Sherwin Williams: Splashing Into the Low VOC Paint Market

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: May 13, 2010
Length: 16 pages
Product ID#: 1-429-421

Core Disciplines: Marketing/Sales, Strategy & Management, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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In late 1996, Sherwin-Williams CEO John Breen sat at his desk, preparing for another meeting with his board of directors. The room was dark except for a small stream of light that escaped the curtains hung heavily over the windows. Outside, rain was falling onto the company’s corporate headquarters and on the streets of Cleveland. Breen stared at the portraits of company founders Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams that loomed above him on the wall. What would they think about the company’s direction under his watch? Both had invested their life savings to create Sherwin-Williams in 1870. More than 125 years later, a market shift was taking place. Some paint companies were experimenting with new formulations—using different materials to make paint that would send fewer toxins into the air. Would the founders agree with the decisions Breen had made as he guided the company into this new era?

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • describe whether HealthSpec had the right attributes to succeed in this new and rapidly changing market,
  • analyze whether HealthSpec's performance demonstrated the viability of environmentally friendly paints,
  • Discuss whether the company needed to invest more heavily in this area before it would see results,
  • compare ways in which the company could improve its reputation,
  • analyze factors relating to whether Sherwin-Williams should compete in this market,
  • discuss rebranding issues.