Why should first aid boxes be square? Why should they be green? Why haven’t we invented
a neat way of dispensing cling film? These questions are the hallmark of an inquisitive mind,
combine that with a passion for design and a shrewd business sense and you have a serial
entrepreneur and a walking advertisement for design in business.
Giovanni Benedetti is chairman of Benedetti International, a mother company for Wallace
Cameron Ltd and Wrap Film Systems Ltd, two companies that firmly place their survival
and success on design and innovation. When he bought Wallace Cameron in 2001 its
turnover was £2million, today it is £37million with an 85% share of the UK market and a
growing export rate. Similarly with Wrap Film Systems Ltd. It was bought a few years ago
and increased its turnover immensely. In fact, Mr Benedetti has an impressive history of
company acquisitions, builds and buyouts - twelve in total, ranging from freight logistics and
industrial cleaning to paper systems and launderettes. It is not by accident Benedetti has
enjoyed this success. Design and innovation, especially radical innovation where it did not
seem possible, are the core values he has applied to all of these businesses.
“What gives the company value is design
and innovation, it makes it unique and it
takes market share from the big boys. Then
they want to buy the company. . . I attribute
design 100 per cent to that success, without
that we’re nothing. “ - Giovanni Benedetti,
Chairman of Benedetti International
Benedetti enjoys being the underdog and exploits the advantages of being a medium sized
business in order to gain market share from the large companies. Their design capabilities
coupled with continuing innovation and new products are winning them large contracts from
large buyers in commodity markets dominated by the big players. Their success is going
against the declining trend of Scottish manufacturing and beating cheap Chinese imports
to win large lucrative contracts. The Wallace Cameron range of first aid kits take up 95%
of the catalogue market, 85% of the UK market and export is growing year by year.
Characteristic of the Benedetti approach to design are the radical improvements his products
have made to conventional and inadequate predecessors. The Millennium Award winning
Adulto first aid kit is a refreshing revision of a tired product and addresses the changing
priorities to Health and Safety in the work place. Its contents and the manner in which they
are dispensed have been carefully considered to improve treatment and supply. Simple
changes such as the transparent casing to view contents and bright colours to improve
visibility all offer a different and better product. Other features, including pilferproof plasters,
which prevent plaster theft, indicate a high level of attention given to the product and its
function. Dedicated packaging of the medical supplies with simple instructions improves
treatment as well as creating a systems approach to generate future supply sales. Subsequent
developments of the Adulto First Aid box have been tailored systems for different environments;
offices, factories, laboratories and workshops.
Opportunities are found in everyday problems and the Benedetti Cling Film dispenser is
another example of this approach to capitalising on the shortfalls of their competitors. After
years of frustration with inadequate cardboard boxes featuring a useless serrated cutting
edge, the Benedetti Cling Film disposable dispenser instantly begs forgiveness for the
minutes and meals lost in the past to the cling film box.
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To cut and dispense a sheet of Cling film
from the roll you simply need to pull the
film to length, close the lid and with a
satisfactory pushing action it cuts the
sheet free from the role with a clean,
straight, tangle free edge. The clever part
of the design is the bi-polymer extrusion
with a soft element that grips the film in
place for cutting.
These products are selling because
people want them, they want something
better, different and are willing to pay for
it. Benedetti’s products are always
addressing what the customer wants and
what the customers didn’t know they
wanted. Always challenging the convention is Benedetti’s form of innovation. New products
open doors for their sales team and change attitudes in the company. Change and design
is not about making money, it is about survival, especially in today’s economy.
Having the staff is in an established company, experiencing the benefits of change and
innovation; motivating and pulling them out of the old routine is the first challenge for a new
owner. Benedetti laid out the plan clearly for everyone at the start;
“We’re not going around the earth we are going to the moon. We may not get there but
certainly we are going to be in orbit, we’re not staying here. I am not interested in 5% or
10% better, if there is not 50% better I am wasting my time and effort . . . our dispensers
are not going to look like any other dispenser”.
Straight talking and passion is a motivating force and can rub off onto the employees, if he
doesn’t believe in it then the staff won’t.
Centralised Design in Benedetti International
Benedetti has placed the design department next to his office, a clear indication of the
importance it has been given in the company’s strategy. In operational companies innovation
is difficult because staff are busy running the company; it leaves innovation distant from
central management and never gets done. By centralising design, it allows the innovation
process to be rapid, productive and everything that is started gets completed. For Benedetti
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“I’m running my business on innovation, that is what I do. I am the guy that keeps the engine
boiling all the time.”
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it allows a ‘hands-on feel’ to keep on top of design developments. He sees his role as a
design leader rather than design manager, as he puts it, “It is as much knowing what you
don’t want as what you want.”
The in-house design team is large, with thirteen members from several design disciplines
- production engineering, industrial design, graphic design, web design and two design
managers, working on both Wallace Cameron and Wrap Film Systems products. Designers
are recruited straight from University to bring fresh ideas and an open mind to what can be
done. Their ‘anything is possible’ attitude is valued in the company. Equipped with the latest
software, and even their own rapid prototyping facilities, the design department represents
an annual investment of £500,000 per year, or 1.3% of turnover.
Having design as a fixed overhead allows Benedetti to keep ideas moving and work on
them until they become what he wants. The busier he keeps the design department the
more cost effective it is and the more new products are released. It is this hands-on approach
to design and innovation that suits his style of management, not monthly review meetings
with an external consultancy.
The innovation design process
With such a considerable design capability at their disposal Benedetti International can
approach new ideas and products with confidence. The informal new product development
process used by them encourages new ideas and team thinking. Often it will start with
Benedetti identifying problems that the company can address and market opportunities that
they can profit from profit from. He will then collect a team of ten or eleven sales and
operational staff and designers to spend a day discussing and sketching ideas on the briefs
he has compiled. The best ideas are then compiled and given to the design team to turn
into presentable concepts.
Once completed the paper concepts are presented to the team again for feedback. The
concepts are shortlisted, features can be swapped and modified, and everyone in the team
contributes to the process. The team may want to revise the brief again until they feel it is
right and repeat the process. The advantage of having design as a fixed overhead affords
this approach to design development. With a consultancy the costs go up with every change
and there is less control over the quality of the output. Benedetti has the final say in what
goes forward for design development. He has not ring-fenced a budget for design, but if he
thinks it is a good idea then he will want it made – a good idea will make money.
Once the final design is approved by Giovanni it is handed down to the operational units
for production. The batch manufacture and market testing is by passed for mass production.
The justification for this is that it saves time and money, they don’t have time to wait two
years for a perception when they know what the customers and the market wants, as
Benedetti says, “We have 14 guys here, are you telling me they can’t decide what is good
for their market?”
Market research and feedback is conducted after the product is made, as asking customers
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what they think of a product is more useful than asking them what they would want. Surveys
are also used to improve products. The Wrap Film disposable dispenser had a 90% positive
feedback from TESCO customers.
The innovation design process at Benedetti International has a logical structure which
facilitates the input of many experts at the start which can improve the development stages
further down the process. The informal nature of the process works to encourage ideas and
with the current design capability they can manage six or seven full product development
programmes at one time.
Benedetti’s strength, particularly in problem solving, is that he never gives up. Even though
it may not seem achievable he knows there is always a solution and will persist until they
find it. It is his drive that brings projects to completion, especially when designers are faced
with a brick wall.
“We have three gates but we
don’t like it too structured, sitting
down, discussing and
progressing it is a lot more freer
and gives the opportunity to
come up with more ideas. It
opens projects out more.”
Sheena Jack, Design Manager,
Benedetti International PLC
Value added design service
The design department is not alienated from the rest of the company’s activities. Instead it
supports them. The quality of service and sales is enhanced by the expertise and originality
they can provide. For example, in a recent bid for a catalogue contract the Benedetti
International sales team furnished their prices in the format of the catalogue page with full
layout, images, prices and index. The catalogue company was already impressed with their
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product but their ‘catalogue page’ pitch convinced them to take the risk with a new supplier.
In the first year their single page outsold other pages by four times, this was largely due
to the quality of the product but it was also due to their ability to design and improve the
layout of the page allowing customers to easily understand the new product. The following
year they were asked to supply and design the entire catalogue. Benedetti International
claim to know their products better than anyone else and they certainly know how to market
them. This is an excellent example of providing design as a value added service.
Benedetti has turned his expertise and internal design and innovation values into a successful
business consultancy service. Board members of large businesses take his advice seriously
because they see him as a businessman with an impressive track record. Unlike the majority
of design consultants he will define his own brief for the company and present complete
solutions; product, packaging and marketing on a royalty only basis. This gives him the
flexibility to make the ideas work rather than negotiate further time and funds when required.
He uses the design capability at his company as a valuable resource tool to develop and
present ideas to his clients. Recently his staff completed a television advertisement concept
for a client as they recognised it as an innovative marketing strategy. This was beyond the
expectations of the client who was now able to visualise where the product was going.
Current products for which they are providing advice include baby monitors, food packaging,
paper systems, an environmental shopping bag and campaign and pallet systems.
Giovanni Benedetti’s total reliance on Design and Innovation for business growth is based
on positive experience and the view that the world needs a lot of improvement. Although
the success of Benedetti International is largely based around the qualities of one man there
are many aspects of this case study that can be transferred to other companies:
Design as a fixed overhead of the business rather than a performance indicator
activity, thereby allowing more ideas to be generated, explore them further and achieve
exactly what they want.
Centralising design in the management of the business allows control of its output
and therefore the future of the business.
Using design as a value added activity to support marketing, sales and service.
Including representatives of all sections of the business in the idea definition and
generation stages of the process, which allows concepts to be thought through fully
and ease the development process later on.
Use design as a business tool/communicator
Darragh Murphy, 28th August 2007