Innovative Advice for Execs Looking to Change Their Industry

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Partner with Others

Team up with relevant and timely partners.

One of the key methods to help re-invent yourself or a company is to partner with others and not try to be successful developing everything yourself. The idea of NIH (not invented here) simply doesn't work. No company can develop everything on their own. Use specialists whenever necessary.

In or outside of your industry, identify a strategic business partner with whom you can forge a mutually beneficial relationship. Think about the letters in the word "HOW." For marketers, success comes when you "Hitch Our Wagon" to others who can help pull you along to new channels of distribution or new customers or new applications. Brother discovered such a partner when working with fashion design reality series Project Runway. Brother partnered with the series as the exclusive sewing machine of Project Runway, boasting a new line of attractive and innovative models. The show has been a great outlet for reaching and educating an elusive younger generation. In return, Brother manufactured a Project Runway branded line of machines, which raised awareness about the show within the home sewing market. The key is finding a partner that really meshes with your vision and where benefits are concurrently realized by both parties.

Nine years ago, Brother asked Dean F. Shulman to reinvent its sewing and embroidery business. To Shulman, sewing machines were an entirely different product line than he was used to marketing — which had been home office products, including the highly successful P-Touch handheld label maker.

Shulman had spent almost 30 years at Brother as a guy who never wanted to be irrelevant. He was known throughout the company as the guy who whole-heartedly embraced the Steve Jobs philosophy of "Think Different." So when he assumed responsibility for the sewing division, one thing became immediately clear: He wanted to turn it from a hardware business into a fashion and lifestyle brand.

He understood that the future of sewing and embroidery was not to focus on the hardware but to create a product line and brand that would embrace the creative soul of the home sewer. Using his knowledge of the technologies used in the office products arena, he knew that through technological advances, Brother could make sewing and embroidery easier for consumers. He set out to change the outdated perceptions about the industry and make it cool again.

First, he forged a partnership with Bravo TV's popular "Project Runway" fashion series – now on Lifetime – where Brother could showcase its brand to a new generation of future "fashionistas" who love the art of creating something "different."  By moving from a hardware-business strategy to creating a new way for sewers to capitalize on their creative spirit, Shulman turned this mature business into a brand new, youthful one.

Introducing new technologies into embroidery products was also the key. HD displays, the first camera-like feature built above the needle – so embroiders could see exactly what the needle sees, laser guides to help sewers sew straighter, as well as a scanning function that takes users’ designs and turns them into stitch data, were all innovations Shulman's team incorporated.

Over a nine-year span, Shulman reinvented the Brother sewing and embroidery business. By introducing new, innovative products – and emphasizing marketing and customer service – he led the division to double their sales, creating a several-hundred-million dollar business in a very mature market. Recognized for these successes, Shulman has been placed on several "top 10 most influential" lists in the industry and in 2014 was inducted into the trade's Sewing Hall of Fame.

In this slideshow, Shulman offers his advice for tech execs, like him, looking to change their industry.


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