At Hearth & Home Technologies, Exploring Where AI and the Smart Home Intersect

By Kate Katz |  March 27, 2024

Hearth & Home Technologies has been making fireplaces and stoves — whether wood, gas, or electric-powered — since 1927. A division of publicly-traded HNI Corporation, the company is headquartered in Minnesota.

In 2023, Corey Radloff joined the newly established innovation team at Hearth & Home as Senior Innovation Scientist. Previously, he was at 3M, where he specialized in technology and product development. We spoke with Radloff as part of our research initiative, “How AI is Influencing Corporate Innovation in 2024.”

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What’s on your agenda for 2024?

Corey Radloff, Senior Innovation Scientist, Hearth & Home Technologies

Delivering on what I promised in 2023. We did a pretty big, front-end innovation project in the company last year. We came up with new product concepts that span from evolutionary and revolutionary. If we’re not able to move forward quickly, or move forward meaningfully, on the top project that we’re working on, then we can identify that soon, shift those resources, and move on to the next best thing.

What does evolutionary and revolutionary mean at Hearth and Home?

In any product space, you’ve got your core products that company makes, and you can do little tweaks to those. [For example], a fireplace [technology] where you tell Alexa, “Turn on my fireplace.” We’re not really changing the fireplace; we’re just adding this feature. Evolutionary might be where we redesign that product. It still performs the same function, but we might envision it in a different space, or it has a different use case scenario. Revolutionary — we’re looking at where do we move the product category? How do we redefine how people are using a product or redefine our products for how people have changed and how their homes have changed over the last 20-50 years. The fireplace doesn’t hold the same position in the household as it used to. New homes are quite often built without one… How do we adapt our product, or how do we revolutionize our products to make sure that they’re still relevant to people today?

How has your team mandate changed in the past year?

Our role was pretty clearly defined for 2023: look at where we can grow and how we can do that through innovation, [and] identify opportunities in evolutionary and revolutionary product design and product development, with the intent to shift into more of an R&D role in 2024… where we would lead efforts to build out the product concepts and get to prototypes and a minimum viable product relatively quickly. So, for 2023, I was spending a lot of time doing ideation sessions, consumer insights, research into IP and whitespace analysis. This year, [my mandate is] going to go back to product development.

Heat & Glo gas fireplace in modern living room
One of Hearth & Home Technologies’ innovative products is the Heat & Glo True Gas Fireplace.

How does AI connect to your work?

We talked to a number of vendors [in 2023] looking for a tool that would help us to scout technology. I fully expect that space to be completely different at the end of 2024. I think [AI-driven] APIs are going to be able to scrape the internet or a database for information. And that’s going to really start changing how quickly we move on different ideas.

Make sure that the horizon of your innovation project lines up with the horizon of the business…

Learn more about this report, published in February 2024.

How do you see the company using it going forward for product development?

I think where we could start seeing AI affect our products is with smart home technologies… if there’s AI support in the platform that runs your home, you wouldn’t tell your fireplace when to turn on, your fireplace would know when you’d want it to turn on because it learned your patterns. There’s been a lot of artwork and visualizations and video that’s been compiled with AI. Maybe [AI] creates [visualizations like a flame] in the background, and we can push that content to a device.

What’s one piece of advice you commonly share with other innovators?

The thing that I’ve seen in commonality with innovators is there’s a time that it takes to get a new idea out the door and make it profitable. My advice would be, make sure that the horizon of your innovation project lines up with the horizon of the business, or that you’ve gotten honest buy-in with the stakeholders that they’re willing to extend their horizon to meet your innovation project. I’ve seen really innovative projects killed when the project’s not ready, and the business has run out of time or patience to wait for it.