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Improvements to basic tools come in increments: new features are added, new materials become available and are used, new features add functions to a tool. New tools are developed as technologies advance.
Building alarm, surveillance and control systems installers have seen basic electricians’ tools modified for low-voltage work, and with the introduction and expansion of fiber optic cable and its incorporation into today’s buildings, a completely new set of tools emerged. Datacom testers change as standards change.
Manufacturers are challenged to compete in a dynamic market while simultaneously anticipating future needs. They must plan and develop tools that fill the needs of the changing marketplace.
How do manufacturers who serve the growing integrated construction marketplace prepare for the future? Four key manufacturers explain how they gather information that will be used to produce next-generation products.
Klein Tools (www.kleintools.com), Dave Mueller, senior voice-data-video product manager, said: “End-users drive this product identification process for us. We first get out on job sites to listen and observe. We believe job-site observation provides real-world examples of how technicians and installers go about their normal routines, use ‘short cuts,’ and experience how they deal with unexpected problems.
“Once we develop insights from those observations, we then go into a more formal research phase of exploring ideas in a focus group setting to hone in on desired solutions and attributes, followed by a broader quantitative approach to get a reliable general population response to those ideas. We can internally facilitate limited-scope focus groups on short notice, and we also conduct multimarket research, which, in many cases, is best served by a professional firm. To select participants, we prepare screener questions to filter out prospects outside of the research objective.
“We also use social media and Internet surveys. In addition, we monitor social media, website postings, product returns and inbound customer service calls.
“We then proceed into a more formalized ‘phase/gate’ development process beginning with presenting the concept internally through steps leading to final manufacturability,” Mueller said.
Greenlee (www.greenlee.com), Robert Sutherlin, sales director, said: “Greenlee devotes a considerable amount of time to gathering VOC [voice of the customer] information. Greenlee uses a wide variety of tools to gather customer input and market research.
“Greenlee has built an extensive end-user contact base that we can use to gather information via surveys, telephone interviews and/or job-site visits. We also partner with several outside companies to hold focus groups with distributors/end-users to analyze market size/share and conduct in-aisle retail stops to gather information from customers. A part of our customer training programs is encouraging participants to give product feedback and ideas for potential improvements. The relationships we create through the training also provide the opportunity for continued open feedback from end-users.
“As part of Greenlee’s quality control program, any item being returned must be accompanied by the reason for the return and any feedback from the end-user about the product. These comments are then compiled into a report to identify potential quality issues and design improvements.
“Once the VOC has been gathered, Greenlee creates a project/product scope that includes all the requirements for the product. The scope will include product features, benefits, attributes, etc. Once the scope has been fully developed and approved, our engineering team starts designing the product to meet/exceed the product scope.
“At specific times during the development cycle, the product is compared to the scope to make sure the product design/development is hitting the mark. Before the final development of the product, samples are created and provided to a select group of end-users who will evaluate the product based on real-life application,” Sutherlin said.
Platinum Tools (www.platinumtools.com), Todd Cote, vice president of sales, said: “Platinum Tools has been very aggressive launching new products for the structured cable market. We use several methods for evaluating products and markets. First, we have a very informative distribution base that helps guide us in the directions about the products their customers are buying. Second, we will evaluate what is currently in the market and look to improve or bundle various technologies, so we can offer savings in time and/or money. This has been a main focus for everything we do. Third, Platinum Tools exhibits at several end-user or installer-based trade shows, which allows us to get immediate feedback from the people that need, want and use these products.
“Platinum Tools gathers as much data as possible from our customers to evaluate how we are positioned within a certain market, along with standard market studies that are available through several trade publications. Platinum Tools has an evaluation committee that includes a wide range of participants such as distributors, end-users and OEMs.
“Our research process helps us identify and evaluate difficult-to-spot issues in the field; it takes time to get at the root of a problem. We always want to stay focused on the real needs in the field,” Cote said.
Panduit (www.panduit.com), Robert D. Elliot, copper product development manager, said: “Panduit has its own internal marketing department, and we conduct market research both using this team, an external team that this group accesses on our behalf as well as leading global research consultants.
“Multiple methods of gathering information are used to some degree, but we tend to rely most on direct contact with the product users, since they tend to have the in-depth knowledge of the problem and other insights. Panduit has a strong preference for direct contact with end-users and specification writers to gain the most relevant information.
“Mail or email surveys tend to be useful for general information, but responses that would shape critical aspects of the products to be developed are rarely as detailed as are necessary for product development. Another technique we use is to devise a question list that is sent to selected users. Responses range from one-word answers to extremely detailed and valuable input.
“We seek to validate assumptions from information and assess the needs of stakeholders in discussions with a variety of customer types, including end-users, installers, and Panduit field specialists and product line personnel, engineering, and research and development staffs.
“Information gathered is used in the early stages of the product development process employed at Panduit. Development and presentation of the business case clearly identifies the problem being solved as well as summarizes the feedback from the customer to help justify the business case,” Elliot said.