If a competitor introduces a new product to the market earlier on, it may be advantageous, explains Dr. Martin Meggle, Head of Development of the household appliances manufacturer Vorwerk.
Innoboard: To what extent has the 130-year history of Vorwerk influenced the company innovation culture?
Martin Meggle: Vorwerk has repeatedly reinvented itself and opened up new fields of business. For example, Vorwerk started to work with multifunctional kitchen appliances 40 years ago. Today, the Thermomix is an important pillar of the Vorwerk group. Not all fields of businesses have been successful to this day. However, the basic approach to try something new is always maintained – even if there is always the possibility to fail.
How do you generate new ideas?
For example, every year we integrate 40 students in the development, where they can implement ideas. Thus, we have a constant flow of fresh impulses at Vorwerk. Moreover, we usually employ graduates in our Development Department. They can implement their ideas within a few years. If this results in a project, the respective staff member accompanies it further. This eliminates transfer losses from the advance development to the project phase. An experienced project developer accompanies the process. The former graduates learn about the company and the processes, discover their own strengths, and can then follow up on these strengths at Vorwerk. This practice has proven to be very successful for our innovation culture.
How do you procure external innovation impulses and what experiences have you had with them?
The customer chooses the main direction of the development. It is important for us to understand how the customer thinks. Take the examples of the refrigerator and vacuum cleaner. To save power, the customer wants a fridge with little power. Regarding vacuum cleaners, however, he directly equates the suction with the performance of the motor. With demonstrations, Vorwerk can market an energy-saving device, because the customer experiences the suction power and does not consider the electric power input as a criterion for the purchase decision.
The direct sales through representatives are typical for Vorwerk. How do you use this to integrate the customer’s voice into the development?
Certainly not by picking the brains of our customers for information on the weaknesses of our competitors or the like. Instead, during the conversation, we focus on the customer in order to find out how we can provide the best benefits with our products.
Concerning the vacuuming robot, the competitors were faster and managed to introduce it to the market before you. Did Vorwerk take too long to detect its market potential?
No, absolutely not. We do not necessarily want to approach the market with an early solution but with a sensible one. And we have also succeeded in doing so with the vacuuming robot. An early market introduction by competitors sometimes merely shows us that the “state of the art” has not yet reached the desired level. Let us stick with the vacuuming robot: A 100% solution is achieved once no navigation aids are required and a perfect suction result can be achieved within a reasonable time.
How important are business model innovations at Vorwerk, in addition to process and product innovations?
Our focus is generally on all three types of innovation. An example of a business model innovation is that we have become one of the most successful companies in multichannel marketing. With the addition of Vorwerk shops and e-commerce, we now offer all distribution channels.
Have you seen a change in dealing with innovation over the past years?
The changes are everywhere. Above all, the needs of customers change and require constant consideration of the zeitgeist. If you look at collections of ideas from a few years ago, you will find things that will make you laugh today – but had potential at the time. For example, the idea of a vacuum cleaner that automatically follows the customers. Today, there is no way it would sell. And now, it has also become clear: It was not necessary as an intermediate step to the current vacuuming robot.
(Dr. rer. hum. biol. Dipl. Phys.) Martin Meggle has directed the Development Department of the Vorwerk Elektrowerke GmbH & Co.KG since 2006. Previously, the PhD physicist had worked in the development of optical sensors for the electronics company Steinel for over 10 years.