A Lifetime of Innovations

A Lifetime of InnovationThis week I was in Michigan for a family wedding and I had a great conversation with a family member about the history of Lifetime Products and how probably more than twenty years ago he saw the founder of Lifetime Products at a trade show demonstrating their first product, a basketball hoop that could be raised and lowered in seconds with the help of a pole or broom handle.

The founder was standing there and repeatedly saying “The basketball hoop goes up, the basketball hoop goes down.”

My family member was recounting how when he saw the guy at the tradeshow repeating this mantra over and over that he laughed at him, and how more than twenty years later how silly he feels because the guy has created a multimillion dollar company from these simple beginnings and his belief in the company’s first product.

Basketball hoops were the company’s only product for the first nine years until they started manufacturing a picnic table designed to fold flat.

According to my family member the company’s fortunes changed one day when a buyer at Walmart asked a simple question:

“Do you think you make a folding table?”

It obviously would have been easy at this point for the company to respond, “No, we make basketball hoops.” but given that business owners should always be watching to see what customers are struggling with and listening to hear what they might give you permission to sell them, it was smart for Lifetime Products in this situation to say “Of course.”

It also makes sense when you remember that two of the main questions you are always looking to answer for any new product are:

1. Can we make it profitably at scale at a price point where the value delivered is greater than the price?
2. Is there a market for it?

If the answer to question #2 has already been determined to be yes (like in this situation), then it simply becomes a matter of figuring out how to make question #1 true.

Lifetime Products found a way and so it is no longer about just “The basketball hoop goes up, the basketball hoop goes down.”

Basketball hoops may still be an important part of their product line, but their blow molded folding tables have nearly completely replaced much of their heavier wooden competition and they’ve moved on to make folding chairs, sheds, playgrounds, tent trailers, composters, and kayaks.

Now with 2,200 employees and revenue likely north of $250 million, the company is definitely no laughing matter.

About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, helps companies build innovation cultures and infrastructures, and plan organizational changes that are more human and less overwhelming. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.
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