Managing innovation is a complex challenge. This week I focus on how innovation has driven one local business to international success.
Stewart Golf is a business that was founded on innovation, often being called the ‘Dyson’ of their industry because of their reputation for thinking outside the traditional boundaries of the market. Like many small businesses, Stewart Golf does not have a formal innovation policy. It’s simply not necessary when the four key people in the business are from engineering backgrounds. The directors often comment that they could stop thinking of new ideas today and still be busy for the next five years!
Mark Stewart, CEO of Stewart Golf embraces innovation in its widest sense. As well as bringing new products and services to the market, he has innovatively positioned the company with its new revolutionary products in selected overseas markets. Continuous improvement is evident within the business with the Stroud factory adopting ‘lean’ manufacturing with the 17 staff constantly looking for ways to make things better. Mark is a living embodiment of innovation himself deploying his new leadership skills learned on the LEAD programme and the employee engagement practices he has brought into the business as the directors continually encourage staff to come up with new ideas.
Stewart Golf are proud of doing things differently. Mark notes, “Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have asked for a faster horse’. In the same way that nobody asked for a Walkman or iPhone, nobody asked for a £1000 remote golf trolley and even fewer people asked for a £1500 version that followed them.”
This is the Game Changer for Stewart Golf – bringing to the market products that meet an unmatched need for customers. Their latest innovation is a ‘Follow’ remote golf trolley that literally follows the golfer.
But innovation didn’t stop there. A few months before the product was available to the market, Mark invited journalists from all the top golfing magazines to come to a golf course and use the ‘X9 Follow’ as it was now branded. Feedback was phenomenal. GolfMagic.com said, “It is one of the best innovations that I’ve seen for a very long time.” All the magazines featured the product and the result was the X9 Follow was sold out before the official launch. The sales of the product have boosted the overall performance and it is now the firm’s number 1 best seller.
This success has allowed Stewart Golf to innovate in another game changing manner. After five years of using a traditional distribution strategy in Europe (which had a tendency to result in high retail prices), the directors made the decision to switch to a direct-to-retail model. This goes against 99% of the received wisdom in the golf business, but they believe it’s the right thing to do to set up the company for future success. Initial results look promising.
There are no ‘quick fixes’ in such a complex arena. Yet, Mark and all at Stewart Golf have grasped innovation, commercialised ideas and have increased the overall performance of the organisation.