It’s the 1st of May, I’m sitting at my computer at the BAMA offices, when an email pops up in my Inbox, announcing the opening of the a new R&D Centre by one of our member companies. Intrigued, I asked the sender for more details. Together with a press release on the subject, I also get an invitation to attend the actual opening ceremony, on the 21st May, at the company’s new site in Folkestone.
I can be there to witness the cutting of the ribbon by the senior management, be treated to a tour of the premises and ask all the inopportune questions I can think of. With a visit to Church & Dwight staring at me from the To-Do list in the office, this is an opportunity not to be missed!
On the day, I reach Folkestone nice and early, treat myself to a stroll along the north bank of the Channel, and then head to destination. On arrival, I am faced with an unassuming building, aptly named Discovery House. No-one in sight, apart from the PR executives who, with utmost efficiency, had provided me in advance with a detailed schedule for my visit. I am warmly welcomed and guided to the offices upstairs. That is where I discover a bright, light-filled open space that looks out on the ascending line of the North Downs. Bright green slopes that raise up to touch a gorgeous clear sky – on a glorious sunny day, you can be excused for feeling poetically inspired.
And this is where Church ad Dwight has relocated their research and development team, from formulators to packaging experts, equipping them with a dedicated creative room: wall boards, TV screen, flip charts, tables and crafts material to brainstorm, draw, and visualise ideas, feelings and concepts.
Spacious, white-washed rooms, a break-up kitchen area and an open space layout: all designed to facilitate interaction, while providing the quiet and relaxed atmosphere needed to chase your inspiration. And I do indeed interact. Within few seconds I spot some known faces: handshakes, smiles, introductions, and we all head downstairs to join what is now quite a crowd, gathered to congratulate Marita Alegre, the driving force behind this project. Marita joined Church & Dwight 3 years ago, bringing a wealth of experience and expertise in the sector, together with the determination necessary to obtain the investments needed.
And between a drink and a slice of cake, I can see that the investment has been put to good use: the ground floor is taken up by a fully equipped lab, where product design can be tested and adjusted based on consumer-groups feedback. In fact, the ground floor also contains a room where groups can test the products and voice their impressions, picked up in real time by the same scientists who have created the product. The two separate worlds of users and makers are closer than ever, allowing for immediate reaction. Only one doubt – is the company carrying out ‘tester sessions’ at different locations and events, or should we accept that all over the country we share preferences and inclinations with the consumers in Folkestone?