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Export the WOW Factor: Design Resource

The wow factor is easy to recognise, but it is not easy to describe. It is also not easy to create.

However, with an increasing number of products in the market, more companies are looking for the wow factor to create cut-through. "A product must solve a problem and meet price and engineering criteria," says John Brown, CEO of Design Resource. "It must also be appealing and win market share, which is where the wow factor comes in."

USA: the start of the export journey

Design Resource specialises in product and transport design. It is aligned with names such as Disney, Nerverfail Coca Cola, Energizer and SCANPAN, and is behind products from the range of Eveready torches, the new Mustang power boat and the Tilt Train in Queensland.

"More and more, especially in the manufacturing industry, niche specialties such as design are being outsourced," says Brown. "And communication technology is making it easier to operate in a global market. I think the combination of those two factors is behind the increase in business services exports."

The company began exporting to the US through a combination of a high quality service and being in the right place at the right time. An Australian based client recommended their services to the US head office, and the company was invited to enter a competition to become the regular design service provider. As Brown says, "Our designs blew them away and we have been working with them ever since."

The company now works with numerous companies throughout the US, some on a contract basis for a particular product, and some on an ongoing basis as virtual team members. While a high quality service has been essential to its success, Brown believes the way the service is delivered has been just as important.

Differentiation is the biggest challenge

The company not only ensures it gains quality research, it also takes pains to interpret the information carefully, especially if it differs from previous information or general beliefs.

"Design is a difficult service to deliver because of its intangible nature," says Brown. "We can produce lots of different designs, but I want to be sure the one our client chooses is the right one for them. Research and careful analysis allows us to show people why a particular design is going to be successful, minimising the risk involved in introducing a new product."

Even though all designs are produced in Australia, Brown believes that you must have face to face meetings with clients. "Travelling to the market is essential. We visit our clients in order to brainstorm, better understand problems and discuss new techniques.

"When I’m in front of a client they can see me drawing and expressing ideas visually. It lets the client feel the magic of design and it helps gain their confidence.

"Visiting is also a way for us to show we are committed to the relationship and to build personal relationships. Communication technology now is excellent. We are able to create virtual meeting rooms where the US client, us the designer in Australia, and the Chinese manufacturer can view the same 3D image, discuss it and make decisions, all in real time. But you do not get a good flow of interactive discussion through these mediums unless you have established that relationship."

Take advantage of the time zone

Rather than let its location in Sydney become a hindrance, the company has turned it into an advantage. "Because of the differences in time zones, we are able to produce a 24 hour design process," says Brown. "Our clients consider a design and provide comment through their day hours. We are then able to respond overnight (our day) making our response time very quick."

Unlike the US, Australia’s time zones cross over with China, allowing easier real-time communication. This allows the company to assist their clients manage and problem solve the manufacturing process. The company is trusted to problem solve with Chinese manufacturers on behalf of many of their clients, cementing their position as a team member rather than service provider.

Another way the company is assisting clients is in the management of intellectual property (IP). "IP is huge in our business," says Brown. "We take out around 150 patents each year.

"The IP that makes a product immediately identifiable is an asset. As an outside agency we assign all IP to our clients. But since it is also in our best interest that the IP is well protected, we make sure our clients understand the importance of protecting IP and help them complete the process.

"It can be expensive, especially if a company is operating in numerous territories. If a client cannot afford to register in all territories, we give them advice about which territories it would be best to register in, and other options available such as using customs at the point of entry or exit."

Expansion into China

The company is now looking to expand into the Chinese market. "It just seemed obvious," says Brown. "Manufacturing in China is becoming more sophisticated, and companies are beginning to offer design and manufacturing packages just as is done in other parts of the world.

"There is a very strong opportunity there for our company. We have a relationship with manufacturers through our clients in the US, however we have not established our brand. Building that presence in the market is our aim."

With some experience in the market, Brown was surprised at how challenging it was when he began discussions with companies. "We realised all our relationships had begun through a client in the US, and we had always been introduced as a respected partner. Approaching companies on our own proved to be very different."

The company is now working with Australian Business International Trade Services. Sara Cheng is assisting Brown identify potential partners and understand the nuances of Chinese culture which impact on doing business.

As Chinese companies themselves look to establish an international brand, Design Resource’s ability to strategically apply design to create cut-through products will be highly sought after. And the company intends to be ready.


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