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Thread: Innovation....thought for the day..

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    GTA Ontario Canada

    Innovation....thought for the day..

    As usual with me many of my thoughts center around business and thus move towards those that do woodworking as a business.

    It struck me today after hearing the CEO of Sony on the news making the comment that Sony needs to rapidly secure a place in the mobile phone market, just how the whole idea of innovation has become a part of the new business landscape.

    In Sonys case they have been struggling in each of their divisions for years now. They reached a point at one time and then seem to rest on their laurels the result being that others have been allowed to enter their market place and capture their former customers with either newer or better products.

    I dont know about you but there was a time with me that Sony was my go to brand. When i heard the news (which is not news in reality its more of a admission and strategic observation that the Ceo of Sony has made public) i paused a few minutes to think of how other brands with better products and pricing have invaded my space and nudged Sony out. This did not happen overnight, its happened gradually as my needs and technology has changed and i have been back into the market to purchase a new device.

    Where i used to have a Sony Camera, Sony Handycam, Sony Tv etc I now find i have LG, Motorola, Cannon, Hp, and even no name brands.

    So whats the point i am making and how does this relate to woodworking businesses.

    Well i often think when you examine the demographic of the woodworking shops you mostly find men and men that somewhat are caught up in the traditional designs and looks of what has been in woodworking. Few woodworkers will say something bad about a fine walnut finish or the design of something from the past reproduced today. This is all good and well when we building something for a hobby and are caught up in the nostalgia of 18th century woodworking and challenging ourselves to reproduce pieces of the past etc.

    But if we expect an ever changing market place to support our business we need to recognize just as the big boys do that the market place is changing. There is room for innovation in Woodworking designs today which allow consumers to embrace the natural beauty of wood and wood made products in their tech lives.

    Simple example is the big move to standing while at work, giving rise to an opportunity to change what the traditional desk needs to be. The old TV tray stand for dinners around the TV, the TV/entertainment center changing to accommodate flat panel tvs in way more innovative manners than just a chest to stand on.

    Then there is the choice of wood and wood color finish that one needs to keep a keen eye open to as fashions and trends change.

    So if you operate a woodworking shop of any kind, pause for a moment and consider just how wrapped up you might be in producing products that dont necessarily meet the needs of this changing environment and how this just might be affecting the flow of business or your image to the marketplace. Whats happened to Sony can happen to any business and its tougher to play catch up after the event than it is to be constantly innovating. Innovation need not only mean looking at more productive ways to produce something. Embracing use of tools like Google Sketchup allows a myriad of possibilities when it comes to satisfying customers desires without even touching wood.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    SE Minnesota
    Rob, that's some interesting thoughts. You make a good point about making things that meet the needs of folks today.

    Awhile back I drew up this Penguin Donkey and made a comment someplace that I was planning to build one to put next to my recliner. These were originally made in the 30s and were sized to hold Penguin paperback books. I received a number of derisive comments about it on a different woodworking forum from people who said that no one reads books anymore so it is a stupid design. They claimed that everyone reads books on their tablet now. Well, maybe that's everyone but me. I don't own a tablet and have no immediate plan to stop reading books printed on paper. Besides, I'm not planning to make more than one of these things and the one I make will be for me.

    Maybe those clown s had a point though. Maybe if someone thought he was going to sell these, he'd find business really slow. On the other hand, I have a client who build a lot of large bookcases. It seems there are still a lot of books to put on shelves out there.
    Irony: The opposite of Wrinkly

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    ABQ NM
    I think Dave raises an interesting point. I suspect a certain portion of potential customers seek out handcrafted woodwork because it is more traditional than the more modern, semi-disposable products that are the norm these days. Just like some people still stick with paper books instead of tablets, there are people who stick with real hardwood construction instead of knock-down stuff from Ikea. So innovation in woodworking might be a good thing, but the market for the old school stuff will probably remain for quite some time. (Dave Hawksford's typical work comes to mind.)
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Kansas City, Missouri
    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Richards View Post
    Maybe those clown s had a point though. Maybe if someone thought he was going to sell these, he'd find business really slow. On the other hand, I have a client who build a lot of large bookcases. It seems there are still a lot of books to put on shelves out there.
    I really think it's preference. I've only recently started reading books on the kindle app, mostly due to cost of them vs buying a book and paying shipping. Quite honestly I miss holding a book and seeing where I'm at with it (page 10 or 10 pages left). For certain references I always like having books around and will purchase them.

    Rob, I have to agree with you on looking at what the market is needing and being the innovator. Sony still has good products, but in my mind's eye they've always been more expensive than those others mentioned. However with all new electronics and appliances I typically do some research on reviews to see what is worth the cost I have to pay and will pay more for those that have earned good reviews.

    Perhaps this is where Sony is lacking? Not so much in the quality of the products, but the follow-up and listing to what consumers are needing of their products. For example I've got a mini dvd camcorder that my in-laws bought us years ago. I hardly ever used the thing as I the video formats were not compatible with what windows supported and getting the files off to put on youtube were just simply a hassle. Yet I bought a small digital camera that used SD cards and it's software let me upload to youtube or copy and watch on my pc directly for a fraction what the Sony camcorder cost and didn't have to purchase more mini dvd's. After much searching I found a lot of folks were having the same issue, sony never responded with anything that remedied the issue. The camcorder sits in the electronics junkyard I have and will mostly likely get recycled soon.
    Last edited by Darren Wright; 02-27-2013 at 12:39 AM.

    To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word boo. Robert Brault

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    I would have to agree with Darren. It seems more like Sony did what Mikita did 8 to 10 years ago climbed to the top and just plan shut down engineering. No making things compatible and easy to use just sat back with the we are the best and well you know what with the rest. And while they sat their with there heads in the sand every other company was dumping cash into making the product better and easier to use.
    I would say it was a good 4 or 5 years before Mikita realized that they had sunk to the bottom shelf with the 9.6 under powered short life battery tools. Compared to what Dewalt, Bosh and the others where putting out.
    Now Sony has had the same realization. They are not the go camera, TV or sound system anymore. Not when you have Bose sound docks that are half the size and twice the sound.
    It could be worse You could be on fire.
    Stupid hurts.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    GTA Ontario Canada
    Darren you hit the nail square on the head with regards to Sony. I think they always saw themselves so high and mighty that they could drive a standard on their own, bit like philips was at one time. So we saw sony memory cards and all their products took only them at one stage i guess because they did not want to have consumers use anyone elses memory cards. Same thing happened to Betamax video tapes went by the way for JVC and they have done it on their new smart tvs too. Hence i bought a LG this time round. Had the same issue with my sony dv handicam you could never use any of the software they packaged with it. My first video camera was a Sony HI 8 8mm tape type. That was the best product i ever had in electronics. and they ensured there were loads of accessories that fitted it properly and at a reasonable price. Downhill after that.

    One would think the all get the message that we dont wish to be locked into them as a single source. Yet the likes of many electronics manufacturers are still trying this stunt in some cases more than in the past if you look at MS latest move with mobile and the surface. I feel the same about being forced into cloud based applications for office.

    Time will tell i guess.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    The Gorge Area, Oregon
    Part of it depends on defining "innovation" as well.

    Is it innovation to make the piece quicker/cheaper than everyone else? (I'd say yes)
    Is it innovation to figure out how to make it nicer than everyone else (ditto)
    Is it innovation to figure out how to make it work better .. (ditto)
    (actually interested if there are other avenues to innovate towards ... sometimes I'm not innovative enough to think of them)

    Unfortunately at least one of those is often at odds with the other two. For most small producers I still think you're better off targeting (one or both of) the latter two as you're unlikely to be able to ramp up production enough to compete on the first one. So.. what makes something "nicer", well that's nice and subjective.. but many people believe (correctly or not) that more traditional design and execution land in that area. And what makes something work better? I think good design mostly. Unless you're hitting a product segment that hasn't been done over a 1000 times odds are its going to be difficult to improve substantially on the utility of many of the existing designs... which brings us back around to style and execution which is for most things already pretty well understood.

    In one market I'm vaguely interested in (for providing woodworking products) I see a lot of mass produced bleh but not very many actually nice things, except in a few niche parts. In the niche parts people seem to happily pay a significant premium but I haven't figured out if the other areas in the segment are under served or just won't support any higher end producers. In this segment there are also I think some room for improving on the traditional designs as many of them are well over 100 years old and haven't been significantly rethought. Which is I suppose why it interests me (even if I never end up pursuing it its interesting to consider).

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Reno NV
    And nobody mentioned Kodak? Kodak. King of color. King of imagery. Dismissed digital imaging as not worth their time and effort, only to find that a few short years later the market for their bread and butter disappeared. Last time I was in Rochester they were tearing down buildings they owned and couldnt sell just to reduce the amount of taxes they had to pay. Today they are a niche product. But if they had embraced innovation at the time of the digital revolution, well, they had some of the best color scientists on the planet. It's actually kind of sad.
    Programmer - An organism that turns coffee into software.
    If all your friends are exactly like you, What an un-interesting life it must be.
    "A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of" Ogden Nash

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    The Gorge Area, Oregon
    Kodak were the ones who started the ball rolling on their own downfall (not saying someone else wouldn't have been there soon after):
    "The first recorded attempt at building a digital camera was in 1975 by Steven Sasson, an engineer at Eastman Kodak.[14][15] It used the then-new solid-state CCD image sensor chips developed by Fairchild Semiconductor in 1973.[16] The camera weighed 8 pounds (3.6 kg), recorded black and white images to a compact cassette tape, had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels (10,000 pixels), and took 23 seconds to capture its first image in December 1975. The prototype camera was a technical exercise, not intended for production."

    So I worked at the place where some of the critical bits of optical storage were invented in 1965, years before they became commercially available (I didn't work there then, I ain't that old, but it was one of the apocryphal stories people still liked to tell). has a better (if somewhat sadder) history on the story.

    I do have to wonder how many "bright ideas" have been tanked at places like that or have been "held back" by inventive types who never actually get around to doing them.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    GTA Ontario Canada
    Ryan my thoughts on innovation are not encumbered by any trailer to it. To me innovating is simply an outlook. In business i think there are many terms applied that essentially end up being the same thing. In my mind the fundamental aspect of setting up to being in business is not to make a paycheck but to create wealth and make money. In order to do this a business needs in my view to be constantly driven by business forces. One such force is competition, the other being the market place. Used to be people could carve out a territory and do the same thing over and over for that territory for many years. This is not the case today in a highly competitive world. The only way in my view to stay ahead is to embrace change and embrace the concept of innovation. It may in the way you deliver a service or the way in which you communicate with clients, it may be in the design or choices of materials that you offer a client, it may be in how you offer finance but what ever facet of the business its no longer going to be viable to just stay the way you were. This big corporations illustrate the very point. They have tons of resources access to all the finance they need, yet still find themselves out in the cold.
    One of my uncles (he is passed now) worked for one company his whole life doing the same job. Today many people have found themselves having to go and get a new education at 40 /50 to be able to find work. We now get told to embrace perpetual learning. What is that if not innovation. Keeping ones skills and abilities relevant to a changing competitive work environment.

    In my view when it comes to woodworking, there is loads of room for innovation regardless of the scale of your operation. In fact i would say the smaller shops with less fixed setups can more easily adapt to the change required in the market place.

    I have not heard of one small woodworking shop that has gone out and sought finance arrangements to help their customers afford to purchase custom built furniture. I don't say it will be easy, but then nothing worthwhile is easy. The very idea of finance for anything came about because people could not afford to buy the item outright. Take a car. Just how many people can put down even $15K directly for a small vehicle. So when we go back the auto industry responded to the whole issue and provided finance. In the early days you had to have a significant deposit. Now they realized even thats not possible so they come up with leasing you the car.

    America of all places is made up of community banks. I would like to know how many small shops have developed a serious business relationship with a community bank and gone and discussed the possibilities of financing custom work. It does not have to be the built in stuff as in renovations which the owner of the property could get finance from their bank to do. But furniture stores all over offer finance on their junk products which quite frankly are not worth repossessing if the deal goes south.
    Thing is you have to be centered on the client. Its not so much price that affects the deal as much as how they afford to pay.

    I remember back in SA when the micro loan industry first started post our democratic election, and crime was getting real bad, the burglar bar companies recognized demand was there but the affordability was not. They actually began a deal whereby you rented your burglar bars.
    Now you can only financially do this if the actual cost to selling price leaves a huge margin which you may consider collecting over time.

    All of this in my mind is innovation.

    If we look at the ever popular Ikea they have brought Scandinavian design to the world. Their use of terminology to give a range a name, color and assembly is quiet clever. They made shopping at their stores quiet the experience. Even accommodate the kids in a play center. Even provide a cheap meal at their restaurants. This is all innovation. And we know what we all think of their chipboard furniture. But i happen to like lighter wood. Their use of birch veneer and a light finish gives one a orange color which is nice and light. Makes for a cheerful office in my case where i started out with Ikea office furniture.

    I just wonder how many shops are caught up in what they like to work with and the design thats easiest for them and then resist coming up with something new. Even the craft guys tend to churn out the same old same old.

    Yet we have items that have entered the home and become a piece of "furniture" such as a printer, computer, now tablets, cell phones and cell phone charges etc and i aint seen too many works of wood that have taken this into account.

    Lee Valley is now stocking LED lighting in all sorts of shapes. To pick up on Daves point about books and liking books, I feel exactly the same. But i would love to have a strip of light across the bookshelf now and it is now entirely possible to do in a very safe manner.

    This is a huge opportunity for woodworkers to re invent some of the traditional and have it fit more appropriately into a modern setting and in so doing use the innovation to either attract customers or increase their margins.

    I dont believe its just price that drives people to buy at the IKea or Walmarts. I think the custom shops have let the market down and opened the door and allowed in the same way Sony did others to enter their market space.

    Collaboration is another innovative way to meet market demands. But small business guys can tend to be so self reliant they dont wish to partner or engage in joint ventures. These are all innovative ways in which to pool resources.

    So my view of innovation is more a case of embracing change and responding to the times in a business preferably before its too late.

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