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How Distributors Can Give New Product Launches a Boost

By Bridget McCrea

You could say Warren Cohen knows a thing or two about how to bring new products to market. You could also say that Cohen’s mind kicked into high gear after reading tED Magazine’s recent How Good (or Bad) are Manufacturers’ New Product Launch Efforts?an article that found a handful of electrical distributors anonymously voicing their opinions about their suppliers’ new product launches.

Cohen, who for years headed up Eagle Electric Manufacturing (acquired by Cooper Industries in 2000), says the tED article raised a number of significant issues that are important to both manufacturers and distributors. “Having been involved with electrical products for the better part of 40 years, and associated with many new product launches, my first reaction was that the distributor definition of a ‘new product’ isn’t clear,” says Cohen, who points out that the introduction of a newly-tweaked or revamped version of an existing item doesn’t constitute a new product launch.

“A new product is something that doesn’t exist in the marketplace and that’s truly innovative,” Cohen explains, “it’s not an item that’s already being made by a competitor or something that just ‘fills out’ an existing product line.” With this in mind, Cohen says distributors that understand the nuance among the various types of product introductions can better target their energies into brand-new, innovative items that their suppliers are developing.

Those efforts should extend beyond just sending out new product fliers and having a single conversation about the innovations with end users. “That’s just regular stuff that’s done every day in this industry,” says Cohen. “For a distributor to truly differentiate itself through new products, it has to do more.” The hang-up, says Cohen, is that manufacturers tend to be “over-distributed” with commodity-like products, and any resource a distributor invests in promoting a new product will also result in benefits to his/her competitor.

“There is very little discussion of Intellectual property (IP) in connection with new products,” says Cohen, who adds that manufacturers aren’t always quick to invest in  real new product innovation that’s truly dedicated to creating and capturing new markets. “Unfortunately the manufacturing and electrical distribution communities have evaluated the success of new product introduction from the perspectives discussed in the tED article,” says Cohen, “and have generally concluded that these ideas won’t sell. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy that restricts choices for distributors, contractors, and homeowners.”

Overcoming the Hurdles
Obvious challenges aside, Cohen says there’s definitely room for innovation in the electrical marketplace for manufacturers and distributors looking to stand out from the crowd. He advises distributors to be “constantly on the lookout” for new products coming on the market and says to explore international options if domestic innovation is lacking. “Use the Internet to see what’s going on in Europe, Asia, or somewhere else where product innovation may be more active,” says Cohen. “As a distributor, your goal should to be to continually find new and interesting items that your competitors aren’t offering.”

And when distributors do find unique items, Cohen says doing so opens the door for them to get involved with market-building – a lost art that many companies no longer dabble in. “When you can find new products that your competitors don’t carry, it gives you a reason to invest in building a market around those products,” says Cohen. “With differentiation being the fundamental path to growth, it just makes sense for distributors to do this.”

Creating Important Conversations
Marketing expert John Favalo, a managing partner with Eric Mower + Associates in Syracuse, N.Y., has witnessed a large number of second-rate product launches during his career. In most cases, he says the problem lies in the fact that new products don’t get the support they deserve or lackluster items get overhyped. “In all my years in this industry, I’ve seen too few really well thought out, well planned, and well orchestrated product launches,” says Favalo.

To distributors looking to help their suppliers reverse that trend, Favalo says simply making new product innovation a priority can go a long way in creating an atmosphere for successful launches. Devote time and energy only to those items that are truly innovative and groundbreaking, he adds, and that deserve the attention and investment. Then, get a gauge on how the market – competitors included – will react to the product and wrap an effective campaign around those elements.

“Create a conversation around these elements both internally and with your suppliers,” says Favalo, “and don’t be afraid to discuss the communications and marketing in a very active fashion with one another. It can really mean the difference between success and failure.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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