PenInHand - Musings on the Hobby
The Story Of The 2nd Generation PFM
by Jim Mamoulides, March 31, 2003
In late February, 1967, according to the Article "The PFM That Almost Was" in the October, 1977 Sheaffer's Review, an urgent meeting was held between the marketing and design departments at Sheaffer in Fort Madison, Iowa. Pressure was mounting from Textron, the new owners that had acquired Sheaffer in 1966, to revamp the pen lines to something more "hip" and "with the times," those times being the psychedelic Sixties. The Snorkels and Touchdowns were too stodgy and "businessman" in their styling. Textron wanted a new line that would attract the new generation coming up. The only line they really liked was the Lady Sheaffer, and they asked the marketing and design teams to look at that line for ideas, but also to look at modern pop culture.
For most of the assembled team, lifers who came through the ranks at the family owned company that always had a Sheaffer at the helm, this was the last opportunity to maintain the legacy, even if it meant treading on some family heirlooms. The biggest fear in the room was that Textron would capitulate to the tide of throwaway BICs flooding the market and completely abandon Sheaffer's fountain pen roots. They had until the end of March to come up with ideas that would dazzle the new execs and at the same time, they felt, save the company they all loved and grew up with.
Lots of ideas were tossed around. Completely new designs were sketched out on charts and blackboards. Old favorites were dredged up in a 1960s retro thinking. The meeting lasted two days and the team thought they could pitch a completely new line that that incorporated fountain pen, ballpoint, and pencil in a new and hip package that would wow the Textron execs and preserve the existing base business, and frankly, keep the company from being turned into a cheap ballpoint factory.
The team leader, Ellis Newbury, a twenty-five year Sheaffer veteran, telephoned the Textron General Manager for Sheaffer, William Grimes, and told him the team was ready to present.
Grimes told Newbury some bad news. The new line can't involve any retooling. Textron is not ready to spend any new money on Sheaffer on anything that does not have an immediate return. Newbury and the team would have to show that the new line could be made using existing tooling and inventory. Grimes then said that he had been in reviews with the financial and sales managers and noticed a severe drop off in sales across all lines except the inexpensive ballpoints, with "some life" showing in cartridge pens. The due date for the presentation had not changed and Grimes told Newbury that he and his management team would be meeting in Fort Madison to review the proposal and expected to see working prototypes!
No money and declining sales of the premier line products was not what Ellis Newbury needed to hear. He clearly felt as if "the company's fountain pen legacy was square on his shoulders." He returned to the team and said, "We have to come up with something creative or I fear we'll all be designing throwaway ballpoints this time next year."
Back To Work!
The team went straight to work, throwing out all they had done. The new line would have to be a dress-up of what was in inventory today and they only had four weeks!
Several collectors and Sheaffer employees I spoke to credit Wallace Beamer, one of the marketing managers, with coming up with the winning idea: dressing up the PFM.
The team contacted suppliers, specifically asking for bright, wild color, or exotic patterned rod stock. The idea was to turn some new barrels for the PFM, and eventually the Imperial, and make them so the customer could swap different barrels on the pen, "to suit the mood." Everyone on the team thought the idea was great and green-lighted prototypes to be presented.
The Stage Is Set!
The meeting was set for March 31, but weather delayed the flights of members of the Textron team, so the meeting was postponed one day so everyone could be at the unveiling of the new updated pen line. Ellis Newbury said, "We were actually disappointed in the delay because we thought we had a hit and really wanted to present it!" The team thought the new design would have the double effect of rekindling interest in high line fountain pens and achieve that without the cost of tooling up for a new manufacturing program. More sales and immediate return on investment!
The day arrived and the team assembled at 9am for the presentation. The conference room had been set up with two large tables in the front with drapes hiding easels and presentation boxes. After some small talk, Ellis Newbury stood up, thanked everyone for coming, and said he felt really strongly that the team had a hit in the vein of the original Jade flat-top and Balance. Before the new product was to be unveiled, he turned the floor over to William Grimes to restate the team's objectives and introduce the Textron team.
After the preliminaries, Newbury had the lights dimmed and walked up to the front of the room. Without saying a word, he nodded to an assistant, who pulled a cord, dropping the drapes. On each of the easels was a large white mounted poster with large, bold black block letters with the phrase printed so all could clearly see:
Hope you enjoyed this entirely fictional story! And by the way, the snakeskin PFM in this article is a real, functioning PFM...
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