Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Skyline's WindScape[R]: Radical Innovation in a Mature Industry

Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Skyline's WindScape[R]: Radical Innovation in a Mature Industry

Article excerpt

Jim Sommerville stood ready to go on-stage at the worldwide launch of WindScape[R]. Jim, an industrial designer in the trade show display industry, had been involved since the very first days of the project. And here he stood, ready to walk out and demonstrate this radical innovation (an air-powered trade show display product line) to the world. He reflected on the many reasons this day may never have happened. After all, he was at the front line through the years, witnessing the many obstacles first-hand. Could the company design and build a high-quality product that met the market requirements? Could the company overcome some organizational and other barriers to the creation of a radical innovation? Would the market accept this radical innovation?

Jim reflected that the "could" questions had been answered or he would not be waiting to go on-stage. Nonetheless, it certainly wasn't easy getting there. The only question still not fully answered was whether the market would accept the product. Jim felt pretty good about the market response so far. The product line had been previewed by some key distributors, and the feedback was very positive. The marketing and product management team members were fierce advocates and had created a very innovative launch strategy. Bill Dierberger, Skyline's president, was fond of asking Jim and the other WindScape team members: "How many times in a life do you get a chance to change an industry?" Jim stepped onto the stage, eager and ready to find out if the team had done just that.

Skyline Exhibits and the Trade Show Industry

At the time of the launch, Skyline Exhibits[R] was a worldwide market leader in the trade show display industry. It was a relatively small company that had approximately 250 employees. It sold its products through a worldwide network of dealers. The company created and sold the structures and displays needed to create a trade show booth, ranging from small tabletop displays to large custom island exhibits comprised of elaborate standing and hanging structures.

The company began in 1984 when its founder developed a pop-up wall display system that was unique in the industry at the time. The company continued to expand its product lines and create new product lines, but the company's share of revenue from new products had declined by the early 2000s. In 2005, the company hired Julie Heck as director of product marketing and marketing communications to implement a new product development process. As a result, the amount of revenue from new products rose from 6% to 24% of overall revenue over a period of five years. In 2012 the company won the Outstanding Corporate Innovator award from the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA).

While the company was enjoying success, its business outlook was constrained because of forces impacting the trade show industry as a whole. Many mature industries suffer from similar forces:

* The industry was experiencing increased pricing pressures as low-cost, lower-quality competitors in Asia or on the internet provided cheaper alternatives. This resulted in pricing pressures on the higher-end solutions and threatened reduced profits for incumbents.

* The overall cost of trade show participation was escalating, threatening participation by its customers.

* The industry was characterized by incremental improvements that provided some new benefits to customers but did not "move the dial" on revenues and profits.

The industry participants all knew the fundamental challenges--there was less and less differentiation between various solutions, and all medium or large solutions were extremely costly. The total cost to the end user only started with the purchase or rental of the exhibit structures and displays. The structures, which could be very elaborate and large, were mostly built of wood, metal, and fabric. These structures were packed in shipping crates and sent to the trade show venue. …

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