Even plugholes need love

There’s a story here.

 Struggling little manufacturing company NE of London. Makes one product – drain cleaner.  Until a year ago, the company had near zero profits and the owner gave himself a royal sounding $90,000 annual salary (which included perks- presumably all the bottles of, get ready for the British usage here “Plughole cleaner,” he could carry home). It was a tough business – competing against international corporate giants, the owner figured he needed to do something – anything – that might help him stand out in crowd.

 And, of course, we now know that a year ago was a time of relative economic prosperity.

 He did something risky. He hired someone who claimed to be a Design Thinker – in this case, someone who had in fact been trained as an industrial designer but who claimed that the perspective one gets in the training to design, say, bottles for plughole cleaner, is useful in helping companies see new opportunities.

 Designers don’t ‘do’ surveys or focus groups.  They go and see how people work and see if there are niggling little problems that can be solved by doing something, or having something, new.

 So, the Design Thinker brought in some college students to help him go to people’s homes and see how they used drain cleaners. And to ask questions along the way.

 With the wisdom of hindsight, the research reminded the factory owner of the baldly obvious. Bathroom drains are usually plugged with hair, kitchen drains, with grease. AND, in both cases, whenever the goop is poured down the sink to clean, it ends up stinking.


 Mr. Plughole Cleaner and the designer/consultant figure out (1) you can sell two different products (at least), and (2) you can offer them in different scents.

 Simple, simple, simple. Slap-on-the-forehead, roll-your-eyes simple.

So that’s what he does. Gets some new plastic bottles and makes the pitch to retailers.

 Sales go up 400%. Factory size doubles. And NOW, it’s the corporate giants who have to struggle to claim any originality on their part.

 The Point?

 If you’re SELLING your company, you can make yourself rise above the commonplace by letting potential buyers there are ALL sorts of new twists and turns that will make his or her investment a good one. Free advice?  — consider shelling out some consulting money to help you position your company and your products in novel ways.

 And if you’re BUYING a company, don’t forget the obvious :  that you are placing a bet on the future, on what the company CAN be, on what it CAN offer.  More free advice: maybe, just maybe, it’d be worth your while to invest in a kind of study like the drain cleaner company did – in this case, for a product or service from the company you don’t yet own.


oh, by the way, the company is “Buster.” http://www.busteronline.co.uk/index.html


 Some background on this kind of ‘design thinking’

 Article from the New York Times (several months ago) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/business/05unbox.html?_r=1&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink&oref=slogin

 BBC Design Thinking podcast – from, oh, last few days. (steady yourself – great presentation but the interviewer drones on with a certain upper-class accent:  Thing Noel Coward )


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