With millions of dollars in annual sales and a portfolio of hundreds of jansan products, it would be easy for a company like Georgia-Pacific Professional (GP Pro) to rest on its collective laurels. The Atlanta, GA-based manufacturer maintains a major presence in restrooms and custodial closets across the globe; however, the company still actively pushes the envelope of innovation, even after decades of being in business.
GP Pro’s corporate culture is one that fosters employee creativity and ingenuity, according to Julie Howard, vice president and general manager of the company’s paper towel segment. “We have innovation in our corporate DNA and culture,” she says. “As a company, we strive to act as if the ground is always crumbling because if you’re not looking for the next valuable thing the world will want, someone else will definitely find it.”
According to Howard, the company’s forward-thinking culture has contributed to its long-running history of successful product development. “One of the key principles all employees embrace within the company is the notion of change and how it can lead to creative disruption,” she says “This ideal is generated from within our business philosophy that the role of a business is to always improve people’s lives and provide products and services that consumers will value more highly than the alternatives in the marketplace. We can’t be content with status quo; [we] must always be pushing envelope and moving forward in everything.”
Internal inventiveness is only one aspect of GP Pro’s innovative product development; the company takes into account a variety of external inputs as well. “Innovation comes from so many different directions,” Howard says. “We have ideas that come from other industries that we learn about and apply in a new way. We develop innovations that come from deep immersion—not just learning about the market, but also being part of it. For example, we followed around a team of cleaners for a day, listening to them, watching how they do their jobs and keep up their facility. We were looking for things to be improved upon, pain points in the workers’ daily routine. When developing a product, we will take all of those things and combine them with other macrotrends, like what might be going on in the consumer market.”
The multiple channels of the cleaning industry also serve as a wellspring of ideas for Howard and her team. “One of the neat things about the jansan industry is there are so many different people involved in the supply chain,” she says. “We are constantly looking to solve for the needs of the person washing their hands, the cleaning team or facility managers that install and keep up our products, and the distribution partners that bring them to market. When we look at a new opportunity, we seek to address the unmet needs that people sometimes don’t realize could be improved along every element of that chain and bring forward something that’s a win for everyone. We’ve found the best product innovations positively impact every channel in a way that everyone involved is successful.”
Getting With the Program
Having a great product innovation is one thing, but getting the cleaning industry to notice it and embrace it is critical to that product’s success. According to Howard, GP Pro’s relationship with ISSA has provided the company with many avenues to highlight its product achievements, both by exhibiting at the association’s numerous trade shows and through the added spotlight of the ISSA Innovation Award Program. The company has been an active participant in the program, having entered nearly a dozen products throughout the years, including several Category Award winners “GP Pro has been member of ISSA for more than three decades, and through that long-running relationship, we’ve received value from the association,” Howard says. “To have a forum like ISSA where leading experts and customers get to interact with—and validate—your hard work is an outstanding opportunity, especially when you’re a company like ours that is invested in innovation. Entering the award program—and especially winning one of the prestigious awards—is tremendous; it’s a great validation of our team’s ingenuity and an excellent way to expose our new product to the entire industry.”
Putting Ideas Into Motion
For Howard and her team, developing an ISSA Innovation Award-winning product can be a tireless endeavor, sometimes months in the making. Take, for example, the 2017 winner in the Dispensers category, GP Pro’s enMotion® Flex paper towel system. The paper towel dispenser was the result of an intense three-year development process.
Howard and her team were faced with the question: “How do you enhance a highly successful and popular product.” They answered this by asking even more questions, querying every aspect of the marketplace on what could be improved. “We needed to really understand what was going on at the ground level, so we started by immersions with facility cleaning staffs. We went out and gathered feedback from the people that install and engage with our products on a daily basis.”
Starting with the individual cleaning teams, GP Pro then moved onto the management. “After getting feedback from the cleaning workers, we then followed up with their bosses,” Howard says. “A major concern from managers was turnover. They felt they were constantly training new employees. From that feedback, we made the dispensers easier to use. We invested in industrial designers that integrated visual and audio cues, making the maintenance and upkeep of the dispensers a seamless, easy-to-learn process.”
Another link in the chain GP Pro addressed when developing the latest addition to the enMotion line was the top-level staff of the facilities themselves. “For a building owner or manager, reliability is crucial,” Howard says. “You simply can’t have a product fail while in use in a restroom. A bad restroom visit could be a fatal failure for a restaurant, hotel, or other service-oriented facility, resulting in a huge hit to the establishment’s reputation. We made sure we addressed our dispensers’ reliability, working with designers to ensure they were 99.9 percent jam free.”
Howard and her team also found that owners wanted products that not only worked well but also looked good. “Through our immersions, owners told us they were also concerned about aesthetics,” Howard says. “They want a coordinated look throughout the facility. Our dispenser needed to be more than a plastic box bolted to the wall. We overhauled the image, worked with designers, and spent countless hours showing prototypes to test groups to come up with a design that would accentuate a user’s restroom experience.”
A Successful System
GP Pro took the insight it garnered in developing last year’s Dispenser Category Award winner and channeled it into the company’s 2018 Innovation Award Program entry, the KOLO Smart Monitoring System. Traditionally, GP Pro has entered products in the Dispensers or Equipment category, but this year, the company broke from that norm and entered the Services and Technology category. Howard credits the company’s tireless attention to the latest industry trends for prompting the switch.
“Based on the macrotrends we’ve seen, when you look at the value a restroom monitoring system can bring, it is the next evolution of products,” Howard says. “The backbone of any system is reliable equipment, which we feel we’ve already solved. If you don’t have the functional piece right, adding the additional services and technology to it is not going to result in a recipe for success. We’re excited to take one of our established strengths and build a whole new value proposition. We’re proud to provide facilities with data on how to optimize their restroom experience and deliver reliable guest satisfaction.”
GP Pro clearly got the recipe for success correct again this year, as the company and its KOLO system left Dallas, TX, and the ISSA Show North America 2018 with two Innovation Awards—the Category Award for Services and Technology and an Honorable Mention Award for the 2018 ISSA Innovation of the Year.