Blackwing Experience

Reviving the Blackwing: A Labor of Love or Insanity?

Part One: Seeking Consumer Feedback

Over the past two weeks we on the CalCedar & Pencils.com team have been in the midst of a grand experiment. That is soliciting and evaluating the initial consumer responses to our new Palomino Blackwing pencil. This process has generated broad interest and feedback from those who participated as well as others who’ve only seen pictures and read the initial blog reviews of a few in our sampling group. Today I am initiating a series of posts over the next couple weeks about our effort to “Revive the Blackwing”. Given there is a tremendous level of detail involved in a project like this, it’s simply impossible to cover in just one or two posts and do proper justice to the subject. Today I start with a general introduction to our consumer evaluation process and provide a list of the intended posts that will lead up to definitive announcements regarding the sales launch for the Blackwing Palomino and future modifications and improvements we plan to make based on continuing feedback.

Our process involved selection of a couple of control groups to gain feedback on our new product. The first group included known Blackwing fans who have had first-hand experience with the original Blackwing 602, which was first produced and introduced by Eberhardt Faber USA and eventually discontinued in 1998 by the brand’s successor owner, the Sanford division of Newell Rubbermaid. The second group consists of those less familiar with the Blackwing including those who are active pencil users and fans as well as those who may not consider themselves particularly knowledgeable about pencils at all and had never heard of the famous Blackwing 602.

Those who participated were asked to complete a questionnaire that we provided comparing the two products along with our Palomino HB on a variety of performance factors. Respondents were also asked to give feedback on other aspects such as relative price and new packaging design concepts for the Palomino line. I want to thank all of those who participated directly in this process. Your extensive and detailed responses are greatly appreciated and under review. I’ll cover this all in detail in my later posts.

Some also chose to blog about their review of the new Palomino Blackwing. This opened up tremendous commenting and speculation from traditional Blackwing fans, and many others with various perspectives and their own favorite pencil brand. There was a lively debate of mechanical pencils vs. leadholders, as well as those who expressed the view that this whole community of pencil fans is simply crazy. We thank all those who have and continue to participate in this interesting conversation. Here are some of the main links, sorry if I missed some:

Links to some blog reviews of our Palomino Blackwing prototype:

http://blackwingpages.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/blackwing-reborn/

http://mleddy.blogspot.com/2010/08/new-blackwing-pencil.html

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/08/27/first-impression-of.html

I’ve now probably reviewed several hundred comments. At times I thought to myself “no wonder Apple keeps such secrecy before they introduce new products like the iPhone 4. I must be insane! Why didn’t we just introduce the new Blackwing first?” There has been a lot of greatly appreciated support for our effort, but also some detractors too. One commenter even questioned our motivations stating “don’t toy with us Blackwing fans” in response to one reviewer’s personal assessment that they felt our new product failed to precisely duplicate the original’s writing performance while our existing Palomino HB was closer. I resisted temptation and kept myself from responding to speculative comments or inaccurate assumptions. I had committed myself to an open process and felt it was important not to unduly influence the feedback until our control group had responded. This should lead to the best overall understanding of those who seem to have a passion for pencils and the original Blackwing in particular. It certainly has been fascinating.

Learning from this process is ongoing. In this series of posts I’ll be sharing my observations, conclusions to date and making some clarifications related to our efforts to revive the Blackwing brand. Here are the planned post topics.

  • *Why revive the Blackwing?
  • *Understanding the Blackwing Fan
  • *Graphite Performance
  • *Lacquer Finish & Imprint
  • *Eraser Function
  • *Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed
  • *Branding: Palomino Blackwing vs. California Republic Blackwing
  • *Overall Performance & Design
  • *Addressing Design Reality: Clarifying speculations and assumptions
  • *So what’s this thing going to cost me anyway?
  • *Let the orders begin!

We’ll be opening up these posts on the Pencils.com’s ‘What’s New’ blog to commenting in the near future. You may also comment on these posts through The Pencil Page and my Timberlines blog. We look forward to your continued participation and feedback in this process. Hopefully by the end of this series you can all help me determine if this endeavor is a labor of love or insanity. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both.

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