Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Our contact details
Birmingham office 0121 331 7925
Stoke office 01782 415210
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Post by Adrian Burns
As well as the advantages of business collaboration, West Midlands companies can also derive benefits by collaborating with local universities. Pashley Cycles, formed one such partnership with MA Product Design students at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (Birmingham City University), later employing one of them full time to help develop accessories and bicycle designs.
Pashley Cycles of Stratford–Upon–Avon is England's longest established manufacturer of hand-built bicycles and tricycles. Looking for a fresh perspective, it invited BIAD’s MA Product Design students to develop accessories that enhanced the Guv’nor, a retro 1930s pathway racing cycle.
Six groups were each given an accessory to consider (water bottles, reflectors, repair kits, mudguards, bells or pumps), before putting these seemingly simple components through a process of product evolution.
The process also involved the groups carrying out historical research of the products and analysis through observational drawing. Each student then proposed four simple and affordable adaptations of an existing product, based upon aesthetics, interactions, cost and alternative/new technology.
“While the aim is to create small but telling product changes, the students produced a detailed body of research and development work in support of their accessories,” said Graham Powell, Course Director.
“This was also an opportunity for Pashley to benefit from a wide ranging and fresh perspective, with regards to its design outputs, as our students represent a very diverse and international cohort with equally different views and ideas on what the company might potentially want to develop. Typically, our collaborative projects are aimed at challenging existing design based assumptions within the company and proposing alternative tangible outcomes for consideration.”
Speaking at an exhibition of the students’ products, Pashley’s Chief Executive Adrian Williams commented “I was blown away by the quality and diversity of the accessory proposals”.
Other BIAD MA Product Design students have since worked with Denby, Richard Burbidge and with Triumph motorcycles on collaborative projects.
The MA Product Design Course is always looking to work with strong brands. Suitable companies can find out more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 0121 331 7925.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Post by Christine Foss
Interiors & Lifestyle Futures, with support from Forum for the Future and Sustainability West Midlands, recently brought together a variety of West Midland’s businesses with a strong interest in low carbon issues. Participants at the Low Carbon Interiors 2010 workshop included architects, designers, manufacturers and service providers.
The opening keynote was provided by Martin Hunt. Martin offered a range of case studies, illustrating how Forum for the Future uses innovation tools to encourage companies to become more sustainable, see his presentation below:
Popular topics emerging on the day included:
- Who’s buying low carbon products/services and what are the markets?
- Specifying sustainable materials whilst enlightening clients on the issues
- Creating motivation and incentives for sustainability
The event also hosted an inspirational presentation by award winning architect, John Christophers from Associated Architects. John spoke about his Zero Carbon House, a unique development in inner city Birmingham that produces at least as much energy as it consumes.
A range of ideas resulted from the event, which will inform Interiors & Lifestyle Futures’ business activity for the West Midlands. A few of these business opportunities may include:
- A showcase of West Midlands low carbon industry case studies
- Accessing low carbon funding to support the region’s businesses
- Developing a stronger and diverse low carbon network
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Guest post by Paul Phedon, director at http://www.blogger.com/www.sx-media.com
- How do you define what your brand stands for?
- How do you know if you’re branding reflects your business and your values?
- How can you brand and branding work effectively in delivering maximum value for your business?
These are typical questions that I’m frequently asked and was a key theme to a recent workshop I ran on November 16th 2010 for Interiors and Lifestyle Futures.
Branding is a vital component of marketing and developing and leveraging your brand is an important component of any marketing strategy.
I’ve worked with and for brands in developing and managing brands..... and now a partner with a communications agency, so I’ve had some experience in understanding how brands and in particular branding are central to marketing activity and can deliver real value to a business.
Working with companies within the Interiors and Lifestyle sector, this session looked at challenging that perception and providing an insight in how brands and branding are relevant to any scale or sector and how it can deliver maximum value and return.
The workshop took companies through a 4-stage process in developing a brand: Discover, Define, Design & Deploy.
The Discover phase provided an insight into how businesses can determine what they stand for and how to focus on what makes their brand unique. This process should consider any available research and also consider appropriate market/social trends, business planning and strategy. Involving key stakeholders is important to ensure there is buy-in from the start of the process too.
The insights acquired from this phase provide the content that can assist in Defining the brand. I’ve seen brands defined using various different models - but in essence they all do the same thing. A typical brand model for capturing your brand definition should include:
Attributes – what your brand stands for
Promise – what your brand offers
Source of Authority – what makes your brand credible?
Personality – tone, values, approach
Essence – core single brand idea or key words
Successful brands have clarity, consistency and focus.
The Design of the branding can then be created to deliver and reflect your brand values and essence. During the workshop we investigated examples and case studies which demonstrate how branding is far more than ‘just a logo’ but considers elements such as photography styles, visual assets, typography, tone of voice and considering the touch points. The acid test for any strong brand is to still recognise the brand even if you cover the name!
This touches on an important question - does your brand have both rational and emotional appeal? Brand’s that deliver both are often the most successful through greater consumer engagement and loyalty.
Finally, once your branding is in place – it needs to be Deployed through the marketing mix. Traditionally the mix has included the 4 P’s, i.e., product, price, place and promotion. That feels too limited for today’s challenging environment so the session investigated the 8 P’s of the mix to develop a more comprehensive approach to marketing. The 8 ‘P’s include:
• Positioning – owning a position in the market
• Product – and how your product range is segmented and targeted
• Price – links with positioning
• Place – including online and B2B
• Promotion – much broader now with the impact of digital communications
• Planet – where does your company sit in terms of ethical trading and
• Profit – where to focus for maximum return
• Planning - for success
The session gave delegates the opportunity to apply information and guidelines through practical working groups, using a couple of the companies that were involved in the workshop as case studies.
Companies left the workshop with details on the whole brand development process and guidelines to develop a holistic approach to brand marketing and communications.
“I now know where we are going” Strata Group (Window & conservatory manufacturer)
“Gave me new ideas and direction” Purefine Bullion (Gold products)
“I valued the interaction with other businesses” Fairfield Displays (Contract display & lighting)
Millennium Point, Birmingham
• Understanding the role and value a brand can deliver to build your business
• Understanding what makes branding successful
• How to build and articulate a brand
• Crafting a positioning/proposition and essence for your brand
• Defining the relationship a brand wants with its consumers/customers
To make sure you don’t miss out on our other events and workshops – including when we next run the Branding masterclass workshop – please email us at email@example.com
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Interiors & Lifestyles Futures collaboration expert Ken Thompson devised “serendipitous collaboration” to help companies find new channel to market through a structured networking format. This unique exercise forms part of our Discovery Stage 2 collaboration event. As Ken explains it helps to unlock opportunities that companies were not necessarily looking for.
Serenditous Collaboration - Ken Thompson I&L Futures from IL Futures on Vimeo.
Collaboration workshop – Discovery Stage 2
Presenter & workshop facilitator – Ken Thompson
Supporting facilitators: Iain Acton, Navin Sood, Paula Wardle and Graham Kennet
Etc. Venues, Maple House
Channels to market “Serendipitous Collaboration”
Offers and request
To find out when our next collaboration workshop is please see our events listings or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
The power of SEO is truly underestimated and often solely associated with “getting on the front page of Google”. In actual fact, SEO is all about teaching Google and other search engines all about your company, from what products/services you offer to what your current activities are. This is so that if anyone searches for something and your company has something to offer, Google should be able to recognise this and match the searcher’s question with an answer from your company.
In order to teach Google your answers, you need to build a solid SEO strategy and work from the bottom up.
I gained extensive experience in SEO after running my own online business where I became familiar with the high costs that can be often associated with SEO through outsourcing the work. We designed an interactive workshop to run in Birmingham for interiors and lifestyle companies who can learn how to build an effective SEO strategy and apply a solid foundation to their website(s) themselves or via their web designers without incurring huge costs.
|Sandeep presenting the SEO workshop in Birmingham|
The session was built around three key stages, which when combined construct a solid SEO strategy. Within each stage, companies were given a mixture of theory and then examples and also shown results to highlight the effect. During the course of each stage, companies were also shown free tools which they can use to give them in-depth information. Tools such as keyword research, trend identifiers, and site map generators, and analytics.
Companies left the workshop with a reference book that gave more detail on items covered during the session. They also took away an SEO implementation document which they could give to their web designer once they had conducted research using the free tools they had learnt to use.
I will also be publishing some articles on this blog with hints and tips for SEO. The feedback from the workshop was excellent and due to its success another workshop is planned for 2011.
“Clear and precise, provided invaluable information, increased my skill set” J M Jewellery (Jewellery manufacturers and designers)
“Understanding of keywords, how search engines view a website, great use of Analytics. Mental checklist of good practice, knowledge of tools and usage, anchor text value and great presenter!” Strata Group (Windows and Conservatories manufacturer)
“Practical & immediately useful, Sandeep has excellent insight into web strategies” David-Louis (Giftware designer and retailer)
To make sure you don’t miss out on our other events and workshops – including when we next run the SEO workshop – please email us at email@example.com
Monday, 15 November 2010
As a business engagement associate for Interiors & Lifestyle Futures, my job is to spot business opportunities and help West Midlands companies to exploit them. That includes explaining the business benefits of the various workshops, and collaboration projects that companies are already involved in through Interiors & Lifestyle Futures. But, an important part of our helping the community of businesses in the West Midlands is signposting other sources of business support. Practising, if you like, what we preach about the profitability of collaboration.
Interiors and lifestyle companies may be interested in grants of £10,000 offered by Innovation Networks. These are available for West Midlands companies working within a group of three or more to bringing a new product or service to market. Innovation is a key driver for business growth as it says on the Innovation Networks website: “companies that innovate are 80% more profitable than those who don’t, but few companies possess all of the skills required to turn a bright idea into a product or service ready for market. This is where we can help”.
Interiors & Lifestyle Futures can also provide companies with collaborative support to compliment this type of grant award please contact me for further info firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information contact
Suzi Archer at Innovation Networks
T: 024 7623 6326
W: Innovation Networks
Friday, 12 November 2010
Online marketing is now an essential component of promoting and growing your business. However, in order to take advantage of the online tools such as, your website or blog, you need to understand which channels you need to use to promote them.
Online marketing experts James Pennington and Gareth Edwards, from The National B2BCentre, ran an interactive workshop in Birmingham for Interiors and Lifestyles companies that would cover website planning, search engine optimisation (SEO), blogging and social media.
And with a fully subscribed workshop it is clear that West Midlands interiors and lifestyles companies recognise the need to take advantage of online marketing tools and technologies.
The workshop concisely framed how the Internet allows West Midlands companies to reach a much larger audience than has been possible before but at a cost that they can afford. Also, by ensuring that websites are set up correctly (search engine optimised) potential buyers anywhere in the world can find companies here in the West Midlands. Additionally, blog technologies now provide companies with an outlet to tell interesting stories about what they are doing, which is highly beneficial for SEO.
The companies at the workshop expressed their excitement at the scope of promotion opportunities using social media channels. They were equally delighted to discover how readily available, free and easy to use online marketing tools are. Designers and manufacturing companies can use pictures and video, for instance, to show off the quality of their wares. Service based companies can build upon the satisfaction of their clients as referrals get passed through social networks.
And, speaking of networks, companies also took full advantage of the opportunity to do some significant business networking of their own at the workshop.
The feedback from the event was excellent so a big thank you to James and Gareth and all the companies that attended. Here are some of their thoughts on the workshops
“My horizons have been broadened” BSA Guns, (Gun Manufacturer)
“Concise bite size chunks and delivery” Mereway Kitchens, (Kitchen Manufacturer)
“Excellent Content” Glassdomain (Furniture Designer and Manufacturer)
“Information on SEO excellent” Jaz Asbury Metal Design (Designer Maker)
The event is aimed at West Midlands businesses that have or are in the process of getting a website.
• What is online marketing and how can it help you?
• Planning and building your website
• Usability and design – what are you saying?
• How to appear in Google?
• Using Social Media for success
• Measuring your success
• Business networking opportunities
Gareth will also be shortly publishing an article on the Interiors & Lifestyles blog:
5 tips for online marketing success
To make sure you don’t miss out on our other events and workshops – including when we next run the online marketing workshop – please email us at email@example.com
Friday, 29 October 2010
Post by Navin Sood
Stephen Millington is the archetypal SME md - so involved with the day-to-day running of his business, he rarely gets a chance to step back and take a strategic view of the company.
Stephen runs LJ Millington, designers and manufacturers of fine English silverware in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter. A family business since 1966, it continues to employ traditional hand skills and processes. Their client list is testament to the quality of their products and includes John Lewis & Asprey.
Silver Candlestick by LJ Millington
Stephen joined the Interiors & Lifestyle Futures project and enrolled onto the Discovery process in May. Stage 1 of Discovery includes the Big Picture Map process, whereby two experienced facilitators find out what makes a business tick through a structured mapping process. Stephen and two of his staff participated in the day, and they really valued having a fresh pair of eyes to look at the business.
Facilitator, Paula Wardle said “This process has value for all companies, big or small, I’m really pleased that we’ve given Stephen fresh impetus.”
Freshly motivated, the Discovery process has offered Stephen the chance to enter into a collaborative group with three jewellery and giftware companies. The group plan to establish a consumer facing exhibition showcasing their products in the run up to Christmas.
Stephen added, “If I don’t get anymore from the process, I‘ll be happy for the experience of Stage 1 and what it gave my company.”
Stage 1 Discovery process is open to all West Midlands manufacturing companies that are involved in the interiors or lifestyles sectors.
Thursday, 14 October 2010
Post by Christine Foss
Would you like to help define low carbon opportunities for the West Midlands interiors industry?
On 9th November 2010, Interiors & Lifestyle Futures and Birmingham City University are bringing together like-minded businesses to engage with the low carbon agenda. Sustainability experts Martin Hunt, John Christophers and John Barraclough will describe recent experiences of low carbon design and innovation. Through the workshop, you’ll drive action for enterprising low carbon projects.
Audience: West Midlands interiors industry, including designers, architects, manufacturing companies and service providers. Energy and environmental consultants, sustainability experts and academics.
This networking event is sponsored by Forum for the Future and Sustainability West Midlands. For further details and to book online, click here.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
During the Discovery Stage 2 business networking event, we like to get companies who have a novel idea or business opportunity to tell the rest of the group about it. Our very own tribute to the Dragons' Den. Companies are then free to discuss/collaborate/network after the session.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Throughout 2010, Interiors & Lifestyle Futures has worked closely with West Midlands’ designer-makers. A key partner is Glass Collaborations, whose aims include one of pursuing ‘new business opportunities for regional makers through networking and transnational collaborations.’
|Vase collaboration by Denise Hunt, Erwin Eisch and Verity Jasmin Burley|
Nineteen artists planned their collaborations, in detail, via email and a web-based forum. They then spent week-long residences at Stourbridge’s Red House Glass Cone, solving logistical and artistic issues for the new pieces. “Equipment limitations actually forced us to innovate,” says Stourbridge-based glass artist Charlotte Hughes- Martin who teamed up with Lachezar Dochev from Bulgaria. “We developed a technique that no one has used before, we’re really excited.”
|Table by Charlotte Hughes- Martin & Lachezar Dochev|
As of late September, the West Midlands artists and those from the Next Big Thing had achieved sales of over £9,000, attracting buyers and art collectors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, and Canada.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
The most common approach to business collaboration (Planned Collaboration) involves prior analysis of the participants to try to identify shared interests in collaboration (e.g. as complementary players in a collaborative supply network). Another more radical approach (Serendipitous Collaboration) involves putting a random mix of companies in a room and seeing what develops. Guess what - Serendipitous Collaboration works really well provided you have a good process for uncovering synergies!
|West Midlands companies discover the power of collaboration|
The Network Synergy Discovery Technique
To discover the critical synergies in a Network right at the start of a potential collaboration, in a way which is much more effective than "creeping death" disclosure. The objectives are to find if real collaboration opportunities exist within a potential Network and:
- Identify any critical gaps that could derail the Network
- Create new and effective win-win partnerships within a Network.
The conventional approach to working with a new Network is to first build some trust, exchange relevant information, and then start exploring collaboration possibilities. The problem is that this approach does not really work.
The first problem is that it usually takes far too long; never gains enough momentum or continuity; and eventually the participants lose interest and move on to "something productive." The second major problem is: Let's imagine you have invested in building "enough trust" with the group, and then you find that after all this effort and time, you don't actually have the right people in the Network. By then it is too late.
How to use Network Synergy Discovery
The main objective of Network Synergy Discovery is to find out if there are enough potential synergies within the group to make the Network work. The other objective that is just as important, is to do this very quickly in a way that is highly interactive, engaging, and develops new relationships. Each participant should go away with at least one new useful relationship, even if he or she never comes to another Network meeting.
Step1: Everyone identifies their core business offer, and puts it on a YELLOW card with their name, and sticks it up on a large whiteboard. These YELLOW cards represent Core Product Providers.
Step2: Everyone reads all the cards, and must fill out at least one BLUE card and stick it beside any Core Product card (YELLOW), that they believe they might be able to produce for a new customer. These are called BLUE cards, Channels.
Step3: Everyone also fills out at least one PURPLE card for any YELLOW card that they believe they have some knowledge of, or a product that could make a core product more valuable. They stick these up beside the YELLOW Core Product cards. These are called PURPLE cards, Innovators.
Step4: Then the whiteboard is examined to see how many natural sub-clusters are made up of Core Product Providers, one or more Channels and one or more Innovators.
Step5: Participants are then asked to look for opportunities to merge these sub-clusters with the objective of having not more than three merged clusters. Also, each merged cluster should have at least four players, one of whom should be a channel.
Step6: Participants are then asked to go back to work on these merged clusters, to explore the possibilities and requirements for three further roles, and they stick more cards into the clusters on the whiteboard for:
• RED - Supporting Service Provider: provides a critical supporting service for the collaborative product.
• ORANGE - Integrator: plays a key design or integration role in the new collaborative product.
• GREY - Investor: can provide finance or resources needed to make the collective supply chain viable, and attractive to the market.
Step7: Then it's time to do a quick "tidy up," to name and assess scope for each of the merged clusters as "collaborative product offers." Then at close-out time, feedback from each of the participants is gathered to see if they are intrigued enough to want to collaborate further and to develop each of the merged clusters.
See also The Collaboration Dartboard for another great way to get inter-company collaboration started quickly.
For more details on this and other techniques for building successful inter-company collaboration see The Networked Enterprise Book.
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
If like me you have spent the last 30+ years climbing through the ranks of a company to find yourself at the dizzy height of management, wondering if you have the qualifications and training required to do the job you now find yourself in, then my recent experience with the team at Interiors & Lifestyle Futures would help anyone in business to realise both where they are now and where they should be going in the future.
From the pilot project I gained the knowledge of how to analyse Strata Windows’ strengths and weaknesses. Through this I realised that I was too busy working in the company and needed to assign more of my time to work on the company. This change has been difficult to bring about as I always want to wade in whenever the chance arises. Now we are able to look at new markets and with some of the other business tools we developed in the Discovery Process we have been able to analyse their market potential. As a result we are starting two diversifications: one in Nanotechnology coatings and another in solar energy photo voltaic panels.
Above all else I found the project most helpful in the coming together with individuals from all aspects of various industries in the West Midlands. I realised that we were not alone in our experiences and through a growing network we would be able to chuck ideas about to get other points of view.
I would recommend the experience to anyone who finds themselves wanting to advance their business. My thanks go out to the team at Interiors & Lifestyle Futures.
Post by Iain Acton
Back in April 2010 Interiors & Lifestyle Futures’ business engagement associate Neil Young invited Jim Clark of AMS Group to take part in the Discovery Process. A Redditch-based bespoke manufacturer and fitter of retail interiors with an annual turnover of around £15m, its impressive client list includes Debenhams, Footlocker, Marks & Spencer, and Tesco.
We explained to Jim that Discovery Stage 1 is a one to one interactive strategic assessment with the company. He preferred to describe it as a brainstorm. From the beginning, the AMS team made it clear that they wanted to focus on exploring collaboration opportunities in the hotel market. Market growth here would provide the company with a better balanced client portfolio than the current bias towards the retail sector.
• Reinforce sales team through shared marketing and CRM
• Network to share leads
• Shared promotion at a trade event such as Olympia
• Product innovation – “how low can we go” reduce cost of furniture assembly
"The session was one of the best brainstorming days I have ever worked in and has given me a clearer insight into my own business"
Jim Clark, AMS Group
AMS has now completed the Discovery Process and is part of the Contract Interiors Group, which is putting forward proposals for collaboration projects. The Group aims to share expertise with other companies in the West Midlands and use collaboration to reduce costs, expand its current portfolio and extend their offer.
Guest post: Ken Thompson
Ken helps companies incubate and establish effective collaborative business networks based on his popular book The Networked Enterprise. He runs I&L Futures Stage 2 collaboration workshops for companies and is a regular contributor to the I&L Futures blog.
One of the hardest things for a group of companies to do is to find some quick-win low-risk area where they can build trust by working together BEFORE they embark on something major. The Collaborative Opportunities Dartboard Tool allows companies to quickly explore a dozen practical ways to work together with the goal of meaningful results in 12 weeks or less.