Insights on innovation
There is no shortage of innovation in the hardware and building supply industry. Just look around. HBSDealer editors did, and here’s what we found — a mixture of theories, products, best practices, labs, systems and good old common sense. There’s something for every business in our inaugural Innovation report.
Opening one door at a time
Doors have been opening and closing in a regular fashion for generations. What’s new are materials, marketing and merchandising. And that’s where the Masonite Innovation Center — or MIC — comes into play. The R&D facility in Chicago keeps the culture of innovation alive.
“One of the things that we pride ourselves on is that we solicit on a regular basis consumer research and studies around new product ideas,” said Mark Albrighton, senior director for Masonite.
One result of forward-thinking and imagination about the shopping experience is a product called the Max Configurator — an interactive program that lets homeowners visualize the endless combinations of door style, color and material. A new version (3.0) of the Max Configurator is coming out in 2016, which will actually read blueprints.
“I don’t think the brick-and-mortar retail outlets will go away,” Albrighton said. “With doors, there will always be that element of touch and feel.”
Technology for the sake of business
Dan Nesmith acknowledges having what he calls “old-school tendencies” — especially for the owner of a technology company. But in his opinion, that’s one of the strengths behind the success of Bend, Oregon-based Paladin Data Corp.
Technology’s mission is simple: to help people. And that can only happen, Nesmith explains, through intimate knowledge of how people work, and what they’re trying to accomplish.
“We are not a company mission-bent on computerizing everything in sight,” Nesmith told HBSDealer, during a telephone interview.
That means a lot of the research and development behind Paladin’s products comes from old-school methods — taking the time to understand the markets, meet the customers and find out what’s going to help the store.
One of the company’s hallmark products — market-driven inventory management — is an example of technology-for-the-sake-of-results thinking. The product is designed to improve the management of the single-largest expenditure of a dealer’s business: its inventory.
“While inventory management has largely been computerized, it’s usually nothing more than the computerized version of the old manual,” Nesmith said. “The old-fashioned system did the same thing at probably a lower cost.”
What computerization brings to the table is “pattern recognition technology” to sift through every order, every quote from an ocean of data, leading to truly automatic stocking. “How do you manage 40,000 items every day?” Nesmith says. “You need a computer. This is the kind of thing that helps businesses and helps their customers.”
Flush with ideas
American Standard opened a new industrial design studio at its Piscataway, New Jersey, research facility. The move comes following what has been described as a year of innovation for the brand, as it tripled the size of its design department and invested in an innovation team.
The new studio measures a spacious 4,200 sq. ft., with floor-to-ceiling windows and large common work surfaces. Ample facilities to develop and display mock-ups, prototypes and mobile inspiration boards further stimulate the flow of creative juices.
“You can sense the spirit of creativity as soon as you enter the new design studio,” said Jean-Jacques L’Henaff, VP design, LIXIL Water Technology Americas, American Standard and DXV, and driving force behind the redesigned facilities. “We believe that our customers, showroom and retail partners, and trade professionals will greatly benefit from the stunning design and technological innovations that will be created in this cutting-edge space.”
This “state-of-the-art” studio will further enhance communication and collaboration among the design team, the company said.
The company’s Optum VorMax Tall Height Elongated Toilet earned runner-up honors in Home Depot’s 2015 Innovation Awards.
Ready to frame, eager to sell
Lumber is cut to precision, automatically labeled and delivered to the site to be assembled. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind BMC-Stock’s Ready-Frame, which it believes puts the company in “first-mover position” for the future of framing.
A key piece of the Ready-Frame program is the precision saw, which in a certain sense acts also as a printer. Proprietary software powers the precision cuts and labels them for installation. According to BMC, the program enables customers to frame 20% to 30% more houses in the same time frame as stick framing. It makes it easier on the job site, with minimal on-site waste.
Ready-Frame “revolutionizes” the construction process. It also reduces waste and adds simplicity. One of the latest features of the program is an app that allows the builder to guide the process from beginning to end. How’s it working? BMC Stock points to the Seattle market. Here, after three years of Ready-Frame in the market, it accounts for 55% of BMC’s Seattle LBM business.
Pruned for results
Madison, Wisconsin-based Fiskars says the innovation built into its line of PowerGear2 pruning tools comes from a study of physiology.
The line includes loppers, hedge shears and pruners, and uses an improved gear design to help make cutting branches easier. And it was also a finalist for a Fast Company 2015 Innovation by Design Award.
The line’s design is based on the result of an extensive study of the way a body interacts with a tool to help create the optimal user experience, according to Fiskars.
Say the judges: “The pruning tools are ingeniously designed with a rotating gear that provides a boost of power in the middle of the cut, where branches are thickest. Additionally, the latest models are easier on the hands, as their handles have been modified with a more oval shape and a gel skin that prevents blisters.”
Stanley Black & Decker earned an innovation award from Lowe’s for the DeWalt line of 40V Lithium outdoor power equipment.
“We celebrate our vendor partners who are committed to putting the customer first, drawing on their team’s creativity to find new and innovative ways to help people love where they live,” said Mike McDermott, Lowe’s chief merchandising officer.