Prismacolor Scholar drawing pencils for art students have been in the marketplace since the 1990s, though in a small offering. In reviewing the product's market performance in late 2009, Newell Rubbermaid Office Products Prismacolor brand managers recognized that these pencils had the potential to meet what they had recently identified as an under-served targeted market. To address that opportunity, they began the process of preparing to relaunch it as an expanded line with a new look.
"Our plan was to relaunch the product line in packaging that was not only eye-catching to the consumer, but functional," says Sheryl Rosa, Prismacolor director of marketing.
A young target market
A market research study showed that young art students in middle school and early high school were discouraged: they had outgrown the crayons and less precise pencils of childhood, but were not yet skilled enough to manage the more demanding, less forgiving tools of the professional artist. They were trying to learn new skills with tools either too crude or too demanding, and consequently both they and their art teachers were frequently frustrated with the tools that were available.
Prismacolor Scholar colored pencils were ideal for this market segment, with product formulations that deliver superior blendability and color saturation different than those of its professional line. They require more advanced skill and thus support learning that skill, yet are still more forgiving than a professional artist's pencils.
To reach this newly-identified market, Prismacolor began planning to relaunch a full line of different-sized pencil sets, along with other art products, to be called the Prismacolor Scholar line.
Research showed that nearly all high school students in art courses purchased at least one set of colored pencils each year, and that more than 80 percent had been purchasing another well-known brand. Prismacolor wanted the sets to fit within classroom budgets and be able to compete with other brands that currently may be easier to find and purchase in stores.
Package exposes rainbow of colors
It was essential that the new line appeal to its key gatekeepers, the art teachers. They say art teachers are the ones who decide which materials to buy for the classroom and can strongly influence the students' choice of art supplies.
The pencils themselves also would do that by offering a full range of colors (in various sized SKUs), being suited to young artists and to the artwork they would be doing. But the presentation of the pencil sets would be critical: art teachers are trained as artists to respond to color and design, and as teachers to respond to the practical: functionality, durability and convenience. The packaging of the Scholar line would have to provide all.
"To begin, we developed two options for a packaging structure, one of which was an updated version of an earlier paperboard box," says Prismacolor senior packaging engineer Christine Casper. "Since we felt seeing the pencils would be a major selling point, we also developed a transparent thermoformed plastic package with a functional, user-friendly easel feature."
For the clear clamshell, Prismacolor consulted with Transparent Container Inc., which it had previously partnered with for blister card packaging for a number of its other products. Prismacolor packaging engineers shared their thinking about how the product would be marketed, sold and used, and Transparent Container designers responded with renderings of clamshell designs that would work well in those situations.
In March 2010, Prismacolor took the renderings of both types of package, as well as multiple colorful new sets of label graphics, into local classrooms that served as focus groups. The students and teachers provided valuable feedback on both the appeal and the usability of the packages.
"The transparent thermoform package was the overwhelming favorite," says Casper. "Students and teachers found it innovative, yet functional."
Meets multiple requirements
Transparent Container worked closely with Prismacolor to design the package so that it would meet multiple needs, from labeling, filling, secure shipping and display to student use. Transparent thermoforms the different-sized final packages for the multiple SKUs and ships them to Newell Rubbermaid's manufacturing facility in Mexicali, Mexico, for filling and labeling.
The final package meets Prismacolor's needs in multiple ways. It is a one-piece transparent clamshell molded of PVC hinged in three places. The design helps reduce costs because the nesting feature allows it to ships flat and nested to the Mexicali facility. Molded snaps ensure that it stays securely closed for filling, distribution, retail display and when not being used by the student, while remaining securely open as an easel during use. The thermoform structure, which provides quick access to the pencils, is reusable, durable and can be used throughout the life of the product. Three labeling areas are provided to hold pressure-sensitive labels, made by WebbMason Inc., as well as a cutout for retail pegging.
Prismacolor launched the new easel packaging in mid-2011 in five SKUs. Non-erasable pencils, which feature harder leads that are less likely to break but are still blendable, are available in four easel package sizes from 12 to 60 pencils. Erasable pencils, which feature a different lead formulation and include an eraser, are available in one easel package SKU of 12 pencils. The line also includes accessories such as art erasers and pencil sharpeners.
The clamshell was also designed to facilitate filling, which is a semi-automated process. The design integrates with current pencil-collating equipment and maintains expected efficiency in the packaging operations.
In Mexicali, equipment automatically assembles pencils in color order, then pushes them out of the equipment into the body of the clamshell being held by an operator, who then closes and snaps the cover. The three labels are hand-applied after filling.
To use, the student unsnaps the cover flap, folds it back and snaps the two parts of the cover together, forming the convenient easel. The pencils sit upright, easy to remove, use and return. After use, the cover folds back into place and snaps, keeping pencils secure in backpacks and desks.
Early results are promising
The re-launched Prismacolor Scholar pencils entered the market in time for the 2011 back-to-school selling season, so detailed sales results are still coming in, but early indications are promising. It is presently in craft stores such as Michael's, and will be introduced later into large box retail stores and club stores. Through distributors, it may also be found in artists' supply and specialized education stores.
Prismacolor continues to work with art teachers to promote the Scholar pencil line, since teacher acceptance will be the key influence to the line's future growth. The Prismacolor website, for example, includes a section called "Inspiration Central" that features inspirational art teachers talking about their careers as teachers in their own words, and talented art students showing and commenting on their work. The section also includes a number of grade-specific downloadable lesson plans.
Using the results of this initial launch, Prismacolor marketers will also work to broaden the Scholar line's market reach by placing the Scholar line in mass merchandise retail stores where it will be exposed to a larger consumer audience.