‘Collaboration.’ It is a word we hear often in the hardware market. There are any number of companies talking about how they like to take a ‘collaborative approach’ in their dealings with their customers. But what does real collaboration actually look like? It is all very well to use the right vocabulary, but what does this approach mean in reality and on a day to day basis?
ERA, the security expert, makes collaboration a central tenet of its customer care approach. The majority of the company’s raft of customer care initiatives comes out of listening carefully to its customers. Good collaboration means outcomes that benefit both ERA and its customers. After all, there is no point in introducing initiatives that do not take into account customer preferences. So what does ‘good collaboration’ look like?
In a nutshell, ‘good collaboration’ means helping customers to achieve their business goals while at the same time providing business benefits for ERA too. A key part of this picture is giving fabricators and installers the tools with which to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Customers with a strong competitive advantage will win more business, which in turn benefits ERA. It is a classic win-win situation.
Perhaps nowhere is collaboration most directly linked to competitive advantage than in product development. ERA is continually investing in this area of its business. Much of this is of course market-led, and from time to time fabricators and installers request very specific product development collaboration in order to future-proof their business and, as has already been mentioned, to be able to differentiate themselves effectively from their competitors.
A great example of this type of collaborative product development is a project recently completed by ERA for Solidor, the manufacturer and supplier of composite doors. Fitted and installed by a nationwide network of approved installers, the extensive Solidor range of doors is widely admired for its stunning design and unparalleled security. So, when Solidor asked ERA to work with them on this detailed project, it was clear that both form and function would be equally important.
The project saw ERA develop two brand new finishes for Solidor: Heritage Black and Pewter. The new colours are intended for three door handles, two door knockers, a letterplate and a door knob. Additionally, ERA developed an enhanced door hinge featuring a cover held in place by means of a clip. Previously, Solidor had been sourcing a hinge whose cover had been screwed into position, and the new product now offers the company the improved aesthetics of clean lines and colour-matching with other hardware used. The third part of the project involved the development of a new heritage style Pull in all of ERA’s Fab&Fix colours.
A key part of the collaboration between ERA and Solidor involved the use of 3D printing in order to enable all concerned to see exactly how products would look right from the early design stage. The 3D models produced were painted so that both teams could see clearly the effect that the colours used in the production process would have. Once the 3D models had been approved ERA then developed the requisite tools and tool samples to facilitate production.
Pierre Mifsud, Solidor’s Technical Director said:
“We have been very pleased with the service we have received from ERA in this product development project. It was fascinating to visit the company’s UKAS-accredited test lab in order to ensure that the products were going to perform correctly, which was especially important in the case of the new hinge. It was great that ERA uses the 3D printing process to demonstrate how the final products will look and perform."
One of the great outcomes of ERA’s move to brand new purpose-built premises on the i54 business park just outside Wolverhampton last yearwas the fact that thedesign and development departments were brought together under one roof. The 135,625 sq ft site is home to the company’s state-of-the-art research and product development hub, design team, test facilities as well as manufacturing, warehousing and training facilities. With a team of six in product management and six in product design, having both teams under one roof makes working together and with customers on a day to day basis much easier, as has been borne out by the results of the project just completed with Solidor.
For fabricators and installers it is important that their hardware supplier is not only providing solutions for today’s market, but that it is keeping watch on those of the future. Being able to identify coming market trends and being able to respond to them quickly means ERA can help to future-proof fabricators’ and installers’ busines. This is why being in contact with relevant regulatory bodies is important, and not only being in contact with them, but also having members of staff who actually sit on the bodies’ committees too. This results in prior knowledge of what is going to be required when pulling together a new product specification, and is also invaluable when enhancing new products.
In the current financial climate, value for money is important for fabricators and installers. ERA is continually looking at ways to modify and enhance its 12,000 product lines to try to offer improved value for money and ways in which its customers can find positive differentials.
Collaboration with customers also of course brings forth specialist service initiatives which are in direct response to feedback gained. An example of this is the way fabricators and installers can now place orders with ERA right up to 5pm and still benefit from next day delivery.
Enabling customers to be as flexible and efficient as possible, the Next Day Delivery Service with 5pm cut off is a huge achievement for ERA. It is only possible thanks to the significant investment in the company’s state of the art distribution facility, which is now working until 10pm to fulfil orders. This is a great asset, not only to the company’s larger customers, but also to smaller businesses who rely on quick turnaround and availability rather than holding larger stocks themselves.
This adds not just flexibility, but can in turn lower the costs of inventory and storage for fabricators and installers, given they can now obtain product from the company at even shorter notice. The 5pm cut-off adds further value to the already great service offering of 98% product availability.