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The Official Baldrige Blog

How a Small Textile Distributor Became a Leading Innovator in Its Industry

Momentum Group values and industry awards are listed over an image of fabric.

Used with permission.

Credit: Momentum Group

During the Baldrige Program’s recent Quest for Excellence® Conference, Momentum Group, a 2016 Baldrige Award recipient, described key practices that have helped it become a leading innovator in its industry. Momentum Group Design Director Shantel McGowan led a panel highlighting the customer-focused processes and practices (category 3 of the Baldrige Excellence Framework) of the California-based textile distributor.

McGowan first explained that Momentum Group has three customer groups—business, health care, and hospitality organizations—for which it designs and sells fabrics to be used in gathering spaces such as offices, lobbies, and waiting rooms. The company identifies its customer requirements (or needs) for new products in part by looking at trends and customer/market-specific considerations. 

Design considerations include workforce demographic factors such as the increasing number of young workers, who have relatively short tenures of about two years, and the higher number of 65-year-olds in the U.S. workforce today than in past decades, said McGowan. Other design considerations include business practices that impact work environments, such as the creation of more collaborative work environments by innovative technology businesses. In contrast, product design considerations for Momentum Group’s health care customers include infection control and the need to create a soothing environment for patients and families.

In considering the needs of ill patients, Momentum Group designed a product called “naked nylon” that avoids chemicals traditionally used on the back of fabric to adhere to office furniture, said McGowan. Another innovative fabric the company introduced for health care environments is Silica, which is naturally anti-microbial and highly resistant to staining (thus easily cleanable). Silica was launched as an alternative to vinyl, according to McGowan. Momentum’s innovative fabrics also include recycled nylon, which “has changed the entire industry,” said McGowan. As an environment-friendly fabric, recycled nylon is aligned with the company’s focus on creating sustainable products. McGowan noted several industry awards Momentum Group has received for such innovations.

Following are some key practices that have enabled Momentum Group to create innovative products for its customers, as presented by McGowan.

  1. Momentum Group ensures that the Design Team is composed of people who bring different perspectives. An example is a collaboration with an Italian designer who has a unique perspective on colors, which resulted in a product line that sold extremely well, said McGowan.
  2. Momentum Group takes advantage of computer-aided design. Whereas most competitors use off-the-shelf design software, McGowan said, her company uses high-end software that allows for more control of the process, such as the capacity to send an email file to any mill in the world to create a new textile.
  3. Momentum Group makes use of data analysis.
  4. Momentum Group stresses innovation.
  5. Momentum Group uses Design Thinking and Benchmarking. Design Thinking and Benchmarking is the name of a process for solving problems; McGowan said her Design Team received training on it, though it is not just for designers.
  6. Momentum Group evaluates its supplier capabilities.
  7. Momentum Group lives its core value of “bettering the world around us”—defined by McGowan as designing products that will change things for the better for the customer, which makes “your brand bigger,” she said.

Momentum Group also does “quite a bit of testing” on products to ensure that they do what we say they can do, said McGowan. For example, she cited the infection-control fabrics the company designed for its health care market.

Further, Momentum Group has created a systematic process for investigating product failures (in regard to claims) in order to improve products if need be, McGowan said. Such cases usually result from environmental abuse, such as use of an improper cleaner, she added.

As a proactive approach to obtaining input from customers, the Design Team also visits at least 60 customers per year to get face-to-face feedback on company products, according to McGowan. Those interactions go beyond customer visits by sales employees from the company.

How does your organization listen to your customers? Please share your best practices or other thoughts on the topic. 

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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