Everybody has heard about ‘innovation’. But not everyone understands what it really is! So here is a very neat example of a very small innovation that helped a small business solve a significant production bottleneck.
Avriel James owner of Coalpot Soaps started a small village-based soap-making business in Dominica nearly eighteen years ago. The fact that she has developed a successful small business in a country with a tiny population and limited connectedness to markets is due to the way she thinks. Each time a challenge has come along that threatened to derail her business, she has been able to come up with a solution that has strengthened her competitive business and ensured her product range remains up in the higher value end of the market. All her products have a strong natural and health and wellness focus and many of her key ingredients are grown and harvested close to her manufacturing base in Grand Bay at the southern end of the island. So, how does she come up with innovative ways of addressing challenges?
An Example of Innovation
Initially all her soaps were made in moulds about a metre long. She and her small team then cut the long bar into individual soap size portions using a sharp knife – a quite laborious process and one which produced blocks of varying size and shape that had to be individually ‘shaved’ to produce a reasonably consistent end product. It was not a process suited for any degree of scaling up and for producing the type of consistency in size and shape upper end customers expect. One night she was sitting at home with a musician friend who played the guitar. The challenge she faced came up in their conversation and initiated a brainstorming session that lasted until into the wee hours of the morning. The outcome? They developed a novel idea for a solution, built a prototype using guitar strings and a simple levered frame that, in one simple action, cut twelve perfectly shaped and sized soap blocks from the long bar. The total material cost of the prototype – just USD 3.50!
A small step on a long 18-year journey but an innovation that not only saved time and money but also enhanced the end product in terms of appearance and presentation. A wonderful illustration of how a very small innovation can make a big difference and move a business into a more competitive and resilient space.
Innovation for Appointment Businesses?
Innovation seems like a foreign concept to appointment-based businesses. Many service owners think that the main focus should be on customer service and not innovation. I advise many business owners in the services industry to check out the stories of trendsetting owners innovating and having a big impact on their bottom line. Read more here