This past June I bought an iPod “mini” digital music player for my girlfriend on her birthday. OK, I really bought it for myself. Like the complex TV remote that only a guy cares to spend time programming or the wireless routers hooked up to our laptops that make her eyes glaze over when I talk about them, I figured Apple's sleek little personal jukebox was destined to be another hand-me-down into my own little tech domain. Fat chance. Apple's enduring ability to create user-intuitive and innovative products—including over the years, the Apple II, the Macintosh, the iMac, and now the iPod—was not lost on the mini player, and as my girlfriend loads up songs or gets off the bus each day with ear buds in place, I can only grimace with envy and put another bulky CD into my portable disc player.
In September, Apple discontinued the iPod mini and introduced its successor: the iPod nano, an mp3 player the size of a business card and about the thickness of a pencil. The company followed this up three days later with the introduction of an iPod that plays video. All products combined, Apple owns a staggering share of the portable music player market, with most Wall Street estimates in the range of 75 percent.
Ask Apple management what the secret is and the answer may surprise you: Apple Computer loves meetings.
“The historical way of developing products just doesn't work when you are ambitious as we are,” company design chief Ive tells Lev Grossman in “How Apple Does It,” an article on the trend-setting company's business strategies in the Oct. 24, 2005 issue of Time magazine. “When the challenges are that complex, you have to develop a product in a more integrated way.” Instead of passing product through a chain from design to engineering to the factory floor to marketing, Apple products are created through a parallel process the company calls “cross pollination” or “concurrent engineering,” Grossman explains.
The process is familiar to Steve Brauneis, director of sustainability for Monterey, Calif.–based Hayward Lumber. From concept to completion, Hayward's launch of the nation's first solar-powered truss plant in 2001 involved countless design “charrettes” where architects, subcontractors, and Hayward management met to synchronize their efforts at executing construction of the facility. With a little fine-tuning, it's a strategy that Brauneis suggests can transfer to the business of building materials supply and residential construction as a whole. “Collaboration historically has been something that our industry has not been particularly good at,” he explains. “It's hard enough for us to get all of our subs on a single construction team to get together and talk, let alone upstream and downstream partners, but there is an opportunity there for people who can pull it off to profit.”
For the dealer willing to commit to the process, there are additional rewards beyond the expected improvement to the bottom line. In particular, the intimacy gained in meetings between supply chain partners provides a market transparency that allows the dealer to more accurately anticipate and predict the service needs of the builder-customer. “When you rationalize the supply chain, you're able to send and read signals clearer and earlier,” Brauneis says. “It gives you a better understanding of all of the market factors in play, compared to trying to make an educated guess on how you can best benefit your customer's company.”
Residential construction partnerships may never be iPod-easy, but their popularity in the industry is growing as suppliers, dealers, and builders collaborate to tighten the length of time that product moves through the supply chain. If you don't yet consider yourself a collaborative player, I suggest exploring your options. Cost-concerned builders and product suppliers are still looking for ways to revolutionize the chain of supply, and it will serve everyone in the industry for the pro dealer to be a part of that meeting—whether you like them apples or not.
Chris Wood is senior editor for PROSALES. 415.552.4154 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org