The pursuit of the perfect piece of toast may not be as glamorous as searching for a cancer cure, developing a guided missile system or creating a new piece of software. But for Sunbeam chief executive Jonathan Lord, innovation is the key to his company's survival.
Sunbeam is Australia's biggest-selling manufacturer of small electrical products, including toasters, kettles, irons, espresso machines and electric blankets. It's a tough business. Most of these products have come to be seen as commodities, such that consumers can walk into any department store and pick up a no-name version imported from China for as little as $10. This avalanche of imports forces prices down, which in turn eats into margins, so competing with cheap Chinese goods is not an option. The only way Sunbeam can entice customers away from cheap, commoditised toasters and kettles is to keep innovating to make its products look and work better.
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