Fresh idea added to new fridges

MARKETING SPACE: Skope Industries creative director Alexandra Stewart with a refrigeration cabinet filled with a clear LCD screen for customer merchandising.
MARKETING SPACE: Skope Industries creative director Alexandra Stewart with a refrigeration cabinet filled with a clear LCD screen for customer merchandising.

Giving staff the chance to come up with ideas of their own has paid off for Skope Industries, which has hooked at least one client company with a grassroots innovation that could be quite lucrative for the Christchurch manufacturer.

The commercial refrigeration producer lives and dies by constant innovation, managing director Guy Stewart said.

"If you don't innovate in this corner of the world, you're dead."

And a technique picked up overseas roped in staff not usually party to product development and had found a way of turning the company's retail fridges into more valuable marketing real estate.

"It would never had made it through our usual product development process - ever."

Stewart said he picked up the idea of a 5x5 innovation process through a state-funded trip to renowned American university Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last year.

In an entrepreneurial scholarship, the Government paid the tuition fees while Stewart and several other Kiwi businesspeople paid for their flights and accommodation.

The 5x5 plan gave staff from across the business the opportunity to form teams to brainstorm new products to benefit the business. Skope gave the system a pilot run last year.

The teams pitched their plans to a panel of directors and production executives and the best five were given some work time over five weeks to try to turn it into a reality with a budget of $5000 each.

The winning idea, spearheaded by Stewart's personal assistant, Kylie Pratt, and sales operations manager Damien Sidebottom, attached a clear LCD screen behind the window of retail fridges that plays advertising, giving drink firms a new tool to attract customers.

Pratt said drinks companies wanted cabinets to be more like merchandising stands and the screens made use of the largest part of the cabinet - the glass doors.

Their company had a lot of glass in the market and this technology was a great way of using it to make the company's cabinets more valuable to its customers, she said.

Sidebottom said it was great to get a new, production and development perspective on the company. Seeing the prototype fridges leaving the workshop for customers was a buzz.

The technology was not as expensive as they first thought and was much more versatile than standard, static adverts, he said.

It could be remotely updated, if connected to the internet, and run advertising and Twitter feeds to take advantage of hot days or other events, he said.

Creative director Alexandra Stewart said several companies were keen to try out test fridges, and those that weren't were impressed by the idea and interested in what else the company had come up with.

Skope was known for the energy efficiency of its refrigeration and most research and development went into "the back of the cabinet".

However, the winning 5x5 team had come up with something that boosted products' merchandising scope, which was great, she said.

One customer had ordered six fridges for market testing and there were several "other nibbles" from companies, she said.

The winning team received no reward other than the experience and the chance to do something different at work, she said.

The Press