Only recently did I appreciate the really immeasurable value of the innovation ability we encouraged as we built at Pacific Direct. Everyday surely a company must surely continually try to improve and grow to outrun the competition. Indeed not only to outrun but to win on every level, as a business grows a company must invest relentlessly in team brought innovation and continual improvement to ensure their safe passage in accelerated growth.
A company constantly seeking to build efficiencies at all levels with a culture that celebrates and grasps the challenges of change, with empowered and engaged employees is frankly a difficult prospect to tackle.
From day one my business card alone was different, my first card said I was a “factory representative” which indeed I was, albeit, I did not have a factory but I was representing one source of supply of hotel amenities and I wanted to simply communicate I was representing a China factory-direct.
Innovation need not always come from the product itself. I did build the company generating my first sales order from The Dorchester by selling a newly invented pre-threaded sewing kit. The innovation was in product, with the customer at the heart of the reasoning, for having already threaded colour choice needles.
But by no means did we product innovate as vastly as we did endlessly search for improvements in service efficiencies and effective ways to save money. Limited sampling – I turned into a gain as we sold a limited, uncomplicated range of products – easy to stay focused.
We introduced the three quote system in order to always buy best, innovation in purchasing by creating the always competitive bid situation. My early warehouse was indeed my innovation – a stretch of the description but one that The Dorchester never knew 20 years ago.
Sourcing the best of supply came from a never-ending drive to offer the best of the rest. Endless study of the competition, the marketplace and other packaging experts gave us bag loads of ideas to convert into new and intelligent offerings for our customers.
We had to find professional solutions like how to build space on miniature products to include full ingredients when the EU changed regulations.
Knowledge is power, so knowing the regulations of how to label, that made a difference, gave us a head start. We redesigned the base of slippers, we changed the measurements of shower cap packaging – saved bag loads of pennies in freight and import costs. Cumulative small savings can massively add up over years of deliverance.
The team were genius in cost saving when the business was under pressure. New packaging on pallets, the traffic light system to allow better focus on slow-moving stock and a baked potato evening with London Housekeepers to keep the cost of running an event to our meagre early years budget.
I cannot remember any innovation back-firing. Apart from one when following a brainstorm to make savings my worst decision was charging for coffee and tea when times were tough. Nevertheless, we sold cakes, auctioned team skills and services to build culture and revenue for the voted company charity of the year.
Gifts to the team included hiring a photographer for the day to allow each individual to have a family portrait taken, (all on-site booked slots of 15 minutes – invite anyone.) We invented display originality that saved fortunes at exhibitions, bought IKEA furniture all over the world to build low-cost show stands, gave out the daily soap newsletter, expanding sponge ducks to butter up housekeepers whilst aiming to bring a memorable smile to their day as we built our brand.
Originality done well and often combined with a sense of humour are a priceless way to complement your team, your brand and the development potential of new sales. I sent gifts to difficult to reach prospects to innovate past gatekeepers and today I still smile at some of the simple brilliance of sunshine days created by painting our corridor bright yellow.
Innovation need not be beyond any budget – do not underestimate the power innovation must play in the competitive market today.
Lara Morgan is best known for growing Pacific Direct, from start-up to successful exit, 23 years later. She now invests her time in fast growth companies and represents UKTI as an Export Ambassador, having previously exported to 110 countries. Her vast experience and business knowledge includes specialisms in licensing luxury brands, manufacturing toiletries and selling to the hospitality environment through complex global distribution chains. She's also an expert in leadership and developing talent having learnt through her own experiences of employing 500 employees in an open fast growth sales culture.