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Punch Products (PP) is a regional producer of soft drinks and sells mainly in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Three years ago, in 2009, it made the decision to diversify into the bottled water industry, whose market enjoys a good reputation in a health-conscious America and is especially popular in areas where the quality of municipally provided water is suspect. Firms cater to businesses and homes, obtaining income mainly from the delivery of bottled water and the rental of water coolers. The market PP entered has one highly successful firm, Clear Springs, which is family owned with yearly sales of about $6M. The next largest firm is Well Water and there are ten extremely small firms with one or two trucks, six of which have appeared in the last two years.
When the decision was made to produce bottled water, nearly all of PP's executives were extremely confident that the venture would be highly profitable. This optimism was based on (1) projections showing the bottled water market was growing; (2) cost estimates implying that PP could undersell its competitors by 10 percent; and (3) PP's ability to pick winners in the soft drink market. Unfortunately, there was a barrier to entry that few realized: firms were not buying a product so much as a service and the marketing strategies of mass advertising (newspaper, radio, TV, etc.) and price discounts simply did not work. Mass advertising was ineffective because consumers believed correctly that all bottled water was really the same thing. Therefore, it is hard for a firm to differentiate its product, unlike firms in the soft drink industry. Price discounts failed for two reasons. First, a firm's managers were not especially attracted by price discounts. More important, firms were not buying a product but a service-a visit and chat with the delivery person. All in all, it was hard to convince firms to switch bottled water firms. As one manager put it: "So we save a few bucks." But that means we won't see Dave every week. And-my goodness - Dave's like family! It wouldn't be right to switch."
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