schwinn: could the story have been different? at its peak,
schwinn: could the story have been different? at its peak, schwinn had more than 2,000 u.s. employees, produced hundreds of thousands of bicycles in five factories, and held 20 percent of the market. today, however, schwinn no longer exists as an operating company. the firm, founded in 1895, declared bankruptcy in 1992 and closed its last factory one year later. the schwinn name is now owned by a canada-based firm and all of the bikes are manufactured in asia. harold l. sirkin, a senior vice president at the boston consulting group, argues that schwinn’s story could have been different. he outlines two alternative pathways that might have provided a happier ending to the schwinn story. alternative reality one: aim high under this scenario, schwinn decided to center on midrange and premium segments of the market, leaving low-end bicycles for competitors. however, the firm determined that it could substantially reduce costs by turning to low-cost partners in rapidly developing economies for labor-intensive parts. schwinn interviewed hundreds of potential suppliers and locked the best ones into long-term contracts. schwinn then reconfigured its operations to perform final assembly and quality inspection in the united states. still, the changes forced schwinn to make some painful choices—nearly 30 percent of the workforce was laid off. however, such moves allowed schwinn to produce bikes at half the previous cost, maintain a significant position in the midrange bicycle market, and leverage its product design capabilities to build a strong position for its brand in the high-end market. as a result, schwinn is extremely competitive in the u.s. market and is a major exporter of premium bikes to china and europe. because of this growth, schwinn now employs twice as many people in the united states as it did before outsourcing began. discussion question1. by facing fierce competition from low-cost rivals, many business-to-business firms in the united states and europe face a situation today similar to schwinn’s. what lessons can they draw from the schwinn story? how can they strengthen their competitive position?
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