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Rubbermaid gets a handle on mops and brooms

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The plastics giant’s program, which is making its debut at this week’s International Housewares Exposition in Chicago, is generating considerable interest among retailers and manufacturers. Rubbermaid is entering the category with the same vigor and marketing savvy it did with food storage products six years ago and recycling containers last August.

“Our philosophy as a business is to bring to the customer a complete package – a total marketing mix program rather than a product and price,” noted Wolf Schmitt, president and general manager of the housewares products division at Rubbermaid. “Our concept is not just to sell in, but to bring to the retailers a package that both sells in and sells out.”

The company’s home cleanup team, which also includes Raymond Pezzi, vice president of marketing, Andrius Birutis, product manager, and Porter Kauffman, national sales manager, has spent three years conducting extensive consumer and retail research and gathering statistics and other data on markets, programs, products, features and colors.

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Based on those studies, the company has developed a product line of 50 basic items in the broom, mop, brush and sponge categories. The products, which come in bright blue with coordinated black packaging, will ship to retailers early in the second half of this year. The company also plans to incorporate rubber gloves and vacuum cleaner bags into the program.

According to Rubbermaid, the cleaning aids business, which generates about $675 million at wholesale ($300 million in brooms, brushes and mops; $200 million in sponges, scrubbers and wipes; $55 million in rubber gloves, and $120 million in vacuum cleaner bags), needs to be reinvigorated.

“Other than repackaging existing lines, when you look at the business over the last 10 or 20 years, it’s not had any great investment of creativity or resources,” Schmitt said. “The product lines have been developed over many, many years so, as a result, there’s a real hodgepodge of product. The quality is very inconsistent.”

In creating its line, Rubbermaid used resources from two subsidiaries – Viking Brush Ltd. in Canada, which is a full-line operation, and Rubbermaid Commercial Products. All items except rubber gloves, which are imported, are being manufactured at various locations in North America.

While manufacturing plants are scattered, the company has centralized distribution, using one facility in Statesville, N.C. “We have chosen to centralize this product in order to respond a lot quicker to retailers’ needs,” Kauffman noted, adding that “this category turns a lot faster than other categories we’re experienced in.”

Drawing from these resources is just one of many strategic advantages the company has, Schmitt noted. Rubbermaid’s stamp of approval from consumers will help to move the products.

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“We think that in the ’90s our customers will more than ever look for destination brands that they know will pull consumers into their stores,” Schmitt said. “We happen to be one of those companies that fit this description.”

The potential to cross-merchandise the line with similar cleaning products already in the company’s mix, such as refuse containers, buckets and laundry baskets, is appealing to retailers, said Pezzi.

“There’s a tremendous synergy with Rubbermaid and cleaning,” he said. “There are great opportunities with tie-in promotions. Retailers are looking at purchasing from companies that can supply their needs, and present themselves in a cohesive manner without fragmentation.”

A retailer, for example, may promote Rubbermaid buckets and mops on an end-cap display to drive sales.

“Retailers are excited about the possibility of integrating what we currently do with our cleaning products,” Kauffman said. “It will drive incremental volume for retailers.”

To draw consumers into the stores, Rubbermaid’s program will be backed by a national television, print and radio advertising campaign. The company will advertise the line by itself as well as integrate it with other home cleanup products.

Rubbermaid, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary, will spend more money on advertising this year than ever before. The Rubbermaid name will reach each adult 63 times in 1990, making 11 billion impressions in all.

While assessing the category, Rubbermaid found too many products can be a problem for retailers. “Right now an awful lot of retailers have way too many SKUs and as a result they simply can’t service them all,” said Pezzi.

To avoid this problem, the company conducted retail store audits, looking at every single product in the line. Based on this information it was able to develop a program that includes the key products in an average retail planogram.

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“We will be expanding our product selection to meet more and more needs, and we will be developing new types of products that will be unique to the marketplace,” said Birutis

Prices on products range from $1.29 for a sponge scrubber to $15.99 for a push broom. “We are extremely competitive with those people who deliver a quality product and are at the top of this market,” Schmitt said, adding that “price is not a major driver with a lot of consumers today; it’s quality that’s important.”

In designing the line, the team literally started from scratch. And as it does with all products, Birutis noted, Rubbermaid paid tremendous attention to details. “We looked at each element of a product and tried to give it advantages over what’s out there now,” he said.

Schmitt added, “We have a tremendous number of little advantages. If you add them all up you have a significant advantage, we think, competitively.”

For example, Rubbermaid talked to numerous chemical cleaning companies and found that certain colors connote different values to consumers. Pastel colors, for example, connote lighter cleaning. Primary colors, on the other hand, are associated with heavier cleaning. “Blue was the dominate theme in our studies,” Schmitt said. “It connotes crisp, strong cleaning to the consumer.”

The company also stressed ergonomics while developing the line. “Most people hate to clean. When designing these products we tried to do everything we could to make cleaning easier for consumers,” noted Birutis. “Quality is related to convenience,” he added.

To make cleaning easier for consumers, handles were contoured to fit comfortably in the hand without pinching. On scrub brushes, for example, the handles are open instead of closed to fit any size or shape hand. Pot scrubbers are angled to fit easily inside cookware. On wet mops, the yarn is sewn into the piece that connects it to the stick. This is to keep the yarn from falling out.

Brooms have been angled to fit into tight corners and bristles are soft in order to pick up dirt more easily. The brooms are also lightweight to make cleaning easier. The edges of dust pans are serrated so that consumers can clean the dust off the brush. The list goes on and on.

The same attention has been paid to packaging. Rubbermaid actually took consumers through a simulated store environment to determine how long they look at a planogram, what they look at and how much copy they read. “We found that consumers zero in on what the brand is and what the product is,” said Birutis. The company, therefore, made the red Rubbermaid logo and the product description, in white, much larger than usual.

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