Stages in the life of an office chair, Part 1 Product Management
When I first started work in the marketing department at Klöber a few weeks ago, I kept asking myself the same question: How does that work – having development and production combined at one site? Gradually I got to know the different departments and employees, and now I know that several stages are needed to develop and produce a new office chair. In this feature series you – the readers of the Klöber Blog – will find out exactly what happens in each individual step.
Today we are starting with Part 1, Product Management. My colleague Hagen Trischler has agreed to be interviewed for this. As product manager he’s connected with the marketing department in terms of organisation, so his desk is in the same office as mine.
Hagen, what’s product management all about?
If I were to try and describe my remit at Klöber with a single word, it would probably be “stimulation”. My most important role is to track down the needs people have in relation to the subject of “sitting in the office”. For example, this includes predicting how the market will develop in the future. Then I work with colleagues from Design & Development to find new and innovative solutions for the needs of the future. It’s an exciting job.
Do you have to do a bit of spying?
No, absolutely no spying in the proper sense. But one aspect of my research certainly does relate to information about current and existing products. The office chair market is very transparent: I use the internet, brochures or catalogues – but I also talk to dealers and customers face-to-face, as well as working closely with our field sales staff – so I’m very close to the market. This means that I always know the latest news and stay on top of the trends. Conventional exhibition visits are part of this, too.
And what if you need more detailed information?
Well, to find out what needs to go into the office chair of the future and what its USP should be, you need some creativity. So I work very closely with my colleagues in Development. The best ideas and innovations don’t come when we are sitting at our desks, that’s typical of our work. I’m lucky enough to work in an atmosphere that encourages creative and efficient processes. We have a very flat hierarchy here, as well as an open discussion culture with a good team spirit.
So might you say that you sniff out gaps in the market?
That’s right. But it’s not true to say that I’m the only generator of ideas for new products. Our ideas are created through teamwork, often in a “product innovation session”. This is where sales meets design, development meets market research. Each employee presents ideas and impulses without a value judgement, then the different approaches are developed further in discussion. My input in this is derived from my extensive market research. So I can for example provide information about general design trends that sometimes go above and beyond the office chair per se: what colours, fabrics and materials are in demand at the moment? New developments in the design and construction field are interesting too: are there any new production methods? Would they be an option we could consider, and if so, how could we implement them? This market knowledge is absolutely vital and serves as a basis of discussion. The only way to prevent the development of “me-too” products – copycat products – is to observe the market constantly. The fact is, at Klöber we are of course keen to create innovative and unique products. As soon as the idea for a new chair is born, I start thinking about the pricing strategy.
So are you the one who sets the prices?
I set the market price. When we set the price for our new products, we have to orient ourselves closely to the market. At the same time we don’t want to undersell certain price points – after all, every Klöber is “Made in Germany” and has its value, which has to be paid for. So ultimately it’s a case of weighing up at what point a price becomes profitable for our company.
And what else do you do when you’re not carrying out market research or being involved in generating ideas for new products?
There’s also maintenance of current products. I’m not just responsible for new products, but for products that already exist as well. After all, we have to find out what customers think of our chairs. For this I refer to customer information provided by the sales department, evaluate feedback from our customers on their use of our chairs, as well as checking warranty claims and returned goods. We can then make strategic decisions concerning changes to our portfolio based on this information.
So to sum up you could say that as product manager you act as an interface between the market and the sales department – is that right?
Yes, that’s right.
Perfect – thanks for your time, Hagen.
Do you have any more questions or suggestions? We would be delighted to receive any feedback.