Lifetime Brands – an Open Innovation Success Story

You might not recognize the name “Lifetime Brands”, but you almost certainly will recognize their brands: Farberware, KitchenAid, Mikasa, Cuisinart, and Pfaltzgraff are only a handful of the recognizable names under which Lifetime sells its wares.  In fact, you probably have a number of their products in your kitchen.  I have been to their headquarters and seen their showroom – it’s like a kitchen junkie’s dream come true.
In her Long Island Newsday article, Keiko Morris wrote that Lifetime, which launches as many as 5,000 new items a year, is on a mission to find the next big hits in kitchenware.  And some of those ideas have sprung from the garages and home workshops of the tinkering masses.
Despite having an in-house staff that includes over 100 designers and engineers, Lifetime routinely looks outside the company for innovation.  For example, Lifetime has repeatedly partnered with open innovation leader Edison Nation to source innovative new kitchen inventions.  The company courts outside inventors, participated in the Food Network’s “Invention Hunters” show and hosted an “Inventor’s Day” at its headquarters last year.  Products from Lifetime’s “open innovation” program have generated over $50 million in retail sales since 2009, the company said.
“Getting ideas for new products is a numbers game,” said David Robertson, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Reinvented its Innovation System and Conquered the Toy Industry.” “The way to have a great idea is to get lots of ideas.”
Inventors who work directly with Lifetime negotiate a deal, which typically involves a small advance against future royalties of about 2 percent to 5 percent of sales. Then the invention receives the full focus of Lifetime’s teams, who seek IP protection that adequately protects the invention, test and improve the product, find suppliers for the materials and design different versions of the concept to be sold at different retailers. Independent inventors say the company takes over a process that often is a challenge for them on their own, especially getting their products into stores.
In our opinion, Lifetime is following an optimal innovation strategy.  It leverages its internal resources and design/engineering staff while actively seeking new products from the crowd.

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