In another instance, Oyler went to visit a prospective client and walk the property. "I found out that the manager spent a few hours every Friday doing a property inspection," Oyler tells. "I won that job because I said we could give her a virtual inspection through a systematic approach to updates and communication. I also gave her advice on how we could greatly simplify the landscape."
Innovation is a new product
As you can see, innovation is often a matter of finding a unique way to provide value to the client. But sometimes, providing this value does translate into the need for a new product.
A good example of this is one of Oyler’s present-day companies, New South Equipment Mats. The company provides temporary road systems using eco-friendly, heavy-duty mats to help equipment get into challenging environments. But the company identified a strategic position of providing “total access solutions” for heavy equipment in challenging environments.
“Just that mindset shift forced everyone in our organization to start thinking about what ‘total access solution’ really means," Oyler explains. "That means we have to be able to get anywhere, anytime, anyhow … no matter what. And we have to do it in an eco-friendly way. In order to achieve that, we had to create a way to get into wetlands, for example.” This strategic positioning led New South Equipment Mats to develop a new roadway and bridging system called EarthSafe. New South’s sales have grown at a compounded annual growth rate of 1,200% since the company was founded in 2007, landing them in Inc. Magazine’s fastest 500 as the 270th fastest-growing private company in the U.S.
California landscaper Tom De Lany is another example. He wanted to help customers conserve water. He came up with a polymer-injecting machine called Aqua Cents that helps reduce outdoor water usage by well over 50%.
The point is that, in both of these cases, the new product innovation was derived from an initial strategic positioning based on providing an advantage to consumers.
Innovation is a service advantage
Back down in Naples, FL, Nelson of Greenscapes has her eye on a potential new service opportunity. The company specializes in commercial landscape maintenance. Nelson would now like to start bidding on municipal, state and utility work.
"This is work we could do on the weekends," Nelson points out. That's a bonus, because existing machinery is setting idle Friday through Sunday, since Greenscapes runs four 10-hour days. "Even if I have to bid this work a little bit lower than I'd like, it's still surplus money."
In Arkansas, Terry Delany of GroundSERV has worked to create a strategic position of "complete exterior maintenance service provider." Delany says, "If it’s outside the sheetrock and inside the property lines, we can handle it.” Landscape maintenance is still GroundSERV's biggest service segment. However, the company also offers parking lot sealing and striping, parking lot sweeping, window washing, emergency storm response, irrigation repair and service, pressure washing, brush-hogging, snow and ice management, and tree care.
In some markets, this type of approach might not work. It all depends on what is happening in your given area—and what your competitors are or are not doing.
"For companies to grow in a service industry, you have to break away from imitation and pursuit," Oyler advises. "Get out and talk with your clients. Learn about their businesses, their challenges, and how you can help them." Only then will you identify how to serve them in an innovative way.