The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

At Optima Group, we often look outside financial services for inspiration in how consumers are served best. While companies such as Amazon or Apple are often cited as classic examples of the move from disruptor to market leader, another telling example comes from an unlikely source, the world of vacuum cleaners. More specifically, the work of James Dyson, the English inventor who quite literally reengineered the vacuuming experience.

Long, long ago….

As the story goes, Dyson’s interest in a better vacuum cleaner stemmed from his own experience. In 1978, he was vacuuming his house and was dissatisfied with the fact that the cleaner constantly lost suction because the vacuum cleaner bag frequently became clogged. At that time, the design and functionality of electrically powered vacuum cleaners had remained virtually unchanged since their introduction in the early 1900s.

From the ground up

This is where the story gets interesting. Rather than trying to improve upon the existing type of vacuum cleaner, Dyson rethought the whole process with an eye to solving the problem he encountered. The result, after thousands of prototypes, was a completely different cyclone-based bagless vacuum that used centrifugal force. Although the Dyson cleaner was priced significantly higher than most other standard vacuums, its market share, particularly in its UK home base, has grown significantly. Dyson has since expanded its product line to tackle other areas (electric fans and heaters, hairdryers, lighting and hand dryers) and Dyson himself is a billionaire.

The mind of the consumer

So why has Dyson been so successful? Two reasons, both of which are equally important:

1. The company tackles everything from the viewpoint of the consumer not from its own view of what needs improving. In the case of the vacuum cleaner, it was the suction power. For hair dryers, it’s controlling the heat, noise and the weight (at $400, it costs significantly more than the average hand held professional grade hair dryer, but pros and non-pros alike are buying it).

2. It ignores the status quo. Just because that’s how things have always been done is not a reason to continue doing them that way. In an Edison-like process, many different iterations are tested before being satisfied that the solution really solves the problem.

The important takeaway; don’t be afraid to try something different and be a market changer. But make sure it’s what the consumer wants.