IHA reconnects with Rick Babick, president of Design Research, based in Lawrenceville, NJ., for a preview of the presentation on planning for new product success that Rick and Janine Michalek will deliver at the upcoming 2017 International Home + Housewares Show in the Innovation Theater.
Rick Babick has more than 35 years of experience in the market research field. He founded Design Research as a boutique research agency in 1998 and has led the company into its current role as a valued research and trends consulting resource for more than 50 client companies, many of which are industry leaders. As Design Research has grown it has evolved into more than a research company and now offers its clients syndicated information services encompassing lifestyle trends, consumer purchasing habits and extensive design and décor information for home furnishings and retail clients. Design Research also operates a sister company that works exclusively in the retail auditing field.
Rick, what is the most exciting or rewarding part of your work? What fuels your inspiration?
Half of our work is in support of new product development and it is exciting and rewarding to see the products that we’ve worked on coming to market. Many of our clients treat us as extended members of their teams and they are happy to see us and to show us the final products they are presenting at the shows. Their excitement, their success and the appreciation they show us make our work enjoyable and rewarding.
Can you name a pivotal event or project that impacted your career or company?
Yes! I had an early success that shaped my entire career. I took the market research manager position at Lenox China and Crystal as the second job in my career. The first task I was given was to figure out how to identify preference for dinnerware patterns, stemware patterns and flatware sets. I had no idea how to do that so I took the top 100 dinnerware patterns out to a mall and randomly intercepted women to ask them which designs they liked and why. I learned that everyone could tell me which designs they liked, but few could tell me why. I realized that the average consumer does not have a language for design. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they like. I concluded that the only way to test design was to do so by quantitative surveying. I began testing designs with surveys of hundreds of women. In my earliest work on a new collection, one pattern, that everyone internally hated, kept winning half the votes in the study. Management concluded that my research wasn’t working very well, but I persuaded them to keep testing that design to test the test. In each wave of the testing, that design kept doing better and better and management began to feel better about it. That pattern was introduced – it was called Charleston – and it was the best-selling dinnerware pattern in the 1980’s. It took our factory four years to catch up with the demand for that pattern! This not only solidified my position at Lenox, it also taught me that it is possible to integrate research with the design development process as a means to identify and refine the best designs, which is still a big part of our offerings today. The main difference today is that most of our work fuses design with functionality as well.
In the past few years, what has changed most in your business? How has your company met these challenges in the way you do your work?
The biggest change in market research has to be the impact of the online and social media revolutions. We are able to conduct research faster and less expensively with more highly targeted audiences than ever before. This has enabled us to deliver more information faster and less expensively to our clients. From project start to delivery of results now takes about three weeks. On average, the cost of testing a single product or design (when tested in the context of perhaps 10-20 options) ranges from about $500 to $1000. When considered in the context of how much it costs to develop a product, an investment at this level is very inexpensive insurance. We focus on identifying the best products for introduction, but in that process, we also identify the ones that shouldn’t be introduced. If one of our studies were to identify only one product to not introduce, the cost of the study would be paid for many times over in the savings to be found in not developing, tooling, manufacturing, shipping, packaging and selling that one product. The benefits of identifying the best products are much greater still.
You and Janine are veteran presenters at the Innovation Theater. What draws you to speak at the International Home + Housewares Show?
Housewares and home furnishings is our sweet spot. We know of no other custom market research companies with our expertise that focus on these categories, so this is the natural place for us to be. Plus we always have great audiences with great questions.
Keys to New Product Success for Designers and Product Managers
Sunday March 19 3:30 – 4:20 pm
Innovation Theater, Lakeside Center, room E350
Tell us what you will be speaking about and how and this topic is important for Show audiences.
This is our war stories presentation. We work with many companies in many contexts addressing problems which are often common problems. By sharing the challenges we see and the solutions we have found, we hope to help our audience to avoid set-backs in their product development efforts. We are optimistic about the future of the housewares business and appreciate that we are able to play a part in facilitating our clients’ success.
What do you see as consumers’ biggest concerns regarding housewares products?
We believe the biggest challenge facing both the consumers and suppliers today is the overwhelming number of product choices and sources. We believe one of the reasons why consumers utilize social media to get advice on products is to respond to the wealth of choices by finding a rationale for making a selection – namely that their friends or family were satisfied with whatever they purchased and recommended. We believe this is the single most important reason why brands should be actively engaged with and monitoring their image on social media.
What are some of today’s trends or issues that new product development professionals and/or retailers face in the housewares market?
That’s the subject of our talk. Come join us!
Thanks, Rick, for offering the background on how market research fuels new product development. We look forward to learning more from you and Janine on Sunday, March 19 at 3:30 pm in the Innovation Theater.
Innovation propels the housewares industry. Learn from experts about how to invigorate your new products and services by enhancing your innovation efforts. Critical issues such as global design trends, licensing, the emerging Smart Home category, branding, the needs of distinct consumer age and gender groups, the future of food and parenting – all impact the home goods market. Be sure to attend the free executive-level educational sessions at the Innovation Theater. These programs will give you a fresh perspective as you walk the Show and will inspire, inform and improve your business.
The four days of the 2017 International Home + Housewares Show will be packed with events and education. To help you plan your valuable time at the Show, we introduce you to the speakers and the 21 exciting presentations that will take place in the Innovation Theater in the Lakeside Center. Gain cutting-edge insights that you can apply to your work. All programs are audio-recorded and will be available at www.housewares.org after the Show.