Operations Management

Getting Supplier Input on New Product Designs

Written by Andrew Goldman for Gaebler Ventures

When designing a new product it's important to incorporate many different areas. You should include your suppliers as well, as they can provide invaluable information.

When it comes to time to design and develop a new product there are many different factors to consider.

While many different areas of your business should be involved in this process (R&D, sales and marketing, production) your suppliers should be involved as well. Traditional research and development was conducted internally, but in today's business world involving your suppliers in the process can lead to major competitive advantages.

While your suppliers aren't likely to give you valuable sales and marketing advice, they can give you critical information regarding the packaging and raw material components of the new product. Your suppliers are the experts on the materials that will make up the new product. As a result, they should be consulted on various materials to be used in the process. By involving your suppliers early on in the process you can avoid major headaches down the road.

Suppliers can provide input on which materials would work best with a specific design. For example, if you were developing a new style of coffee table, your wood supplier may be able to provide input on which material would hold up best during your specific production process. Your paint supplier may have advice on which paints work the best with the wood you've chosen. By finding these issues out in advance, you're more likely to have a smooth production process once your new product has been launched.

If you have a good working relationship with your individual suppliers, you may be able to get input on more cost-effective materials for you new product. By involving your suppliers in the R&D process and providing them with future business, you're more likely to build a positive relationship. Your suppliers may suggest alternative materials that will work as effectively but for a better price. Using the coffee table example, it's possible that the screws you are using could be substituted for a less expensive product.

The quality of your new product can be directly related to how involved your suppliers were in the research and development process. When suppliers are consulted regarding a new product, you're likely to have a product design with materials that conform to specifications.

When products are designed without the involvement of suppliers, there's a good chance requested materials will not work well with the product. Materials used in the production of your new product may be inconsistent, or laborious to incorporate. These two costly errors can be avoided if suppliers are involved earlier in the process.

When designing and developing a new product, it is important to involve as many parties as possible. Each and every area that is involved in the production and distribution of the new product should be consulted on some level.

Suppliers are often excluded from this list, but in reality they offer invaluable information. By incorporating supplier input into the research and development process, the small business can gain significant competitive advantages.

Andrew Goldman is an Isenberg School of Management MBA student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has extensive experience working with small businesses on a consulting basis.

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