During the economic downturn of 2008, while most companies were scaling back and avoiding risk, Skyline Exhibits, a global trade show exhibit company, decided to go the opposite direction and invest in innovation.
It was a smart move, considering that Skyline:
- Became the smallest company ever to win the Product Development and Management Association’s prestigious Outstanding Corporate Innovator Award in October 2012 – joining the ranks of companies like Harley-Davidson and FedEx
- Increased sales from new products from 6% to 24%. Total sales in 2012 grew 6% compared to the 2.1% industry growth projected by the Center for Exhibition Research
Here’s a high-level overview of the steps the marketers at Skyline take to ensure they focus on innovation that produces recognition and revenue:
1. They do research.
“A significant part of what we do is listen to the end user by going to shows, talking to dealers and taking surveys,” explains Sofia Troutman, Skyline Exhibits Segment Manager. “We consider it an important part of research to get out there and literally be in the shoes of our consumers and feel the pain that they feel.”
Troutman explains that observation is critical to the research process because customers often work around issues and may not even realize there’s a problem. So she regularly attends trade shows to observe how:
- Quickly and easily labor crews set up exhibits“Customers are paying for labor, and we want to make set-up as efficient as possible,” she says.
- Customers are using and modifying products
- Competitors’ products perform
“By thoroughly understanding customers’ problems – and they may not even realize they have a problem – we can provide a solution that helps them exhibit more successfully than ever,” she explains.
An example is Skyline’s exclusive DesignView® Presentation System. While walking trade show floors, Steve Dunn, one of the segment managers, noticed people unsuccessfully using projection to combine PowerPoint presentations with static graphics. He brought the issue back to Skyline’s engineers, who then came up with a compact rear-projection solution combined with printed screen. It creates a powerful image without taking up a lot of space.
2. They encourage customers, dealers and staff to submit ideas for new products, and then put them through a formal evaluation process.
They receive, on average, about 50 ideas every year. Each idea is evaluated by representatives from leadership, marketing and engineering, and is scored on the same criteria, such as:
- Revenue potential
- Risk involved
- Level of resources required
- Other projects in the pipeline
3. They assign top-scoring ideas to a project manager who oversees their execution from start to finish. The project managers:
- Are the communication liaison between Marketing, leadership and Engineering
- Set up and oversee a schedule for completion
- Document every aspect of the development
“Having one neutral person – outside of Engineering, Marketing and leadership – in charge of the development process reduces communication issues and ensures the development moves forward smoothly,” says Troutman.
“It’s easy for knock-off products to come in from overseas,” she points out. “That’s why we are intentional about continuously innovating. For us, our process has become a great recipe for success.”
This is evident in results, which are moving Skyline ahead of the competition by increasing product sales by 18% and exceeding projected industry growth by approximately 4%.