Paper Trail: How Product Managers Saved The Company

Product managers had to find a way to save their paper company
Product managers had to find a way to save their paper company

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Welcome to the 21st Century. There are a lot of products that, despite having had a good product development definition at one time, have gone away in this modern age: the horse whip, typewriters, and, in some cases, paper. The arrival of computers and smart phones would seem to have made a lot of the things that we used to use paper for no longer matter. That’s the problem that a paper company’s product managers were facing: nobody wanted to buy their product any more!

Why Did The Market For Paper Go Away?

Most of us product managers assume that the market for our product will never go away. Sure, there may be ups and downs, but we don’t think that the whole market will just up and leave. However, in the paper industry that very thing sure seemed to happen overnight.

In the U.S., companies were released from having to print and distribute corporate annual reports. When this happened, companies like Mohawk Fine Papers Inc. who had built their business on supplying the paper that these reports were printed on saw their business go away virtually overnight. Clearly this is not something that the product managers were going to be able to put on their product manager resume.

Combine this loss of business with the loss of paper that was being used for record keeping and other activities and the Mohawk product managers had a real problem on their hands. Clearly they were not going to be able to change the way the world was moving, what now?

What Did The Paper Product Managers Do?

The Mohawk product managers did something very interesting. They identified a new market that they could move the company into. They realized that the market that the company had been serving was going away for good and they needed to find new markets if the company was going to survive.

While attending paper industry trade shows and talking with other people in the industry, the Mohawk product managers discovered that one part of their industry was starting to pick up steam: fine paper.

Driven by people new need to have digital photos printed on high quality paper by firms like Shutterfly, Mohawk invested in the machines and the paper that it takes to create high-end paper products. Thank you notes, resumes, and wedding invitations are other written communications that use these types of paper. Today the Mohawk firm is both still in business and they are doing just fine. The product managers were able to save the company by realizing that their market had gone away and by listening to their customers in order to discover where the new markets were being created.

What All Of This Means For You

The one thing that a product manager never wants to have happen to them is for their product’s market to just simply up and go away. However, in the world of paper products, that’s what happened. Almost overnight customers stopped buying what they had always bought. What was a product manager to do? This had never been a part of their product manager job description.

As computers and networking quickly transformed how businesses operated in the 21st Century, the amount and types of paper that were being used seemed to change overnight. Mohawk Fine Papers saw the market for their product slip away from them. Their product managers realized that there was still a market for paper, just not the types of papers that they had been producing. They switched the company to higher quality paper that is used for invitations and keepsakes and the company was saved.

As product managers it is our responsibility to make sure that we keep our eyes open and watch what is happening with our markets. When we start to see a major change, it is the responsibility of the product manager to observe where the market is heading and to make the appropriate adjustments to the company’s product mix.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: When you detect that the market for your product is going away, should you raise your product’s prices?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Can we talk about big, untapped markets for just a minute? In the United States, the very large state of New York recently voted to legalize the use of cannabis to treat a variety of medical conditions. There are all sorts of rules and restrictions involved; however, this is a very big step forward in the legalization of pot in NY. What should product managers be doing?