Techtronic Industries, or TTi, created one of the most dynamic IdeaScale communities called the Idea Farm. The power tools giant runs quick one-to-four week challenges to solicit ideas on how to improve their product lines. Moderators say it’s a powerful tool for employee engagement and collaboration.
It has spawned more than 8,000 ideas and become the de facto office social network. Most of the participants are engineers or product developers, but anyone can submit an idea. In fact, one of its most successful ideas came from Brian Stearns, a guy in marketing. It changed his life.
“People in the company always bring up my story to show that product ideas can come from anyone,” Stearns said.
In 2013, Stearns was 26-years-old. He was a brand marketing manager at TTi. The Home Depot invited him to a store in Atlanta to discuss how to reinvigorate the plumbing department.
When Stearns saw the aisle of misting fans – like the ones you’ve probably seen cooling players on NFL sidelines – inspiration struck. “There are corded misting fans out there. But you can’t take them camping, you can’t take them on a fishing trip,” Stearns said. He had a feeling that people who lived in hot climates would love to have a cool breeze blowing in their backyards and at their kids’ games.
He sketched his idea for a portable misting fan on a legal pad. He wanted to use his company’s rechargeable battery technology to put a fan and a pump on top of the ubiquitous orange Home Depot bucket. (Yes – that five dollar “Let’s Do This” bucket in your garage.)
Stearns returned to his office and shared the idea with his team. They said, “You’ve got to put this on the Idea Farm.”
The idea instantly got enough votes on IdeaScale for engineers to look at it and make a prototype. Everyone loved that the idea repurposed existing TTi products and combined them with Home Depot’s bucket. The mister became one of the fastest product launches the company ever had. Stearns had the idea in the fall, and the bucket top mister was on shelves by spring. He leveraged his own expertise to create the company’s first purely social marketing campaign for the mister.
The result was recognized by Home Depot as one of the most innovative products of the year, that was featured on HGTV and in Popular Mechanics. It generated millions of dollars in sales during its first year. The City of Anderson, South Carolina even gave Stearns an award because the product created jobs for the city. And Home Depot asked TTi for more products in that category.
“You don’t realize when you’re shooting the [breeze], that it could potentially be a million dollar SKU,” Stearns said. “It averages ten thousand units per week in the spring and summer. And that’s growing. We sell thousands of batteries a week.”
Stearns is humble about his success and quick to mention other team members who helped bring this innovation to market. But he has a real sense of pride about it too. The mister was a highlight of his young career. His name is on the patent. He has the award from the city framed in his office. He keeps a bucket topper with him at all times. He delights in seeing his invention on job sites, at 5K runs and at concerts. He says this product and the company’s innovation program have been key parts of his career. Stearns is now director of digital marketing at TTi.
Laszlo Gyorffy is president of EDG, an IdeaScale partner that specializes in innovation strategy. He says surprising things happen when you pull together a multidisciplinary group to crowdsource ideas. “It’s like unleashing a bunch of electrons that go colliding off of each other. The energy and momentum they have when they collide with each other sparks something new that wouldn’t have been there before,” Gyorffy said. Stearns’ story is a great example of this sort of crowdsourced product development.
This is just one of the great stories that I heard while conversing with customers and partners at this year’s Open Nation. You can see some other presentations from Open Nation here.
This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.
This post is by Kerry Seed, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale.