Looking Up, Seeing Ceilings: MAGNET’s Approach to Innovation for Small to Mid-sized Manufacturers

by | Mar 12, 2015

By Ethan Karp and Dan Berry, MAGNET


Brookings, The Avenue




When Dan Sauder took a hard look at the future of Sauder Woodworking, his furniture manufacturing company outside Toledo, Ohio, he identified a number of threats, including a lack of innovation, clunky processes, and a too-concentrated customer base. Like many small and medium-sized manufacturers in Northeast Ohio’s post-industrial economy, Dan faced significant price pressures, overseas competition, aging equipment, and limited access to investors. And though he envisioned launching new product lines that would attract more customers, he wasn’t sure how to find creative ideas, much less how to research, design, and bring products to market with his constrained resources.


As he moved through his assessment, Dan found the consulting services of the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program. MAGNET facilitated an ideas session that generated 85 actionable possibilities, which were narrowed down to the single idea of leveraging Sauder’s furniture expertise to focus on ceiling aesthetics.


Over the course of 18 months starting in 2008, MAGNET supported and guided Dan through the design, market analysis, and sales phases of development that in the end produced a multimillion dollar product now found in buildings across 13 states. After its success working with Sauder and other firms, MAGNET decided to scale the same consulting services regionwide in 2011 with the launch of PRISM (Partnership for Regional Innovation Services to Manufacturers).


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