Thursday, September 09, 2010

Reviving the Blackwing: Why take on this Challenge?

In Part One of this Series, I introduced our current process of gathering initial consumer response to our new Palomino Blackwing pencil. While we’re completing our evaluation of responses today I answer the question “Why is CalCedar reviving the Blackwing?”.

Photo Courtesy: The Blackwing Pages

Pure and simple. Blackwing is a great and iconic name among serious pencil fans. Revered for its legendary smooth writing performance and classic extendable rectangular eraser it’s become known as the pencil of famous animators, illustrators, musicians and writers as well as those who simply appreciate the best. The Blackwing’s lore has increased since production was discontinued in 1998, creating an “old stock” eBay market bearing prices from $20 to $40 per pencil. This pencil is kept as a collectable or stingily used only for special creative activities. All other high quality graphite pencils seem to be compared to the Blackwing as the standard of perfection.

Anyone crazy enough to try to build a new brand name in a rough and tumble globalized commodity business like the pencil industry is always going to want the best advantage possible. Very few pencil producers really professionally and effectively advertise and market pencils anymore. The closest promotion the average consumer is exposed to are circular ads of mass retailers and office superstores offering “loss leader” prices during back to school time to get people in the door. They’ll give away $2 of pencils at or below cost to sell that $10 to 20 calculator and other goods that makes them much higher margins. The cost pressure from the large retailers drives producers towards an obsessive focus on the economics of pencil production. Over the last 20 years, this has resulted in a reduction in the general quality of pencils and outsourcing overseas while cutting marketing support dollars and manpower devoted to thinking creatively about pencils.

The benefit to society is a lower cost product on average when it comes to pencils. The cost is a loss of understanding and appreciation by the average pencil user of what a good quality pencil really feels like to use and how it performs. The proof, put a Palomino, a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni, a Tombow Mono or a Blackwing in the hands of the average person and ask them to compare side by side with their normal everyday pencil and watch their response as they write, doodle and explore the fine writing characteristics of these pencils.

Since we launched our California Republic range my vision has been to establish our premium quality Palomino brand as fresh, new and fun, with great quality and safety performance. This has been a gradual and experimental process mostly conducted over the internet and in my spare time when not attending to our core slat and firelog businesses. Nevertheless we are building a small, but growing fan base and our recent Pencils.com website redesign is helping to move this ball forward with our “Freedom of Expression” theme as well as expanded features and products. In our view the pencil is perhaps the most common and affordable tool of creative self-expression used around the world. It may not have the reach of the internet, but there is a personal sense of connection to writing, drawing, sketching or doodling with a pencil that for many cannot be matched by typing on a keyboard or drawing with a stylus on a computer screen. For us, Palomino is an important part of enhancing “freedom of expression”, but we know finding your favorite instrument of self-expression is a personal journey and so in time we’ll be featuring even more pencils from other producers who use our slats in our store. This also helps promote quality wood-cased pencils in general and provides a new and creative means to support our slat customers, something CalCedar has been devoted to for over 80 years. Ultimately, however to make Palomino and our California Republic family of products economically successful brands, an added catalyst is needed to move the ball forward.

Ever since we introduced the Palomino it has regularly been referred to by many Blackwing fans as a principal contender for successor to the original 602. These fans continually lament the ceasing of production of this pencil and the increasingly high cost of “old stock” on eBay. When I discovered the Blackwing name was available it was a natural choice to want to more closely associate this venerable name with our own brand. The goal: Create a Palomino product line extension that honors the performance and functionality of the original Blackwing 602 while building a new and expanding generation of pencil lovers who appreciate fine quality pencils. Who would not want to pursue this opportunity? It’s both tremendously fun and challenging. If we’re right, execute well, and perhaps a little lucky, then maybe we’ll make some modest financial return and turn a passion into a profitable business venture.

3 comments:

Black Sal said...

why did you drop the 602 number?

memm said...

I am looking forward to finding out which pencils from other producers are using your slats. I was always wondering which pencils are made using cedar.

Neko2 said...

I also think a 602 or 603 belongs on there. If General's can have a "Draughting 314" pencil then you can put the number there ;)

I also would like to see the paint color and foil quality to be on par with the originals.