Ever seen or experienced instant foaming hand soap? The company behind the technology was a small Dutch company called Airspray. Airspray, a Netherlands based dispensing company, delivered double digit profitable growth with annual new products. As a result of the culture and process, Airspray grew to introduce at least one new product per year and surpassed its own expectations with two, three and even four major launches per year in the later years, clearly benefiting from the developed process and discipline. Being a small public company with sales starting at about $10mm per year and making the promise to deliver at least “one new product per year” is no easy task.
Innovation is not just survival and success of companies like Apple, Nike, etc., although it is often written about and measured in terms of “percentage of R&D spending.” Innovation is the lifeblood of any company, large or small.
And it is not easy. It takes time, experience and lots of trial-and-error learning.
The reasons to Innovate are numerous. Not only does Innovation generate profitable growth but it becomes the lifeblood of the company. It is motivating, creates excitement and results in greater customer relations and desire or need to want to do business with the innovator.
Looking back, the initial 15 years of Airspray were difficult, to say the least, but important in its eventual faith and development of the company. Its leaders learned to explore its growth axis geographically but also by market segment. But maybe more importantly it had continued to develop its R&D capabilities and was able to file the Dryspray patent in 1989, which extended its company value and life another 20 years. This patent was also the reason Airspray was able to develop, create and build a brand new market of (mechanical) instant foaming products.
The principles soon realized its potential and need for new and additional capital. Besides initial support of the investor group to take the instant foaming device to market, it was decided to take the company public to raise the necessary capital to fund the growth.
Soon after the successful stock placement the management team made a commitment to the market to “deliver at least one new product per year”. There was no process in place, no real track record but some past learning, so how did they do it? Can it be done again?
Innovation does not come by itself, it requires at culture and desire to deliver that needs to be reinforced by its leadership and once fruits of its labor are starting to show is fuels the fire.
The first step to a successful Innovation program is the promise and commitment that can be tracked and holds people accountable. Aside from the vision and drive to deliver one new product per year Airspray needed a process. The process Airspray developed was its own in-house stage gate process that was basically a tracking matrix that was refined over time. Small companies are typically less process driven and oriented however to deliver Innovation it is a must to set priorities and track monthly progress.
Airspray created and implemented a NPD (New Product Development) process that was monitored and updated on a regular basis. The NPD stage gate process is imperative for long-term success. Priorities were set based on product needs and wants based on customer feedback and input. Once products were worked on the Long-term Development process and more structured ways of getting ideation were added. The result was an impressive list of successful introduction that grew in number per year as time progressed, far in excess of projections. Number of Introductions: (graph) 2001:1, 2002;2, 2003:3.
In fact, Airspray was able to file numerous patents during the years. Airspray goal was to have patented technology as one of the parameters for success.
1997 F2 Finger Pump Foamer
1998 Symbio dispenser
1999 M3 Mini Foamer
2000 T1 Table Top Foamer
2001 F3 Finger Pump Foamer
2002 G3 Finger Pump Foamer, WRF3
2003 Waterguard line: WRT4, WRM3, WRD4
2004 Dual Foamer, 4 cc Symplicity Lotion Pump
2005 WR SU (Dish Segment)
WRT6 New WR Table top version
2006 2 cc Symplicity Line extension
Airspray’s success and value creation ultimately resulted in the company being bought at 15 x EBIT by Rexam PLC, a UK based public company, in June of 2006. Airspray now continues to operate as Rexam Airspray and is part of the Dispensing Systems and Personal Care Division of the Plastic sector of Rexam (see www.rexam.com).
Having gone through the process of creating and sustaining Innovation, I am now in a special position to share this know-how and help leaders accomplish the same — profitable growth through sustained Innovation.