Individuality off the Rack

Sneakers with one’s own name on it and chocolate lentils with a personal message: Customization is popular but it is not that easy for companies to produce tailor-made products in bulk amounts, especially when it is a complex product. At the ISPIM Innovation Conference in Vienna, Leontin Grafmüller from CLIC and Jun.-Prof. Dr. Vivek V. Velamuri, who holds the Rolf Schrömgens Professorship in Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer, showed how suppliers are already dealing with high complexity in the individualization process successfully. The study was carried out in the B2B environment of the highly specialized textile industry in eastern Germany which, for example, produces complex textiles for aerospace and protective clothing for firefighters. These products have hardly tangible characteristics that arise from a long value-added chain involving many niche players.

A total of 29 interviews on-site in 16 companies of the textile industry in eastern Germany were held for the paper “Strategies for Value Co-Creation in Complex B2B Settings: A Provider’s Perspective” in the framework of the futureTEX-project of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. A total of 30 hours of data was collected on the basis of which, in the end, seven strategies could be identified to handle high complexity in the individualization process.

One of these strategies is the particular set-up of the co-creation situation. In the framework of an innovation day, a product design is created, at first as a concept in the office and afterward directly at a machine. For that, not only the direct B2B customer is invited nowadays, but also their customer. By actively involving more stakeholders of the value-added chain in the process, specification errors can be avoided. Additionally, the customers receive a prototype for testing in the evening, whose success they have contributed to significantly. Another strategy is to encourage openness. Companies need information to successfully design an individual product, often more information than the customer is willing to share. Therefore, many companies open themselves up to the customer right at the beginning and reveal all data to encourage the customer to be open too.

By exploring these strategies, a largely unknown field in the B2B sector was unlocked and examples showed how companies can already handle high complexity today. The textile industry in Germany with its innovative possibilities for individualization along the textile production chain met with great interest by international participants of the ISPIM Conference.

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