Mark Mordecai engages customers and employees in the process of creating high-performance products.
By Sigrid Tornquist
“Keeping product lines relevant is really a question of how we can harness the energy and talent of our whole team to make that happen,” says Mark Mordecai, director of business development for Globe Manufacturing LLC, Pittsfield, N.H. “It’s not thinking that there’s one right answer—and that it’s yours—but really engaging other people and using their skills to come up with solutions.” Nine years ago Mordecai was hired by the company that manufactures structural firefighter suits after working as an outdoor retail employee, a performance apparel manufacturer and also as a consultant for a broad range of specialty fabrics apparel and footwear clients.
From one market to another
His varied education, like his work experience, fit together to prepare him for his current work at Globe. In college, Mordecai set out to be a research chemist but soon realized he preferred working with people to spending his days looking through a microscope, so he changed his degree to secondary education and American civilization. But when it came time to launch his career as a teacher he found he wanted to continue working at the lightweight backpacking shop he’d been working at through college. “I sort of fell in love with the technology and all their products—cross country skis, lightweight backpacks, down parkas, tents and sleeping bags,” he says. A few years later he left the company with some friends and started a business by taking that lightweight fabric technology used in backpacking equipment and applying it to the marine industry. The resulting technical performance garments for off-shore sailing and boating were his first experience in taking the technology that had been available in one market and applying it to another.
For several years Mordecai worked as a performance garments and footwear consultant before entering the public safety marketplace. One of his consulting clients was a uniform manufacturer with its principal market being law enforcement. When the company needed more horsepower to take advantage of the opportunities that he had helped to create, he joined the company full time. “The consumer market has always been ahead of the public safety market both in terms of technical development and marketing,” he says. “I brought a lot of the strategies, tactics and ideas from the consumer market and moved them into the public safety market.”
You talk, I’ll listen
In 2002, he joined Globe, where he drives new product development and marketing—and at the foundation of his approach to those initiatives is listening. When beginning the process of developing a new product Mordecai relies on the “Voice of the Customer” method developed by the Center for Quality Management. “Whether you use a formal process or just a version of it that works for you, the idea is to get out from behind the desk, get in front of the customer and really start to think about things from their perspective,” he says. “Once you do that, you gather a lot of critical information that allows you to craft solutions that meet their needs much better.”
The way in which Mordecai gathers that information is also critical to being able to understand the customers’ needs. Rather than use questionnaires or surveys, he goes to the customers’ place of business—in this case a fire station—and talks in person with the people who will be using the product. Whenever possible, he also takes another person from the company with him. “When you’re talking with someone in order to gather specific information, it’s hard to listen at the same time,” he says. “And you need to be listening not only to the words but also to what is behind what the customer is saying. For example, we went out as a part of our process developing the G-XTREME® turnout gear and heard from fire fighters that they wanted turnout gear that was lighter. The word ‘lighter’ makes you think they want something lightweight—and yes, they wanted something that was lightweight—but what they really wanted was something that was less restrictive and more flexible. It’s that combination of the listening process together with technical expertise and experience in the category that really results in some significant opportunities.”
Mordecai brings those opportunities, in their raw form, to representatives of the various parts of the company and does what? Listens. “Years ago, in the auto industry, the designers never talked to the manufacturers, and there wasn’t the communication needed to get all the players on the same page to start with,” he says. “We’ve tried to put a microcosm of the whole company in place in our design team to look at how developing a new product will impact each of the different areas, and that becomes a critical part of the design and development process.” At the beginning of the process, the team—including the owners, the technical services manager, production manager, and people from pattern making, business development and marketing—considers questions like: Could we make this product? How would we make it? What inside and outside resources would we need? What do we need for equipment? What materials do we need to manufacture it and do they need to be developed?
Once the design team comes up with a solution, before entering into production, Mordecai takes the product sample back to the customers. “You have to go back to the customer to validate the solution,” he says. “Ask them: What do you think about this? Did it solve your problem? What could be improved? From there you can go forward with the process with some level of confidence that the product will meet the customers’ needs.”
Ever in pursuit of a better and more relevant product, there is an ongoing review of the product’s performance, months and even years after it’s been rolled out. “We do extensive field trials,” Mordecai says. “In this marketplace, that might take anywhere from six months to more than a year just to get the product into regular use so you can get feedback on what it’s really like for firefighters doing their jobs, using the product every day.”
And then the product improvement process begins—by going to the customers, asking questions and listening.