Despite COVID-related challenges, Bluelab’s pre-pandemic digital transformation, and their investment in R&D work alongside Callaghan Innovation, meant they could ride a direct to consumer growth wave.
- Despite early challenges brought about by the pandemic, Bluelab saw a huge uplift in orders, with their pre-COVID digital transformation enabling them to take advantage in the surge of direct to consumer activity.
- Bringing more expertise into the business and technical support from Callaghan Innovation scientists, has helped the business innovate and increase efficiencies in their manufacturing process.
- After a massive 88% increase in revenue growth, Bluelab are exploring a SaaS model to help solve customer problems in new ways.
Callaghan Innovation’s wide range of scientists meant it could quickly introduce us to a specialist in the material we wanted to investigate, who could answer our technical questions and accelerate testing. It also meant we could get that product out to market much faster and divert the resulting saved resource into other areas to help us keep up with demand.
- Jono Jones, Chief Product and Innovation Officer, Bluelab
A potential crisis proving to be a huge turning point. That’s Bluelab’s pandemic story.
Yes, the manufacturer of measurement tools and control systems for controlled-environment agriculture had their supply chains cut, and yes key marketing channels like international trade shows were cancelled. But panic they did not.
“We understood early that we needed to activate crisis management straight away, and from there it was the start of a rollercoaster journey - because then the orders kept coming, and coming and coming,” says Bluelab chief product and innovation officer Jono Jones.
Thankfully Bluelab had already set themselves up for success with a pre-pandemic growth wave meaning they had kicked off a digital and brand transformation involving eCommerce channels, virtual education and a new website with direct sales functionality, meaning more direct relationships with customers was possible.
“When the pandemic hit, food supply chains were being dismantled, so there was this huge movement to ‘grow local’,” says Jones.
“That led to a boom in demand for our technology, which is positioned for everyone from hobbyists to enterprise growers. And because we had undergone this digital transformation, we could stay relevant and in front of customers wherever they were.”
For Bluelab meeting customer demand has required continuous innovation. For example, in a bid to free up capacity in its manufacturing operation, Bluelab established a new engineering team dedicated to finding ways to build its products more efficiently.
The team identified that assembling the core sensing probes in its high-selling conductivity meter took about three days, a process that could potentially be slashed if stainless steel was used instead of carbon.
However, unsure how the stainless steel would perform in the nutrient-rich environment it would need to operate, the team turned to Callaghan Innovation’s Research and Development Solutions team. This enabled Bluelab to access scientific expertise to analyse the corrosion behaviour of the stainless steel electrodes in typical solutions and accelerate testing to look at degradation.
Ultimately, this support gave them the confidence to make the switch, which Jones reports reduced the probe’s assembly time by 95 per cent.
“Callaghan Innovation’s wide range of scientists meant it could quickly introduce us to a specialist in the material we wanted to investigate, who could answer our technical questions and accelerate testing,” says Jones. “It also meant we could get that product out to market much faster and divert the resulting saved resource into other areas to help us keep up with demand.”
Alongside R&D, Bluelab has accessed a wide range of Callaghan Innovation support over the years, including our Lean programme, access to experts and networks, as well as R&D Experience Grants. The latter, for example, helped to bring two engineering students in over a summer to work on projects to free up manufacturing capacity, with a further two focused on hydroponic nutrient research and a Bluetooth integration application.
With impressive growth pre-pandemic, a massive 88% increase in overall revenue throughout the pandemic, and staff numbers doubling as a result, Bluelab is certainly on a successful path.
Next for the business, says Jones, is developing a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business model to generate recurring revenue through software and data solutions that solve customer problems in new ways.
Callaghan Innovation is continuing to support them as they look to move to developing software as well as hardware. Jones and Bluelab CEO Greg Jarvis were meant to be part of the Callaghan Innovation-led Kiwi delegation at SaaStr Annual in San Jose in 2021, had it not been for COVID. As well, Bluelab is engaging with the SaaS community through our conferences, webinars and events.
“Part of it the value has come from being able to connect with people in the sector who are willing to share their journeys, insights and war stories,” says Jones.
“Callaghan Innovation is an epicentre for the SaaS community, and has been able to connect us into those rich conversations from the start.”