The format of this assignment should be letter format or memorandum format.
Communication Case 3: Beacon Biological: Retracing and
Remedying Six Months of Business Disasters
• to teach students to analyze audiences and write to specific audiences in diverse situations
• to encourage students to think more deliberately about the writing process
• to encourage students to think more deliberately about organizational strategies
Beacon Biological is a family-owned, Boston-based biological supply company that provides a wide
range of science supplies to educational institutions (from elementary schools to universities)
throughout the state of Massachusetts. Quincy Sullivan founded the company in 1990 after
teaching biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the decade he spent as an
academic, he was consistently disappointed by one biological supply company after another and
finally came to believe that the Boston area would support a local biological supply company. He
left the academy to launch that company and all of his suspicions were correct. Now, his company
has moved beyond Boston and serves schools and laboratories throughout New England. While
the company was founded as a supplier of bacterial specimens that Dr. Sullivan could ‘”farm”
himself, it now offers a full range of scientific supplies (from tables and microscopes to starfish and
fetai pigs) that the company procures from wholesalers and then sells at retail prices through
glitzy catalogs and Its webslte-www.beaconbiological.com.
Since 1996, when the company transltfoned from a small biological supplier with a limited line of
products to a full service science supply company, Dr. Sullivan has backed away from the day-today
business of his company. Rather than crunching numbers, finding and negotiating with
wholesalers, or dreaming up marketing strategies, he mostly spends his time pretending he Is
Darwin in the Galapagos or Hemingway In Key West while Heather Renfroe manages the
business. Heather has an MBA in management from Harvard Business School, and Dr. Sullivan has
complete confidence In her abilities.
What Dr. Sullivan does not know, however, Is that his company’s profit margin has dropped
twenty-five percent over the past two quarters. Two years ago, after he had become comfortable
with Heather’s management of the company, Dr. Sullivan became Impatient with quarterly reports
and began to simply tune them out—he even told Heather to stop sending them last year.
Recently, Heather has made two attempts to discuss the company’s recent troubles with Dr.
Sullivan, but each time he simply cut her off and told her that he knew she could handle it.
The problems at Beacon Biological really began in January when a horrible winter storm damaged
a warehouse full of specialized high-speed mlcrocentrlfuges and autoclaves that were awaiting
delivery to Tufts University in Medford, MA. Insurance covered the damage to the building, but
when Beacon couldnt deliver the equipment to Tufts on schedule, the university was forced to
drop its contract with Beacon and go with another company, American Scientific Supply. That
incident cost Beacon Biological nearly $300,000.00 in gross sales, and Ms. Renfroe fears that Tufts
may continue to rely on American Scientific Supply for the foreseeable future.
It was also in January that Beacon first experienced a ten percent decline in sales. Sales have
been off between five and ten percent in each of the six subsequent months, and Ms. Renfroe
feels that American Scientific probably has something to do with it. At the end of last year, the
larger company launched an aggressive marketing campaign that announced new lower prices
that, It claimed, would beat those of every other scientific supply company in the United States. It
appears as though the new prices and the marketing campaign are working.
Apart from the steady decline In sales that began in January, February and March were free of any
catastrophes, but things began to fall apart again In April when an animal rights group
successfully campaigned to remove animal dissection from public school curricula In New
Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The argument of the animal rlahts armm
was that new computer programs that simulate dissection make actual classroom dissections
unnecessary. It was such a convincing argument, in fact, that each of the state school boards
went beyond removing dissection from their curricula—they actually banned It in their schools. The
raiiout for Beacon Biological was drastic. Last year, the company supplied 238 schools in tnese
four states with preserved dissection specimens for a total of $1,200,000 In sales (about one
tenth of the company’s gross sales) and about $800,000.00 In profit (about one tenth of the
company’s gross profit). To make matters worse, Beacon does not sell the dissection simulation
programs that these schools are buying to replace their dissection specimens. When these
programs first hit the market, Dr. Sullivan was still making Beacon’s business decisions, and,
because he felt that they could not sufficiently simulate a dissection, he refused to sell any of
Ms. Renfroe Is determined to make Dr. Sullivan pay attention to the suddenly precarious situation
of his company, but, before she brings him up to speed, she wants to fully plan out some solutions
to the problems that have arisen during his period of Inattention. What she Imagines is a four-part
approach; lower Beacon’s prices to compete with American Scientific Supply, launch a marketing
campaign that will announce the new prices and emphasize Beacon’s superior customer service,
renegotiate the prices that Beacon pays to Its wholesalers, and start selling dissection simulation
software. While she must deal with Dr. Sullivan, Ms. Renfroe also knows that she needs to
communicate with Beacon’s employees. Everyone, of course, knew about the warehouse disaster
in January. Only people in the sales department were supposed to know about the slumping sales
figures, but that news has trickled out and so it is now common knowledge as well. And of course
the state school board decisions were public knowledge from the beginning and everyone knows
what they meant to Beacon’s business. As you might expect, Beacon’s employees fear the worstcutbacks
and layoffs—and they need to be reassured that these are not part of Beacon’s plans for
the future, _______———— –
You now have what you need to proceed to the Beacon Bio Writing Exercise, a planning tool. Here
also are the basic instructions for the actual formal document assignment so that you can see how to
plan (the assignment’s format is also described in the Formal Doc B document on D2L)
Formal Document B Assignment
Choices 1&2. Select either of the following audience-and- purpose combinations for Document B:
1. Write a letter to Sullivan asking for his help. If you choose this, you are to write as Heather
Renfroe, General Manager, Beacon Biological, 8515 Warran St., Boston MA 02453. Sullivan’s
address is 10 Day Street, Key West, FL 33040
2. Write a memorandum to all the Beacon employees. If you choose this, you are to write as
Heather Renfroe, same address as above for her. Think about what the employees want and
need as stakeholders.
Background notes and questions for both choices:
?What organizational methods will’best serve your needs ?
?What does each audience/reader (Sullivan or employees) need to know? Choose information
accordingly; do not stuff the message with unnecessary details, but do provide all of the pertinent
? Think carefully about your purpose as you plan your opening and closing sections.
Document A: Letter or Memo for the “Beacon Biological” Case (notes on D2L)
This first formal document assignment is worth 100 pts. You will write either a letter or a memorandum to one of the two audience/purpose choices below:
WRITING ASSIGNMENT CHOICES: do ONE of the following
1. A letter to Dr. Sullivan that explains the current situation at Beacon Biological, etc.Use good letter format.
2. A memorandumto Beacon Biological’s employees that will explain the company’s situation and the potential solutions. Use good memorandum format.
GUIDELINES: The Organization of your letter or memo (choice 1 or 2 above) is a primary criteria for this writing practice. There are the four key factors for developing the order and arrangement of ideas (Dobrin 173-4):
There is an exercise that will be due this week and will serve you as good preparation for doing Formal Document A.