Manager's Notebook

Sometimes, developing new products or services is too important to be left to the same small portion of the company. That's what Will Raap, founder of the Gardeners' Supply Co., a mail-order gardening business based in Burlington, Vt., is discovering. The company, which had 1995 sales of $25 million, used to go through only the normal channels to find new products, says Raap. To get a fresh perspective, Raap asked five employees from various nonbuying departments--all expert gardeners--to develop a line of gardening products. The group, with full-time buyers as advisers, is spending eight hours a week for six months on the project. Some of its new products have already made it into the catalog.