A panel of four key suppliers got together on the first day of HIVE in Los Angeles to discuss innovation inside their companies and the industry as a whole. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Ply Gem used to claim it was a fast follower, but CEO Gary Robinette decided the company needed to innovate so he hired Lee Clark-Sellers as chief innovation officer. He also decided to offer innovation bonuses to about 90% of his workforce. “Our focus on innovation is in every part of the business—from the C Suite to the plant floor,” he said.
  • At Louisiana-Pacific Corp., new-product innovation often comes from the installation and use of the company’s products, according to Vice President of Growth and Innovation Ben Skoog. But it’s not in the way you’d expect. “Some of our best new products have come from folks using our products in unauthorized ways,” he said. “Those people have some of the best ideas of what your product can be.”
  • Chris Graham, region manager of the Western U.S. for Electrolux Major Appliances said the company relies on customers when it innovates. For instance, a customer in Charlotte requested that company build an oven that would help her produce a perfect turkey. That led to Electrolux’s “perfect turkey” setting. “The best collaborations come from our customer [the distributors] and their customers—the end users,” he said.
  • Observation plays a key role for Ply Gem, said Clark-Sellers. The company uses traditional methods like surveys, focus groups, and customer feedback. But observation also plays a pivotal role. “Often times it’s going to the job site and looking around,” she said. We go to the distribution center to see how it is being stored and how it is being moved around. We take that back in and put it in a product.”
  • Clark-Sellers said Ply Gem wants to quickly integrate new products. “We do it quick,” she said. “We do prototypes. We don’t wait until there’s a perfect product out there.” And when the product is ready to be tested, PlyGem wants both a really good and really bad contractor to install it to see how it performs in both situations.
  • Mark Kuntz, senior vice president for Mitsubishi Electric’s U.S. Cooling & Heating Division, said energy efficiency starts HVAC units. “We shrink the HVAC systems down to a fraction of their current size,” he said. “We think a paradigm shift is upon us and HVAC, which constitutes 40% of the energy usage in the home, is a good place to start.
  • Graham thinks the industry is focused on reducing carbon footprints, but points out that it has to offer more than energy efficiency to bring customers on board with new products. “The home owner has to see value in what those products can do, not just to save energy but to make their lives easier,” he said.
  • To really succeed in innovation, Skoog argues that “you really have to dedicate folks to it.” Often, the most urgent matter, which usually isn’t innovation related, takes priority. “Part-time effort gets part-time results,” he said.
  • If companies don’t innovate, Skoog predicts they’ll be the lowest-cost producer of something that no one wants to buy. “If you’re on your game, it should cost less and perform better,” he said.
  • Kuntz said the code and regulatory agencies are also critically important. “We spend a great time bringing them up to speed with where technology is headed and bringing them into the design process,” he said. “We don’t want to surprise them.”
  • Both Skog and Kuntz say their companies are focused on bringing more building scientists and “technically oriented” people online. “We’re hiring building specialists for every region of the country,” Kuntz said