By Ian McCue(opens in new tab), content manager
⏰ 6-minute read
Some niches of the current manufacturing, wholesale distribution and retail markets favor shorter product life cycles, which require accelerated product development.
Tov Furniture and Orb Toys are two companies that have successfully sped up their development processes, resulting in quick product life cycles and overall company growth.
The brands’ secrets include knowing your customer, taking risks and empowering your employees to make quick turnarounds.
Tov Furniture(opens in new tab) follows a simple creed: Money likes speed.
Speed is indeed critical for the successful furniture brand, which focuses on trendy pieces that are currently in style. To stay up-to-date, Tov introduces new items every month as goods arrive from factories in China, India and Vietnam.
It’s a global business that reflects fashions from all over the world.
“We’ll go visit Milan, we’ll visit Paris, we’ll see the trends that are coming off runways there, and we’ll incorporate those colors, those styles, those materials into our product development and produce furniture that’s on-trend with what you’re seeing not just in the furniture industry, but in general -- what’s happening in the culture and fashion around us,” said Bruce Krinsky, Tov’s founder and chief problem solver.
Keeping pace with ever-evolving trends means short product life cycles(opens in new tab) that demand quick development and production. A new Tov sofa, for example, must go from a rough sketch on paper to a physical product in a matter of weeks so it’s still in vogue. Tov makes it happen, and its tactics can be applied beyond the furniture industry, too.
Tov Furniture makes couches, chairs and more on a quick production schedule.
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Skipping a step
Traditionally, furniture companies debut dozens of new items at trade shows, then offer only a fraction of them for sale based on which get the most positive reactions from visitors. That entire vetting process can take a year or two. Tov, on the other hand, reviews sample pieces of furniture from its manufacturers and decides in one or two weeks whether it wants to add to a given item to its catalog. (In some cases, Tov will request revisions before doing so.) This strategy allows the New York company’s furniture to evolve from “idea” to “available for sale” in as few as four months.
“What we do is we trust our gut, we trust that we understand our customer, and if we like the sample, there’s no ‘Wait, let’s show it in six months at a trade show,’” Krinsky said. “It’s, ‘Let’s put it in production tomorrow,’ and we’ll immediately order and fill our warehouse with inventory of this product.”
“What we do is we trust our gut, we trust that we understand our customer."
Tov knows its typical customers: They live in major cities, so they don’t want big pieces of furniture for their modest apartments. This knowledge, along with intuition and a read on fashion and cultural trends, allows Tov to manufacture new pieces with confidence. The company doesn’t rely on trade-show feedback like most others, but it produces pieces much faster as a result.
A toy company tinkers with production
Canadian toy company Orb Toys(opens in new tab) also found a way to accelerate its product life cycle to keep up with the quickly-changing preferences of its young customers.
“Toys don’t last as long in the market like they used to,” said Business Operations Analyst Rayan Bouhlel. “If you talk about Barbie, you can always count on Barbie being there. These days, trends come and go much faster.”
In response, Orb’s products like slime compounds(opens in new tab) and fabric crafts(opens in new tab) can be on a container ship headed for North America within one month after the start of production, a far quicker turnaround than the industry standard of 3-9 months. Orb’s Squishies(opens in new tab) -- soft, malleable, handheld toys designed to look like animals and food items -- have ignited a rapid growth in sales. Orb currently releases new Squishies every month and sells them in more than 35 countries.
Orb Toys unveils new designs of its Squishies toys every month.
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Bouhlel credits the speed partially to hyper-productive design and sales teams. Orb hired both young local talent and seasoned toy industry experts to double these teams in size since January 2018.
“Often, teams get caught in analysis paralysis,” Bouhlel said of developing new toys. But “the [recent influx of] experience on our team enables us to identify fruitless ventures much sooner than we used to. Identifying which products have a low likelihood of success in the market is equally as important as identifying products that might be ‘the next big thing.’”
“Often, teams get caught in analysis paralysis.”
To speed up production, Orb also invested in prototyping equipment, from “a fleet of 3D printers to an in-house paint and spray room, all the way to a room-sized cutting machine for packaging,” Bouhlel said.
It also helps that Orb has teams in Asia and North America, making it a 24-hour operation.
“Our Hong Kong team would send a production sample overnight to Halifax, and they would have feedback and responses by the time they came into work the next day,” Bouhlel said.
Orb is nearly 30 years old, but sales have almost quintupled since the beginning of 2017 as it has adapted to the modern toy market. Orb predicts upcoming trends by looking to social media and certain markets like Japan that tend to foreshadow what will be popular in North America in coming months. The business also pays close attention to point-of-sale data that shows how a pink cat Squishies, for example, sells week-over-week or during a certain time of year. The human resources team resolves organizational bottlenecks by recruiting new employees and assigning current ones -- based on their strengths and passions, Bouhlel noted -- to continually make the production life cycle more efficient.
When fast product life cycles equal fast growth
Even after products are on shelves, Orb stays nimble. If one style of Squishies is selling three times faster than another, Orb may decrease production of the slower-moving item on short notice, so it can create more of the popular style.
And it's a hit with retailers who carry Orb, including Michael’s, Target, Walmart and local toy stores.
“If a customer has a problem -- which for retail, a problem is an empty shelf -- we fill your empty shelf space faster, at a much more reasonable price point,” Bouhlel said.
Orb is constantly coming up with new products, like its Orb Odditeez Meteorballz.
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Like Orb, Tov did not start out with the vision of accelerating its product life cycle. Krinsky simply wanted to build a digitally-native online-based furniture company that could leverage quality photography and data to convert online customers while saving them money. But soon after he founded the company in 2013, his wife Chaya joined and introduced the bolder, more colorful designs that now define Tov. (Tov is an acronym for “tone of voice,” because its unique designs let customers express themselves.)
Maintaining a smaller but more dynamic catalog of trendy styles requires faster turnarounds than a larger catalog of more traditional pieces would, but Krinsky said it’s worth it.
“The other companies in the marketplace have always been [focused on], ‘How can I make that brown bubba sofa for five dollars cheaper?’ That’s usually been their frame of mind,” Krinsky said. “I think we’ve been successful because we saw a market that wasn’t being tapped into, this younger market that doesn’t want to buy a bedroom set that comes with a bed, nightstand, dresser, mirror and chest that is all matchy-matchy.”
Tov focuses on one-of-a-kind furniture pieces instead of more traditional matching sets.
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Making fast product life cycles work for your company
Orb and Tov are able to take a fast-moving approach to product development because they trust that they know what their customers are looking for. (At the former, it helps that many employees go home to young children.)
Both companies are also willing to take risks and unafraid to fail or adapt based on the response of customers. They also make a concerted effort to empower their employees.
“The advice that I would say is look at your processes and cut the red tape,” Krinsky said. “Allow people closer to the problem to take ownership of the problem. … Don’t have things go through too many different layers of tape, because that slows down the process, it kills innovation, it kills motivation.”
“The advice that I would say is look at your processes and cut the red tape.”
And at both companies, teams are laser-focused on rapidly rolling out products, without sacrificing quality of course.
“Everything you do, every decision you make or every activity you’re doing on a day-to-day basis, you need to stop and ask yourself, ‘The things that I’m working on today, will they help us shave a day off either [production or delivery]?’” Bouhlel said.