4 of 6
BACKNEXT
STEP 4: Get cozy with customers
STEP 4: Get cozy with customers
"You can't be too close to your customers," says David Fields, managing director of Ascendant Consulting in Ridgefield, Conn. "Your customers are your lifeblood. The heart of innovation is understanding what problems they have that you can solve."

Keene Addington, president of Flat Top Grill, a Chicago-based restaurant chain, takes that philosophy to heart. In January he assigned a full-time marketing person to chat via e-mail and Twitter with as many of the chain's 75,000 customers as possible.

One customer suggested serving make-your-own wraps prepared with lettuce. These wraps are now the chain's most popular appetizer. Amid hard times for the restaurant industry, Flat Top Grill's same-store sales climbed 6.5% last year. Addington expects sales to grow by an additional 3.9% in 2009.

"Your guests are going to tell you how to be successful," he says.

For Canadian shoemaker John Fluevog, customers do more than make suggestions -- they design the products. Fluevog runs an "open-source footwear" project. Anyone can submit shoe designs to an online community of customers who vote on their favorites. In the past six years Fluevog has received more than 1,000 design ideas and turned a dozen of them into marketable shoes.

Fluevog took the open-source concept one step further by asking customers to vote on which of his existing lines should be cut or retained and which print ads to run. Whatever the majority says, the company does. After customers voted on color combinations for the Sencha T-strap high heel, it became one of the best-selling shoes of the fall 2007 season. Despite the recession, the 115-employee company continues to grow its same-store and wholesale sales.

NEXT: STEP 5: Share the load

Email | Print | Share  |  RSS
 
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all CNNMoney.com RSS FEEDS (close)
LAST UPDATE: Oct 06 2009 | 4:09 PM ET
The Eureka Moment It's the sudden, blinding flash of inspiration that leads to a new product. We asked four inventors to share the story of theirs. More
What's your idea worth?A federally funded online service helps small manufacturers find inventors with new technologies -- and estimate their worth. More
Full story: How to innovate Tips from the trenches of modern American entrepreneurship. More

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.