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10 Tips on Building a Better Business.

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Business Week recently shared insights on how companies can innovate intelligently to build a better business. "Innovating the OXO Way" gives us 10 valuable tips we might consider emulating, especially since times are tough for consumer product companies. So let's stand back and ponder how some or all of these tips might help our businesses to become better–and grow.



  1. Reinvent (products). When using a basic product–the kind your company also sells–what about it makes it cumbersome to use? How would you consider making changes to it to make it easier or more convenient to use? Sometimes the most mundane products can become anything but commodities thanks to insightful redesigns. OXO reinvented the humble potato peeler to be more ergonomic–the rest is history.

  2. Question, question, question. Just because every product in a category is made with essentially the same features, and always has been, does that mean we can't find a better way to build a mousetrap? OXO redesigned the humble measuring cup so that cooks could see the measurement lines from the inside; making the task much easier.

  3. Become detail-oriented. Identify common problems from all of the current product designs in the marketplace, and redesign them until they work as they should. Tip: company owners, management and rank and file employees make great product testers. Input and observations from them help move the process along. OXO's Uplift Tea Kettle's lid automatically flips up when pouring hot water out; no more steam burns.

  4. Create an employee focus group. Let your employees use your products constantly and then encourage a flow of suggestions on how to improve them. OXO's Pour & Store Watering Can was modified when the company's city dwellers asked for a rotating spout that would make storage easier in small apartments. What a great idea!

  5. Be unique & consistent at the same time. Make sure all of your products express your brand's unique point of view. Stand for something and then follow through so that consumers will know that every single product out there is truly your company's. OXO "Good Grips" means product designs everyone can use–regardless what their disabilities might be. That holds true in every category OXO positions products in.

  6. License intelligently–selectively. The lure of more earnings is hard to resist. But–it's more important to protect the brand than to allow any and every potential licensing partner to use your brand name. OXO recently collaborated with UCB, a pharmaceutical firm, to develop a syringe with oversized plunger to make it easier for arthritics to inject much-needed medicine easily. However, OXO resists licensing its brand to many would-be partners.

  7. Know your customer. Understand your market. Adapt as needed for various markets. Ask yourself: how are customers using our products? If they are choosing not to use them, how can we make design changes to encourage them to do so? When OXO first launched its products in Asia in 2006, the Japanese market found the oversized products absurd for their small kitchens. OXO responded by shrinking the sizes of its offerings and opened a studio in Tokyo to get to know its customers.

  8. Reuse innovation concepts. Design solutions that work for one product may be ideal for additional products. When OXO made home cleaning tools, the company adapted the same comfortably large gripping surfaces to each one so that the desired results could be achieved, using minimum hand pressure.

  9. Make products more versatile. When developing a new product, think how it might multi-task. . .how it might handle multiple problems. Universal products rule. OXO improved the basic jar opener, for example, that could open many sizes of lids while still being easy to use.

  10. Encourage negative feedback. Ask employees and customers about products they're currently using that you don't even offer. What don't they like about current offerings in the marketplace? And what might your company do to improve them? OXO Tot was launched with 69 new products for babies and young children due to employees' complaints that high chairs and sippy cups were rapidly outgrown. OXO made insightful modifications: high chairs can be easily converted to "big-kid seats" and handles slide off sippy cups for toddlers.


So why this post? Why now? I think it's time for all of us–whether we have a product or service oriented business, to take a page from OXO. This successful company, started by Sam Farber in 1990, should serve as an inspiration to us.
Look, the guy started OXO by making simple kitchen gadgets. He positioned commodity products in a marketplace loaded with competitors' products, and still carved out a niche for his business. If Sam could do it, so can we.
There's another key point here: employees are the greatest asset in every company. How can you make them a more integral part of the company? How can you encourage their insights to lead to terrific problem-solving solutions?
Yet more questions:

  • Does OXO's M.O. inspire you to rethink how you're doing business? If so, how? What do you plan on doing differently?

  • How do you feel about the 10 tips on this list? Would you add anything to this list?

  • Can you think of other brands that have carved out a unique niche like OXO, by redesigning and selling commodity products or services?


I'd love to hear from you.


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Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc. (www.designforceinc.com), a leading brand-design consultancy to consumer product companies (phone: 856-810-2277). Ted is also a regular contributor to the MarketingProfs blog, the Daily Fix.

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  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Oct 19, 2009 via blog

    Love the list, Ted. I really agree with #4. Employees are responsible for living any organization's brand, yet they are often overlooked. Giving them a voice is crucial to success and innovation. I adore OXO products. The company really did take everyday products and improve upon them, most especially for the aging demographic and people with physical disabilities.

  • by Ted Mininni Mon Oct 19, 2009 via blog

    Hi, Elaine: I think there are take aways for every kind of company on this list. That's why I was inspired to write this post. As the principal of a design consultancy, I can attest to how important it is to develop products and packaging consumers can interact with effectively. What I love about the OXO story best is this: we can never assume the currently favored solution is the optimal one. Even if it has been commonly accepted. Summary: we need to continue to find ways to build the better mouse trap by engaging both our employees and our customer. Right? Thanks, Elaine, for weighing in on my post. I appreciate it.

  • by Paul Barsch Mon Oct 19, 2009 via blog

    Ted, I like #10 - encouraging negative feedback but maybe with an anonymous spin. Some customers will really open up with areas for improvement for your product or service when they know they can comment with privacy intact.

  • by Ted Mininni Mon Oct 19, 2009 via blog

    Agreed, Paul. Companies need to get past the idea of shrinking from negative customer comments. It's best to encourage feedback so that products or services can be improved. Otherwise, sales are weak and businesses are trying to figure out why that is. Information is key to solving problems. What better way to conduct "research" than to do it through employees and customers, after all? Thanks for commenting, Paul. Much appreciated.

  • by Annie Ogdon Cooley Mon Oct 19, 2009 via blog

    I also like #10 - encouraging negative feedback. It is an intriguing tip. It may seem scary to ask people to share what they don't like about the product, but asking that allows you to show your ability to respond. You can ignore their request and go about your business and possibly losing a few customers along the way. Or you can react to their feedback and find new ways to better your product or service, possibly gaining more customers. The way you react to negative things speaks a thousand words about how you run your business. People are always watching, especially now with the surge of social media. So, next time remember to take negative feedback as a gift and respond.

  • by Ted Mininni Mon Oct 19, 2009 via blog

    "The way you react to negative things speaks a thousand words about how you run your business. People are always watching, especially now with the surge of social media. So, next time remember to take negative feedback as a gift and respond." Annie: I couldn't have stated this with more eloquence if I tried. You have hit the nail on the head here. What's better: having negative things spread via SM about your company and its products, or encouraging consumers to say those things to you instead, so you can start a dialogue? As you said, not only can companies respond to their customers; they can also make changes to their offerings for the better. This ought to result in the spread of many favorable opinions. Thanks, Annie, for articulating a very important point.

  • by Strategic Growth Advisors Mon Oct 19, 2009 via blog

    Great list, great insight, all in all a great post! I really love items number 5 and 10. They are so relevant especially in these times of economic unrest.

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Oct 20, 2009 via blog

    Thanks, SGA, for the kind words. You know, OXO is very much like Apple in my view. The company has a strong POV and continues to offer unique, innovative products in a manner that is consistent with its brand. Marketers are always citing companies like these. That begs the question: why don't more companies engage in this manner? After all, companies like OXO provide a clear blueprint for success, don't they? Thanks for weighing in, SGA. I always appreciate your comments.

  • by 3d oyunlar Wed Oct 21, 2009 via blog

    thanks for all admin very good

  • by Always Outbound Fri Oct 23, 2009 via blog

    Hi Ted, these are excellent guideposts to follow if you are trying to differentiate yourself in a crowded market with a better offering. But what if you are trying a new product that lies at the edge or even outside the crowd. What would you do differently? For instance, you might run ideas by individual users instead of focus groups to get more detailed feedback. How else would you determine whether your business is sound?

  • by Always Outbound Fri Oct 23, 2009 via blog

    Hi Ted, these are excellent guideposts to follow if you are trying to differentiate yourself in a crowded market with a better offering. But what if you are trying a new product that lies at the edge or even outside the crowd. What would you do differently? For instance, you might run ideas by individual users instead of focus groups to get more detailed feedback. How else would you determine whether your business is sound?

  • by Vincent Fri Oct 23, 2009 via blog

    Points #4 and #10 remind of of a quote I rwad not long ago: "Why use only one brain when you have access to many?" (Fire Officer: Principles and Practice - by Michael Ward - 2005)

  • by Ted Mininni Mon Oct 26, 2009 via blog

    Hi Always Outbound, Given the proliferation of social media and Internet capabilities in general, it's not a bad idea to send a new product to influential buzz makers to get their feedback. Twitter and Facebook can be creatively used by an entrepreneur to spread the word about a new product, as well. It's no accident that large companies approach influential trend setters on college campuses to get their buy ins and buzz, either. For hard to reach demographic groups, marketers have to think creatively. Endorsement from these kinds of sources can be very beneficial. Their WOM can create buzz, excitement and buy in from their groups. As to how sound your business proposition is, the marketplace will tell you one way or the other: they'll either choose to spend their money on your products or they won't. Smart businesses learn from their failures. They use the information they glean from failed products to make better, more desirable ones. In even the best-run, innovative companies, there are bound to be failures. Even Apple has had its failures. But the company wisely used these opportunities to offer better-designed products that became hits. Thanks for weighing in, Always Outbound. I appreciate it.

  • by Ted Mininni Mon Oct 26, 2009 via blog

    Right, Vincent. Excellent quote for all of us to remember. "Two heads are always better than one", right? Many businesses now are also soliciting input from their customers on a routine basis to glean additional insights. Of course, too much of a good thing can result from this policy. Still, I like the idea of shared insights from employees and consumers alike. After all, we all purchase and use products, don't we? Thanks, Vincent, for your comments. Much appreciated.

  • by Suze & Ev Sun May 30, 2010 via blog

    I like the "encourage negative feedback" idea. It does take some practice to not get combative about it. Much negative feedback is somewhat predictable and you can develop systems to deal with it that make it less personal.

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