Brainstorming accelerates innovation

Van Aarsen and Thermoflor are two family-run, technologically oriented manufacturing companies that have grown from their Limburg roots to become international players. Looking at the future of their businesses, they anticipate a growing emphasis on after-sales and services. But to accommodate that shift, they will have to turn their inside-out approach completely on its head and start thinking outside-in. The LimburgMakers programme is supporting them with knowledge, concepts and advice to effect the transition to service-oriented business.

Developed by NV Industriebank LIOF, the Chamber of Commerce and the Province of Limburg, the LimburgMakers programme is aimed at permanently strengthening the Limburg manufacturing industry’s competitive capacity. Among its four pillars is an Innovation-Assistance programme keyed to “Creating value through new and improved services,”which is run by the Maastricht University (UM) School of Business and Economics (SBE).

The programme helps product-oriented companies like these make the transition to expanded services via a two-pronged approach. To begin with, it uses Value-Based Marketing projects in which SBE master’s students design tailored strategic business solutions. The second component is the Bootcamp, comprising five sessions in which participants are coached on new knowledge and insights.

Global edge
Founded in 1949, Van Aarsen is a global operator in the development, production and supply of cattle-fodder production systems. Thermoflor began as a manufacturer of greenhouses, but has since moved into the international luxury segment with a focus on the creation of comfortable living environments.

van aarsenBoth companies see after-sales and services as a means to gain an edge in the international market.

“To help us achieve this, we’re setting up a dedicated Technical Customer Services Department,” explains Leo van Kan, Technical Customer Service manager at Van Aarsen.

“We’ve already been taking master classes through the LIOF, and that’s how we learned about LimburgMakers. The programme provides precisely what our company needs to evolve.”

Thinking outside-in
The shift from an inside-out to an outside-in approach calls for a complete turnaround in the organisational cultures of both firms. “We began sending out feelers to diverse external parties right from the start,” says Paul Salden, CFO of Thermoflor.

thermoflor-2“For example, to get an idea of the market, we asked architects about what sorts of possibilities they see for our products.” Van Aarsen has already developed a number of concepts to effect their transition into a service-oriented company.

“We presented them to the students as out-of-the-box ideas for which they could then formulate strategic solutions. And we’ve also asked them to create a classification system for our customers; for us as a global player, we deal with very different sets of customers.

That’s partly to do with culture, of course, but also language barriers, payment traffic and so forth, which calls for a different approach each time.”

Putting knowledge to practice
During the intensive knowledge sessions (a.k.a., Bootcamps) at UM, the companies learn how to anchor their approach in facts and arguments. “Precisely because we’re already midway into the innovation process, we can put these methods and knowledge straight into practice,” explains Paul Salden. “I’ve also noticed that in the international setting of the university, there’s automatically a broader perspective.” Leo van Kan nods his agreement: “And of course it’s very inspirational to connect with other players from the Limburg manufacturing sector; we can all relate to each other. Brainstorming together with such a wide spectrum of companies accelerates the innovation process and galvanises ideas and plans.”

Read more about LimburgMakers here and, in Dutch only, here.

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