"The role of managers is to make sure there's a flood of information coming into the company,"says Bruce W. Woolpert, CEO of Granite Rock, a $100-million company that produces and sells crushed quarry stone, in Watsonville, Calif.

Granite Rock, which in 1992 was one of five companies to win the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, is known for its customer "reportcards," annual surveys that ask buyers to rate the company against its competitors.

In addition, the company conducts longer surveys every three or four yearsto gather more detailed information about customer needs and wants. Focus groups and quick-response cards let the company probe for ideas about newproducts and services throughout the year.

That's where the big ideas come from. One year, customers at a focus group said that what they really wanted was to be able to pick up rock at any time of theday or night and to get in and out quickly. Those requests led to one of the company's biggest technological innovations: a loading zone dubbed GraniteXpress.

Today truckers pick up their crushed stone by pulling up, checking their order on a computer, sticking a magnetic card in a slot, and loading fromautomatic overhead bins. The system serves the requests articulated at the focus group: it functions around the clock and has cut the time truckers spend at thesite from an average of 30 minutes to 10 minutes.

Published on: Jan 1, 1997