Earlier this year, Gregg Steiner became innovative for the same reason that influenced many entrepreneurs before him: He was feeling a little desperate.
Steiner, 35, had joined Cleveland-based Pinxav in 2003, teaming up with his sister, Hallie Friedman, 38, and his grandmother Lillian Harris, 97, who recognized that the diaper-rash product manufacturer needed a new approach. Friedman came aboard in 1999, and revenue doubled in just one year and has kept climbing--the company projects revenue of at least $1 million in 2005. And if all goes to plan, Pinxav should be sold in Babies"R"Us and CVS before year's end.
A turning point came when Steiner was at a trade show in Chicago, pitching to some skeptical mothers. Pinxav had been a staple in the Midwest since 1927, but the younger moms were pretty oblivious. And nobody could readily pronounce Pinxav. "Pink salve," Steiner explained.
The mothers weren't convinced that they should part with their money for a new-to-them product. "We have a money-back guarantee," said Steiner.
The women all but yawned.
Then Steiner had a burst of inspiration: "If you're not happy with the product, I will not only give you your money back--I'll buy you our competitors' product. I'll buy you whatever other brand you want."
Suddenly, the women were interested, and they all plunked down their money. None of the women ever took Steiner up on his offer. So Steiner decided to make it part of his business practice.
He isn't doing anything revolutionary--just tinkering with the well-established money-back guarantee. But that's the thing about innovation: You're often not reinventing the wheel--you're simply polishing it a little.
Steiner and Friedman plan to continue innovating via a more extensive product line--they're looking at the basic formula for Pinxav and figuring out how they can morph it into other products, possibly including a sunblock, since surfers have told Steiner that they use the salve as sunscreen. Meanwhile, Steiner has set up the website so people can chat with him live about the product. He wants to stand out from the crowd, something entrepreneurs increasingly have to try to accomplish, says Dan Henson, president and CEO of Vendor Financial Services, a company within GE Commercial Finance that assists businesses.
"Innovation is playing a more crucial role than it ever has before," says Henson. "One of the reasons is that we're living in a global economy. There are more voices available than ever, so you have to set yourself apart. Innovation may be the latest buzzword, but whether you're offering a product or a service, the pressure to differentiate yourself from the competition has never been greater. Having your company say 'me, too' doesn't work very well anymore."
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.