The Phantom Customer
Don Beaver built New Pig Corp. into a $14-million company by cleaning up oil spills -- the kind that trickle out of industrial machines, leaving greasy pools on factory floors ("High on the Hog," March 1987). Now he's wondering whether his company has a new business opportunity in cleaning up oil spills of a different magnitude.
Beaver and his colleagues had been pondering the question long before the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska. After all, their "pigs" (polyester tubes stuffed with absorbent materials) worked so well in factories that it seemed possible they might work on oil slicks, too. Within days of the Alaska accident, two of New Pig's managers were on the scene, armed with prototypes. Working with the Coast Guard, they tried out a polypropylene boom that absorbs oil, as well as a membranelike fence that contains it. One local contractor liked the boom enough to put in a rush order for 6,000 feet of it.
But does that mean New Pig has a new line of business? Not yet. For starters, it's still unclear who the customers are. Oil companies? The feds? "Until we find out who's responsible for cleaning up these spills, we're looking at a very tough sell," says Beaver. "One thing we've learned is that -- before you enter a market -- you have to have focus. You really have to be solving somebody's problem." Congress, of course, could make oil spills somebody's problem. In the meantime, New Pig's potential solution will have to wait.
-- Bruce Posner