Invest in innovation

Taylor Made Group Chairman Jim Taylor has seen his share of downturns. Taylor, grandson of Nelson A. Taylor, who founded the company in 1908, counts working in the office with his father, Willard “Bill” Taylor, among his earliest memories.

During any economic downturn, there is intense pressure to cut costs, improve margins and show positive results as immediately as possible. However, Taylor believes companies need to think long and hard before cutting too much into their investment in new product development.

“Our R&D and prototype spending are mixed together, but we spend a significant amount,” Taylor says. “Not necessarily dollar-wise, but percentage-wise we’re spending more than we have in recent years.”

During the 1980s recession, Jim Taylor saw an opportunity to create a line of curved windshields constructed of tempered safety glass instead of Plexiglas on powerboats.

The challenges were myriad, including figuring out how to bend the glass without compromising its tensile strength, how to bend marine-appropriate metal framing that protected the glass consistently enough for production and how to assemble it using materials that would hold up to the additional stresses.

Overcoming those challenges required two things: time and money. The company committed the necessary resources, and when the economy turned around, Taylor Made was poised to capitalize on its innovation.

“Companies can easily fool themselves into thinking they are still innovating by making minor tweaks to existing products or other ‘safe innovations,’ when what is actually needed during these tough times is significant, real innovations,” Taylor says. “Investing in R&D is an important practice in our business today. That and customer service are key strategies for maintaining market share in the current economic climate.”

The chairman of the Gloversville, N.Y.-based manufacturer also encourages boat builders to think about next-generation craft — especially during lean times. “Customers are looking for something unique on their boats,” Taylor says. “Making a change is more critical now than when boats are selling.” — Matt Bolch

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