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Ideas Are Easy. Implementing Them Is Not

Employees have good ideas

Ideas are easy but be prepared for failure

This week a documentary started called ‘I’m running Sainsbury’s‘ on Channel 4. It was a fascinating insight into how one of Britain’s largest supermarket works and the decisions they have to make on which products to stock and the revelation that three out of four new products fail when they are introduced to the stores.

The series is based around the premise that Sainsbury’s can benefit from making use of their employees ideas to develop the business because they are closer to customers and, therefore, closer to what customers actually want.

In this particular episode, one employee from the Watford store, Becky, had a great idea about enhancing an already good idea from Sainsbury’s which is their ‘Feed Your Family for a Fiver’ campaign which provides a recipe for four the ingredients for which you can buy for £5 or less. Shoppers would have to pick up the leaflet with the recipe and then walk through their local store to pick up the individual ingredients.

Becky’s idea was to put all of the ingredients into one bag which shoppers could just pick up the bag and go, saving them the time they would have spent wandering around the store looking for the individual ingredients.

The documentary followed Becky’s idea from inception to delivery to the commercial decision not to stock it after the trial period. At the early stages of the process, there were some slightly patronising comments from senior managers along the vein of ‘We thought of this already but never got round to implementing it‘, which gave us a glimpse into the realities of how hard it is to get a successful product onto the shelves and keep it there. It was probably a sniff of frustration from the managers in the supermarket’s head office who know the realities of product development.

Nevertheless, Becky carried on with getting her product developed from the stages of creating and picking a suitable recipe, having it tested by Sainsbury’s staff, having it photographed, having the packaging designed, before it went onto the shelves in one supermarket. The targets for the all in one product were set and the staff in the store set about promoting it.

In short, the product missed its target by half for the week and Becky was bitterly disappointed and took it, understandably, personally and let it knock her confidence. I certainly thought it was not a good trial because it was only a week in one store and it was only one recipe which may not have been something the customers would have jumped at to buy and make. I think they should have given in longer and had more than one recipe on the shelves. People like choice, right?

The main point that this documentary displayed is that it is, actually, quite easy to come up with new ideas on how to sell more products, or to think up new products when you compare it to the difficulty of taking that idea or product to market successfully. Ideas should be encouraged in any business or organisation that wants to ‘innovate’. But employees need to have a whole range of skills as well as the forcefulness to push the idea through the stages of taking it from a concept to a reality that people want to buy.

It is highly likely that your idea will fail. But that should not stop you having the ideas and trying to make them a reality. But be prepared for a lot of disappointment when it does not work. The real skill is to realise that you have to have a few failures before you come across a successful idea. Don’t take it personally. Do be prepared to take some risks which could either be financial or personal (i.e. your reputation) and hone your persuasive skills and business skills to get people to back you.

  1. 06/06/2009 at 9:02 pm

    Becky’s was a good idea, granted. But I would still have vetoed it given the chance. Reason? Having a recipe and having to chase the products down makes the shopper look more carefully at the shelves, looking at products they perhaps don’t often notice. I would see the benefit not so much in pushing a few specific products, but in engaging with the shopper and opening their eyes; noticing and appreciating the range of goods more.

    • 09/06/2009 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Mark, you make a good point. Watching tonight’s episode of the programme it shows just how much Sainsbury’s needs to do open up customers’ eyes to overcome what they call “sleep shopping” to get them to buy more products.

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