inadequately researched, the market over estimated, incorrectly priced or positioned or hit by one or many other potential trip wires. This stuff is difficult. 

As well as understanding the changing nature of consumers, their attitudes to ownership of products and the higher emotional content in purchasing do consider some other components of new product success. 

  • Having something unique within its features, value in use or quality.
  • Being well defined in terms of target market, and appropriate features and benefits.
  • Backed by thorough knowledge of the market.
  • Well launched with thought out communications.

Despite everything else that is going on in the world to distract us, at the end of the day consumers expect to have great products. Products made using or incorporating leather fit these aspirations as long as we continue to keep it up-to-date and relevant in a modern, uncertain world.

Mike Redwood

August 20, 2019.

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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