Give Them What They Want

Regardless of where their products are produced, some manufacturers always come out on top. Why? They are ahead of the game in terms of product innovation and customer service. "You have to be able to know what a customer wants even if they don't know how to express it to you," says Anand Sharma, CEO of TBM Consulting. According to Sharma, the Sony Walkman, which has been around for 15 years, has always maintained superiority over other brands. The reason? "Every six weeks they come up with a new product that obsoletes the old product," says Sharma. And by the time the competitors catch up, they are six months to year behind in terms of innovation. Another example, Maytag wasn't getting the feedback it wanted from focus groups, so it hired students from a local industrial design school to live in consumers' homes for a few days, explains Sharma. The result: A sanitizing function was added to residential dishwashers because one student observed a mother putting toys into the dishwasher to clean them. Coming to the rescue is also a good way to stay on top. Harmac Medical Products Inc., a Buffalo, N.Y.-based manufacturer of disposable medical devices, had been trying for some time to get business from a big New York company that was having its lower-volume product made in China. "It's tough in the medical industry because no one wants to change suppliers," explains Gary Graf, operations manager, Harmac. Unfortunately for the New York company, the plant in China burned down -- tools and all. Knowing that Harmac wanted business, the company confronted the company with the task -- offering no guarantees that Harmac would get its business for good. "They were upfront about what had happened and what they expected from us," says Graf. "They asked if we could build the tooling and get it qualified in three weeks." Harmac was able to do so and delivered the product. The company was so pleased with the quality and the fact that Harmac went to bat for it, that it gave Harmac all of the business instead of returning to China.

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