It’s hard to underestimate the importance of time to market in an uber-competitive world. The best CEOs aren’t afraid to pull the trigger, but that gets more difficult when you consider the paradox of big data.
You now have more and more data at your fingertips. More metrics. More trends. More things to analyze, and more variables to consider. So how do you know when the time is right to move forward? Let’s take a look at two different strategic approaches to making smart decisions fast.
Topp Labels: What to do when opportunity knocks
I recently spoke with Israel Perez, the director of operations for Topp Labels. Based in Miami, Topp Labels started in the label business back in 2012. Their story is unique because unlike many in the printing and print-related industries, Perez and his partner, David Topp, did not begin their career in printing.
Both founding partners’ backgrounds are in electronics. They made their mark in the cellular phone industry back in the early 2000s, specializing in prepaid cellular service technology as the founders of TracFone Wireless. “All our lives, we were focused on electronics,” Perez says. “Mr. Topp was one of the pioneers in UL certification, and he developed a lot of products back in the 70s.”
Their experience in technology gave them the mechanical aptitude and expertise to see a business opportunity, even if they were unfamiliar with the particular vertical.
The founders had previously owned a company focused on repairs and reverse logistics for TracFone and handheld device specialist companies such as Motorola, Asurion, Palm, RIM and LG. However, around the year 2008, cell phone prices dropped precipitously.
With the cost of data still high and the prevalence of smartphone technology low, reverse logistics of low-end cell phones became less appealing. The market was disappearing at a rapid pace, shifting offshore where labor was cheap.
When business heads south, your ears perk up for new opportunities. And when one knocked, Topp and Perez answered.
Coating machine provides entry point
Topp and Perez learned of a machine equipped with new coating technology. They decided to purchase the machine and dive into a new industry.
As longtime early adopters to technology, Topp and Perez were able to learn the nuances of the new technology and quickly became pioneers. “The coating machine was the only one of its kind in the Southeast,” Perez says.
The company rapidly passed by many of the bigger players, who were slow to adapt to the new technology. One thing led to another, and soon they were developing their own materials, as well as staking their claim in converting and digital printing.
The decision to jump on the new coating machine was both a recognition of the impact of a new technology and what it takes to make it work. In the case of Topp Labels, they were green to the industry, but they knew that by being early adopters to a new technology, they would make up for a lack of industry experience.
Technology in place, Topp Labels cultivated relationships
Topp Labels was smart. They had the technological edge in place to take a position as an industry innovator. But they knew that having cutting-edge technology is only part of the battle. You also have to have the business opportunities to put those presses to work.
Their next step was to begin cultivating those relationships by building a sales force of elite, extremely knowledgeable sales reps, all former owners of flexo companies. They leveraged the previous relationships they had with customers, and built on those opportunities.
“We get knowledgeable, hard-working people who don’t just sell product. They maintain relationships,” Perez explains.
Building an elite sales team is one thing, but retaining it is another. Topp Labels is attentive to their company culture, and it’s based on teamwork. “We all chip in and listen to each other’s recommendations,” he says. “I can see by the comments of our sales force that they are at ease and at peace working here.”
Continuing to push the envelope
Topp Labels is looking to do more unique, high-end labels and stand-up packaging. And they’ll continue to innovate by pushing the envelope on technology.
The company’s two Xeikon 3050 and 3500 digital presses allow it to offer one of the widest format digital label presses in the country, and Topp Labels has an AB Graphic Digicon 500 Series that handles the finishing. The company also has two Mark Andy presses – a 13" 8-color, and a 17" 2-color machine.
What has worked in the past will work in the future for Topp Labels. By making decisions quickly on leading-edge technology, it can keep its competitive advantage. It’s a smart mindset, considering how quickly things are evolving and how customers are demanding more and more.
“There are so many changes happening on different orders,” Perez says. “There are a lot of changes happening in the industry as a whole.”
Failing Fast: Why wait for the 90 percent failure rate?
Topp Labels is proficient at anticipating the needs of the marketplace and getting ahead of the curve on new technologies. Its approach is a mix of business acumen, technical know-how and great timing.
I love the desire to get new solutions to the marketplace as quickly as possible. But is there a point where haste makes waste? What if you could move quickly AND, at the same time, conduct market research to ensure you’re making the right call?
That’s the goal of Dr. R. Andrew Hurley and his team at Package Insight. The company conducts consumer biometric testing on packaging, incorporating eye tracking and emotion analytics. They test new packaging products in actual store settings, with the intent purpose of helping you “fail faster.”
Spending a million dollars on a 10 percent chance for success
Dr. Hurley champions the idea of “failing fast.” The average consumer product requires 22 months (in North America) to launch and an expenditure of $1 million. Yet over 90% of new products fail after two years.
Spending $1 million on an idea that has a 90% failure rate doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. So instead of spending all the money upfront on what a brand thinks will be the finished product, Dr. Hurley emphasizes the “minimum viable product.”
The “minimum viable product” is the bare essence of the new product. It’s the concept itself, presented in a way that a customer can understand it. “Produce the least you need to do to the product and get it out as fast as possible,” he says.
Dr. Hurley points to Brazil as the masters of this lean startup approach. With a population of over 200 million people, they move to market quickly and embrace failure – or rather, learn from their failures.
“Skip the focus group, skip the stage gate process,” Dr. Hurley adds.
How does eye-tracking work?
Eye tracking has been with us since the mid 1900s, but today’s equipment makes it less intrusive for the research participant and more effective in the end.
A participant from a specific target market will wear the eye-tracking glasses into a retail store. Using proprietary technology, Package Insight will collect over one million data points in an average study.
They are essentially looking at two metrics:
- Time to first fixation (How many seconds does it take to find an object of interest on the store shelves)
- Total fixation duration (How long you spend looking at the object)
Instincts and analytics, risk-taking and research
Life’s all about striking a balance, and I bring the stories of Topp Labels and Package Insight to your attention because I think both of these business leaders have discovered the right blend.
Topp Labels’ approach emphasized speed and cutting-edge technology. The company had no desire to “fail” fast – no one does. But they were not about to take a passive approach and copycat other risk takers. They get there first.
Israel Perez notes that there was a big learning curve, and they worked hard to understand the new equipment and technology. They “failed fast,” and by the time they did, they had mastered the new equipment and were filling orders.
Package Insight helps you take a similar approach, failing incrementally, and iterating with each new test. It’s surprising that more new product roll-outs don’t subscribe to Dr. Hurley’s unique approach. Over time, it’s an approach that should appeal to CFOs as much as CMOs.
You learn from your mistakes. Whether you’re making decisions based on experience or on scientific research, Topp Labels and Package Insight prove that the key is to get to those mistakes faster than the competition and make the corrections first.
Rock LaManna, President and CEO of LaManna Alliance, helps printing owners and CEOs use their company financials to prioritize and choose the proper strategic path. He can be reached by email at Rock@RockLaManna.com.