Warren Shoulberg Blog: 60 Seconds, 60 Years

       

       

Each year the home furnishings business sees the introduction of probably a couple of thousand new products.
But how long has it been since there was truly a new product in the industry?
How about 60 years.
This past Sunday marked the 60 anniversary of the invention of what could be argued is the last true new product to come into the business, the last time an entirely new product category was introduced. It was January 24, 1950 that one Percy L. Spencer of the Raytheon Corp. invented the microwave oven.
You can talk about salad spinners and flat-panel TVs and you can talk about polypropylene rugs and 800-thread count sheets, but the truth of the matter is that all of those products are really just variations on existing themes. Products that basically performed the same function in some similar manner all were around when those creations came into the marketplace.
But microwave ovens created an entirely new category of appliances. Not only that but they in turn generated a vast array of accessories and devices designed to be used with microwave cooking that hadn’t existed before…because the microwave oven hadn’t existed before.
On an industry level, microwave ovens changed the business for the small appliance and cookware industries but they also pretty much changed the entire food business, not to mention society itself. Not bad for a bunch of radio waves that zapped some molecules.
The home industry — with the exception of the consumer electronics portion of the business — is not one that takes kindly to new inventions and technology. The old joke about the greatest technological advancement in the furniture industry being the invention of the staple gun is in fact no laughing matter. And say what you want about those salad spinners and Fry Babies and Ginzu knives but they were much more about marketing than technology.
I’m not saying it’s easy to come up with entirely new products, much less entirely new product categories. But when you see what the microwave oven did for the industry it sure makes you want to wish for more such inventions. So what if the stupid thing still can’t cook a decent steak: it’s cooked up a lot of business over 60 years and that’s not bad for something that does its job mostly in 60 seconds.