When Atlantic Coated Papers sends a sample of its specialty packaging paper to a potential client, a five-person technical team goes along for the ride. It’s an unconventional delivery method, yes, but it gives ACP’s people a chance to run the product on the customer’s machines and make adjustments during the test that demonstrate potential efficiencies.
“We used to do it on more of an ad hoc, informal basis,” says president David Granovsky. That changed during a strategic planning session, when management realized one of the company’s greatest strengths was the technical prowess of its people. “When we get them access to a customer’s facility,” Granovsky says, “they do a great job.”
The Whitby, Ont., firm makes specialty paper—everything from roofing underlay to those little foil pouches that hold wet wipes—for construction, packaging and industrial businesses. While ACP’s clients generally don’t consider the paper to be a major cost, even a slight miscalibration of the machines that use it can create waste and production delays. One client cut repair and maintenance costs 80% after an ACP technical team made a simple tweak to its equipment. “That had nothing to do with our packaging, but we helped that customer make his product cheaper,” says Granovsky. “People remember that.”
The decision to add this extra level of service involved some changes to the way ACP operated. For instance, the company’s leaders had to create a sales call process that engendered trust—the kind that makes prospective clients feel comfortable letting strangers poke around their expensive equipment. Not all of them let ACP in (and those who don’t get samples in the mail), but those who do tend to stick around—most for at least five years.
Another key to ACP’s success is embracing the risk inherent in innovation. A cross-functional team is specifically tasked with improving existing products and creating new ones; its motto is “failure is the key to our success.” Last year, ACP wanted to improve one of its synthetic roof underlays to reduce its cost. The team met weekly and enlisted key customers to test new formulas as they were created. The first 14 attempts failed: One iteration was too heavy; another wouldn’t stick to wood. But number 15 was a success, and it never would have come to light had the company’s approach to experimentation been more conservative. “We took risks, and we spent money,” says Granovsky. “[But] we have a successful product because we tried different things.” And they have a successful enterprise: Granovsky says sales are up 50% since the formal innovation policy started five years ago; profits have increased even more.