How a Small Adjustment Can Transform a Product

January 5, 2017

AndrewMagillWhen David Malcolm took over his family’s sprinkler system business in 1992, he intended to run the company the same way that his father had over the last few decades. But that soon changed once he picked up an old project that his dad started just before he died: finding another use for a low-flow sprinkler designed for farming. At first Malcolm thought he solved the problem by installing the sprinkler heads on hoses and using them to patch up dry areas on golf courses.

Then Malcolm became struck by inspiration while showing off his product to potential clients. “I was demonstrating the hose nozzle at a golf course and I suddenly thought to myself that this would make an incredible shower head…and then I thought it was perfect timing because water and energy conservation had become hugely popular in the U.S., and there was an extreme drought happening in California,” said Malcolm. With this new idea in hand, he spent the next two years transforming his sprinkler into a shower head. He called the process “a difficult transition” since unlike sprinkler systems, shower nozzles must work consistently across a range of water pressures and temperatures.
Malcolm’s product is also different than many standard low-flow shower heads. “With the other low-flow options on the market, they use a design that’s basically a steel plate with a lot of little holes poked in it, and those holes get plugged easily, which is where you get a lot of the complaints about low-flow shower heads having low pressure,” said Malcolm. Instead, the nozzles at High Sierra Showerheads split the water stream in two and then unites back together through a single large opening. This allows for a steady amount of water pressure with no chance of clogs. Malcolm’s seven-person company now focuses entirely on selling these showerheads, bringing in close to $1 million in annual revenue.

Questions:

 

  1. Why would a businessman like Malcolm want to change a product that already works for its designed purpose?
  2. Can you think of another product that could be altered slightly to perform a totally different task?

Source: Amy Westervelt, “How a Sprinkler System Became an Innovative Shower,” The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2016. Photo by Andrew Magill.

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