Adaptations of Products to Customers' Use Contexts
Doctoral thesis, 2006
This thesis deals with a suppliers efforts to make customers in industrial markets use new products where the supplier and customer have no previous business exchange. It takes a supplier perspective and studies products with more advanced features that compared to those currently used offer new opportunities for the customer. To capture the potential benefits the product needs to be adapted to the new use context. This raises different problems that must be solved in order to utilize the up-graded product.
The analytical framework applied departs from the industrial network approach where firms are viewed as embedded in networks of relationships. Studies have shown that adaptations are often made in a number of areas, e.g. production, logistics and administration, in order to improve the exchange in supplier and customer relationships. Adaptations of products are essential in this study considering the need to fit a new product into a prevailing network structure of the customer. The adaptations are studied from the resource dimension in the industrial network approach, framing four resource entities: products, production facilities, business units and business relationships.
A qualitative case study is used to empirically approach the research problem. It involves the steel producer SSAB, which aims to up-grade steel users to high-strength steels. The case includes two relationships illustrating the efforts made to utilize the benefits with high-strength steel by two new customers of SSAB. The first concerns the work with Johnson Controls, a large global subcontractor to the passenger car industry, while the second revolves around the safety shoe producer Goldenberg in France.
The analysis shows the importance of accessing resources in order to adapt the product to the new use context. There is a mixture of adaptations carried out involving resources within the single supplier and customer firms, in relation to the supplier and customer relationship, and in relation to resources of other firms. The adaptations carried out are enabled through recombining resources and modifying resource features. This involves an interplay of the different resource entities, which in turn develops their features.