make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.
introduce (something new, especially a product). (Oxford Dictionary)
I like to think that innovations can be big or small. They can be very subtle, and yet feel like MAGIC. It’s that feeling of having something you did not know you wanted or needed, but now you’ve got it and you’re thrilled.
Compare the ‘feeling’ you get when you receive a handwritten Thank-You note versus a Thank-You message via text. That is MAGIC, because the feeling is different and more memorable.
Some of the best trailblazing ideas do not involve technology, automation or computerization. They can be personal, intentional and meaningful. The goal is to do something that sticks in the customer’s mind as something different and pleasant.
Properly done, innovation can help grow your customer base. Our customers change over time, and so do their needs. They have different products, fabrics and restrictions. They want and need different services and conveniences; they are happy to support whoever can meet those challenges. New ideas increase your ability to remain competitive and differentiate you from your competitors.
Our business environment changes continually. These changes are reflected in supply and demand, environmental regulations, increasing costs for supplies, utilities and – the largest component – labour.
When a textile care business is continuously improving and growing, a certain energy is created that helps build brand awareness and reputation. People will talk about the new service they have tried and love, or share a tip to their new-parents group. Small things can have big results when word of mouth gets going.
One of my favourite varieties of ‘low-hanging fruit’ in business improvement is operational efficiency. With some effort and knowing where to look, I believe every business can find a few points in their operations that directly improve the bottom line.
Start by identifying areas where your company can improve, or come up with new ideas. Brainstorm with employees, gather feedback from customers, and research industry trends. It’s important to be open to new ideas and be willing to take risks.
Ask your staff and top customers some questions like, “Which of our services do you love, and why?” or “What services do you wish we offered, and why?” You may be offering services nobody really likes, or missing out on something great. You can’t think of everything yourself, so ask those who can give the best input – your customers and staff.
Take a look at your records and see what services/products have dipped in sales. This is a clear sign that they are not hitting the mark, at least not any more. They may have been super ideas when you first put them in place, but now they are just dead weight. Don’t be afraid to get rid of them.
Look at other similar businesses to yours and examine their websites. Talk to your industry friends and ask them what new products and services they are trying or see emerging. Watch your competitors like a hawk. Ideas are free – putting them into solid practice is where you can really shine. You may borrow it, but if you do it better, you’re ahead of the game.
Come up with a list of 5–10 ideas, then pick your favourite 3 and test them one at a time. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work right away. Don’t forget to stop for feedback when you’re working something new into how you do business, or offering a new product or service. You may think it’s the greatest thing ever; your customers may not agree. Be ready to pivot.
Everything on the list below was an ‘innovation’ when it first was introduced. We take most of them for granted now, but they changed the face (or at least facets) of our industry.
Hydrocarbon cleaning and wet cleaning
Wash-and-fold with pickup and delivery
Online scheduling and account management
Offering shoe and leather repair, and cleaning
Garment sanitization using ozone generators
Building a drive-through for pickup and drop-off
Whatever you do differently than your competitors, advertise that; be proud of that! But don’t rest on your laurels. The competition isn’t.
Here are some emerging innovations to pay attention to:
Use of AI (artificial intelligence) in your business, from small 1- and 2-person operations all the way to large and more complex businesses.
Unmanned kiosks will become much more popular to allow for increased flexibility that customers want and need.
Many times new services or ideas hinge more on psychology than the use of technological razzle-dazzle. Remember the handwritten note example. It’s a less common technique that changes the feeling around the same action of saying Thank You. In a world inundated with texts and emails, a stamp and a card are the new attention-getters. Who would have thought it?
Please reach out if you have any questions or want to share your innovations.