Uniform vs. Customized
Product Sourcing & Design
- Foreign vs. Local Production
- In-house vs. Outsourced Design
- Trading Companies
- Uniform vs. Customized
Some enterprises produce a uniform product such as a lantern or stove (or community power plant), while others customize a product for each individual or community served based on their individual needs. Which model is used generally depends on the type of product provided. Some products such as stoves and portable solar products can be mass-produced and have no need to vary between customers. Some enterprises perform home installations which are custom blends of uniform products, such as solar panels and lights. Some enterprises, usually those doing more intensive community-based installations, customize the product and business model for each individual project, though often these are also different blends of the same items, like solar panels and LEDs or home gas digesters.
Uniform vs. Customized products
Customers generally all have similar enough need, and many products are versatile enough to fill a number of customers’ needs. Although some products are uniform, there exists a range of these products. Uniform products are often modular, which allows customers to customize them through different combinations (for example, ToughStuff sells a solar panel and variety of products to plug into it). Uniform products allow for mass production and sale through retail, rather than requiring interaction between customer and enterprise. This makes scaling easier.
Enterprises selling customized products tend to have more expensive products which must vary according to customer needs. This model is more akin to an interior design model than the sale of a product. Enterprises selling customized products have more holistic goals than just selling power or appliances, and see their product as necessarily including a community plan for maintaining and making the best use of this new capacity. This requires that each solution be custom developed in a process involving the community. It must be said, however, that even most of the customized products still involved combinations of uniform products.
SELCO, which sells solar home systems for households and small businesses in Karnataka, India, procures parts on the local market and assembles them to deliver customized solar lighting systems based on the needs of individual customers.
SELCO designs each installation in the manner of an interior decorator or kitchen remodeler: salespeople go to a client’s house, discuss their power needs, and determine how many lights, plugs, etc, are right for them. This enterprise also gives clients advice on home improvements to reduce the need for powered lights and fans, such as how to increase natural light or airflow. SELCO also sees part of its product as creative financing solutions for customers who need them, and in-house maintenance. This is a high-touch model, but it builds a relationship with the client for future purchases and delivers a better solution than a one-size fits all model could. SELCO is not interested in scaling beyond its target regions of Karnataka and Gujarat, but is interested in training replicators whom it will supply.
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