A brush with familiarity
There’s a battle raging behind the scenes of the paint aisles of the world’s largest home improvement retailer. It’s here where Wooster brushes and Purdy brushes are competing for the customer’s eye.
It’s also here where a lawsuit rages of unfair business practices and trade dress infringement. In "Sherwin-Williams Co. vs. The Wooster Brush Co.," Sherwin-Williams claims that its Purdy packaging is being knocked off by Wooster.
Filed in Federal Court in the Northern District of Ohio, the complaint ticks off the areas where Purdy feels its trade dress was infringed: a distinctive shade of golden yellow background; a small partial image of the American flag; and a thick, horizontal, color-coded band across the sleeve covering the bristles.
The complaint alleges: "Upon information and belief, in 2012 Wooster changed the packaging trade dress used for its Wooster Pro brushes sold at Home Depot to closely imitate Sherwin-Williams’ Brush Keeper Trade Dress and Color-Code Trade Dress."
"We believe the Sherwin-Williams suit is wholly without merit, and we will vigorously defend our position," said Scott Rutledge, Wooster’s VP marketing.
The complaint includes images of Purdy brushes and Wooster brushes side by side on Home Depot’s website, as well as images of both brush brands hanging and intermingling on the shelves of Home Depot stores.
The complaint throws in the relatively minor observation that both brands use a copper-colored ferrule. More significant is the accusation of slogan stealing. "If it’s worth painting, it’s worth a Purdy," was the slogan from 1998 to 2006, according to Sherwin-Williams. The complaint said Wooster uses: "If it’s worth painting, it’s worth Wooster."
Sherwin-Williams is looking for triple damages, and for all lost profits from the alleged acts of unfair competition.
Home Depot declined to comment on the case.
At New York City-based law firm Lackenbach Siegel, which specializes in intellectual property cases, Howard N. Aronson said trade dress issues are increasingly common in the hard goods space.
Without offering an opinion, he said one consideration in the case will be the connection between the design and the brand.
"Sherwin-Williams pled a good case," he said. "But it will have to prove to the court that its trade dress through years of use has some amount of customer recognition, and that the dress is recognized as a source of origin."
Ultimately, it will be up to the judge.
A ‘Modified’ route to decking
There is no shortage of deck materials that promise a combination of "real-wood beauty" and "durability." One of the latest entrants offers a twist on the story — it really is wood, but "it’s something better," said Jim Flickinger, marketing development manager for Perennial Wood. "It’s modified wood."
Other than being perhaps a cool marketing ploy, Perennial Wood’s "modified" wood — which debuted in 2012 as a decking product — relies on parent company Eastman Chemical’s proprietary TruLast Technology to create a product that "resists the effects of nature," according to the company.
How is it different?
Eastman Chemical said the modified, or acetylated wood, is three times more resistant to shrinking and swelling caused by moisture, which leads to less bowing, twisting and rotting. "The key difference is the stability of the board, which is the hardest thing to achieve," Flickinger said. "This will impress contractors — the fact that there is no warping."
Eastman’s process, it claims, permanently transforms the wood’s cellular structure throughout using heat, pressure and an organic compound to replace "water-loving (hydrophilic) groups in the wood’s cells with water-hating (hydrophobic) groups."
The result is real wood made to endure, the company said. Perennial Wood is available to other manufacturers for use in products, such as outdoor furniture, windows and doors. The company also introduced an exterior porch flooring in June 2012.
Year one, according to Flickinger, was about educating the market, initially consumers and then contractors.
Perennial Wood’s distribution plan (59 Lowe’s stores in the Northeast) will remain for the first two years as it assesses market acceptance and the potential for expansion. Snavely distributes Perennial Wood porch flooring to trade professionals and homeowners in the South Atlantic states through select professional lumberyards and building materials dealers.
The company is testing modified wood siding and trim products for 2013, with the possibility of a 2014 launch. The challenge for the company is to distinguish itself among both wood and composite competition. "We’re driving home the technology message," Flickinger said.
Costello’s offers advice with a familiar face
The image of "Vinnie" peers at customers from atop a video monitor at Costello’s Ace Hardware on Long Island, its nose and fingers hanging over the screen.
"Vinnie" is named after Costello’s Ace Hardware founder Vincent Costello, known to longtime customers as Vinnie.
"Mr. Costello spent many years helping customers solve their home improvement problems," said David Faulhaber, marketing coordinator, Costello’s Ace, Deer Park, N.Y. "He was so well respected and trusted by the customers that they never questioned his suggestions — they knew that Vinnie would always suggest the right products and give the right advice to get the project completed."
"Vinnie Suggests" is Costello Ace’s way of putting "quality, seasonally relevant, problem-solving products in front of consumers at a great price," said Faulhaber, noting that the loop video adds value by showing features, benefits and uses of the product.
The video is positioned low enough so customers can easily view the movie, but high enough so that it is out of harm’s way. Support brackets hold the television in place and snap into the side of the endcaps so that the weight is evenly distributed and the item is secured.
A cardboard cutout of one of the Clark + Kensington "Soul People," a campaign Ace corporate ran last year that it is bringing back, is positioned in front of the monitor. "This particular endcap was a combination of products referencing some ‘How-to Paint Your Home’ FAQ," Faulhaber said.
Costello’s Ace invested in the equipment and signage; its vendors provided the video, which is generally downloaded to the in-store television’s USB drive. "Each month, our stores go online to download the content and reset the endcaps," Faulhaber said. "The videos are on a continuous loop, so there isn’t much maintenance besides turning the television on each day and keeping the endcaps filled."
"Vinnie Suggests" appears in 15 of Costello’s 19 locations; each month a new product appears. "In spring, we’ll educate our customers with videos regarding lawn fertilization and grass seeds. Come fall, we will switch gears to choosing the right thermostat or how to repel rodents from your home," Faulhaber said. "We like to feature products that our customers may need some more clarification on."
The "Vinnie Suggests" endcap has been a boon for business. "Slotting space and endcap space is always a highly sought after position within our stores, mainly because of the foot traffic that walks past them," Faulhaber said. "Adding an attention-grabbing video into that equation has sparked new interest of our customers, as well as generated a lot of inquiries from the vendor community to be a part of the program. It’s a great way to highlight new items, educate on usage of existing ones and call attention to value."