How Visual Comfort Uses GroveSite's Collaborative Workspaces to Improve Time-to-Market

A Small Lighting Design and Manufacturing Firm's Innovative Use of Shared Workspace

August 3, 2006

Visual Comfort, designer of custom residential lighting products, uses GroveSite collaborative workspaces to improve communications with its manufacturer and time-to-market. Byron Wilson, account manager with Visual Comfort, describes how his company chose, uses, and benefits from implementing a collaborative technology solution.



Visual Comfort is a small Houston, Texas-based business that designs and sells residential lighting fixtures to consumers through three different channels: lighting stores and interior design showrooms, large retailers (national accounts), and as private label products through large name-brand retailers and catalogs.

The majority of Visual Comfort’s manufacturing is done in a factory in Asia. The company has a long-term partnership with the factory owner, and Visual Comfort constitutes about 70 percent of the factory’s business.

BACKGROUND. In 1987, Andy Singer was a young, energetic sales rep for several different lighting manufacturers. Going from lighting showroom to lighting showroom, trying to make sales for others, Andy decided to open his own business. Working with a manufacturer in Taiwan, he developed a line of lighting fixtures and lamps. Andy started small, in his garage, with only six SKUs. Visual Comfort has grown to more than 60 employees and 3,000 SKUs.


Q&A with Byron Wilson, Account Manager, Visual Comfort

PATRICIA SEYBOLD GROUP (PSG). What was the business problem you were facing that led you to using collaborative technologies?

BYRON WILSON. It all started because we were having trouble effectively communicating the design element of our product development cycle. A large part of the design process requires sending drawings and digital photographs, along with detailed production instructions. Not only were the email attachments very large in size, but we also lacked any form of version control of the files.

PSG. What process did you use prior to implementing a collaborative solution?

BYRON WILSON. We were using email for communications, trying to categorize things as best as possible, but there was a real problem finding the right email with the right attachment. We tried having everyone involved save every attachment with the date in its file name, but we were fighting an uphill battle; there were too many people involved in the development process, and we really couldn’t rely on everyone handling things in the same way.

You see, our lines of business are handled differently. For direct and national accounts, where we design the products, we have an in-house product development team of four or five people as well as about seven third-party designers. The designers submit their designs and then our product development people get involved. Product development makes sure the designs are ready to send to the factory for manufacturing, asking the designers for clarification or modifications. Once the drawings are sent to the factory, the manufacturing team takes over — a coordinator, draftsmen, production planner, etc.

Our Private Label business is a little different because in addition to utilizing designs from Visual Comfort’s design team, our customers may also have their own design teams and may send their own designs to us to be manufactured. Adding these additional parties to the communication chain just made things more difficult because...



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