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  1. A Focus on Consumer Value
  2. Identifying Product Opportunities: The SET Factors
  3. Case Study from Creating Breakthrough Products: the OXO GoodGrips
  4. Summary
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Case Study from Creating Breakthrough Products: the OXO GoodGrips

The kitchen tools designed by OXO GoodGrips were recently awarded a "Design of the Decade" Award by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and BusinessWeek Magazine. These products have won numerous awards in recognition of their usability, aesthetics, and innovative use of materials. Even after designing 350 products, the company continues to win new awards every year. It is important to revisit the basis of the initial success to understand how this company has continued to maintain its competitive edge in the marketplace.

Sam Farber is a successful entrepreneur who has owned several companies. He sensed there was a product opportunity in the housewares industry. The insight for this opportunity came from his wife, who had developed arthritis in her hands. She liked to cook, but found that most cooking and food preparation utensils were painful to use. She also found that most of the solutions, because they were ugly, stigmatized the person with disabilities while using them. In addition, these solutions often supplied only minimal relief or support. The opportunity (POG) was not just to design cooking utensils that were comfortable to hold in your hand; the products also had to set a new aesthetic trend that would not stigmatize the user as "handicapped." The product that had the most opportunity for improvement was the vegetable peeler. The generic peeler (see Figure 1) was the technological evolutionary equivalent of the alligator; it had existed since the beginning of the industrial revolution without change. Comfort and dignity were two attributes that Sam Farber recognized were key to making a better cooking utensil.

In retrospect, the executives in the housewares industry have had to ask why no one else saw this opportunity earlier. It is surprising that it took so long to replace the original design. If, however, someone had observed the potential need 20 years ago, the public may not have been ready for the idea. There were three clear SET factors at work here that made OXO the right product at the right time. The American public became sensitive to the needs of people with physical challenges, and those with challenges demanded that products be made to accommodate their needs. The second was the change in the nature of business; mass marketing gave way to niche markets, and the one-size-fits-all mentality that allowed the original potato peeler to last for more than a century gave way to a new market segmentation approach. The third factor was the trend to invest in the best products for use in the home, particularly in food preparation. The economic boom of the '90s fueled this trend and consequently spending up to $7 dollars for a peeler was acceptable. In essence, trends had changed, and people were able to recognize and were willing to pay for the value embedded in this product.

The product opportunity was translated into several opportunities to add value. The product function was already established as useful; a peeler was a necessity for any kitchen. The limited usability and the ugly form-follows-function 19th century aesthetic of the generic peeler became the two major areas for improvement. The product had to be usable by a broad range of people. The handle had to be comfortable to grip for short and long periods of use, and it had to be able to be held securely when wet. The latter feature, in particular, was responsible for the higher costs, and so it needed to be perceived as being of much higher quality and innovative. The product had to be desirable. If the product ended up looking clumsy and awkward, the core market would have rejected it. The optimum result would be a new aesthetic that would establish a new trend in products for the home and would be seen as usable and desirable by all potential customers.

Figure 1 Generic potato peeler.

The next move was equally insightful. Instead of paying design consultants a large up-front fee, Sam Farber offered to make them partners with a share of the profits. Smart Design, true to its name, jumped at the opportunity to create the GoodGrips peeler (see Figure 2). After extensive human factors tests, an ideal overall shape was developed for the handle. The overall handle shape included fins carved perpendicular to the surface of the handle that allowed the index finger and thumb to fit comfortably around it and added greater control. A suitable material was sought for the handle that would make a comfortable interface between the hand and the product, and would also provide sufficient friction that would prevent the handle from slipping in the hand when wet. The result was the use of Santoprene, a neoprene synthetic elastomer with a slight surface friction, soft enough to squeeze, firm enough to keep its overall shape, and capable of being cleaned in the dishwasher.

Figure 2 OXO GoodGrips.

A number of manufacturers decided that molding the fins was not possible to do in Santoprene. The product development team found manufacturers in Japan who felt the product specs were achievable. Their willingness to work with the high standards that OXO was looking for helped to create the product quality that became a successful attribute of the product. Subsequently, the standards developed by the Japanese manufacturers were successfully transferred to a less-expensive manufacturing company in Taiwan. This became necessary when the strength of the dollar against the yen made it too costly to use the original manufacturer.

The product has attributes that combine aesthetics, ergonomics, ease of manufacture, and optimum use of materials. The handle was press fit around a plastic core that extended out of the handle to form a protective curve over the blade and ended in a sharp point that can be used to remove potato eyes. The plastic guard also serves as the holder for the metal blade (the only metal part left), and the blade is made out of high-grade metal that is sharper and lasts longer than the blade on the original all-metal version. A final detail was a large counter sunk hole carved into the end of the handle to allow owners to hang the product if they preferred. This hole also added an aesthetic detail that offset the large mass of the handle and, along with the fins, gave the product a contemporary look that made it appealing to a much broader audience than originally targeted.

The overall effect is a very sophisticated product with a contemporary look that is superior in every way to its predecessor except for one aspect, the cost. As is shown in Creating Breakthrough Products, a comparison of the original peeler with the OXO clearly represents where the opportunities for added value were met and exceeded by OXO. Sam Farber felt that the public would recognize the value designed into the product and would be willing to pay the difference. Farber had a hunch that the public would pay several times the price of the original peeler for the OXO. He was right and went against the advice of most of his peers. The SET factors were in place and consumers were ready to appreciate the useful, usable, and desirable features of the product and were more than willing to pay the difference. This product won numerous awards and was promoted by word of mouth. As adult children bought the product for their parents, they found that they liked the product as well. Children found it more fun to use and more comfortable to hold. The market swelled and the momentum grew.

The OXO peeler is also a good example of how one successful product can become a brand strategy that can be extended to other products. The success of the handle of the OXO peeler established the core competency of the company and became the secondary phrase added to OXO GoodGrips. The company decided to build its brand strategy by extending the value designed into the peeler to the grip of every future product that it will produce. The core concept has now extended beyond kitchen tools, and has been applied to all subsequent products that are held by the hand, including teakettles, salad spinners, cleaning devices, tools, and gardening equipment. It has introduced a new material into the housewares industry. Santoprene was not perceived as a material suitable for use in the kitchen prior to the OXO success. Since its debut, neoprene has become a common material, and many other housewares manufacturers have used it in the products they designed to catch up with the success of the OXO brand. Combining insight, design, material choice, and manufacturing processes led to the creation of a new product that redefined kitchen utensils.

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