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Newell Rubbermaid launches a tool brand

BY Lisa Girard

After three years of research and development, Newell Rubbermaid has launched a new brand of tools into the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration market.

The Hilmor line of professional-grade tools — designed to make the technician’s jobs easier and more efficient, the company said — was introduced to the trade at the International Air-Conditioning Heating and Refrigerating (AHR) Expo, held Jan. 28-30 in Dallas. This represented the first foray into HVAC/R for Newell Rubbermaid, a $6 billion company whose stable of brands also includes Irwin and Lenox tools. Hilmor will compete in the category against names like Ridgid, Fluke, Klein and Yellow Jacket.

The initial Hilmor line features 150 tools, including a thermometer with two digital readings to make the calculation of superheat and subcool easier; the industry’s first hybrid gauge offering both analog and digital displays; an aluminum manifold available in two-and four-valve combinations; and a compact bender designed to fit in the tight spaces HVAC/R technicians work in regularly. There are 10 patents pending on the line, which begins shipping in March and April — just as the air conditioning season ramps up.

"HVAC technicians are some of the most skilled tradesman and often work in the worst, most challenging situations," said Emily Bavaro, director of marketing for the Hilmor brand. "And despite all the changing regulations in the industry, the tools haven’t changed much at all."

In fact, Bavaro said that during the company’s extensive research period they discovered that some of the patents on existing HVAC/R tools date back to 1917, adding, "You would ask guys about their tools, and they’d show you tools passed down from their fathers and grandfathers. Many of them have arthritis in their thumbs, often making the outdated tools difficult to turn."

The launch of the Hilmor brand is part of Newell Rubbermaid’s Growth Game Plan, a strategy to accelerate the company’s growth into a larger, more global and more profitable company. According to Bavaro, Newel Rubbermaid has identified its tools business as a "strategic priority" for the company, which also owns brands in the commercial, writing, baby and parenting, home solutions and specialty categories.

"The buzz from the AHR Expo is that nobody has seen anything like this in HVAC for many years," she said. "It’s new, fresh and we feel it’s a game-changer in the industry."

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A brush with familiarity

BY Ken Clark

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.

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A ‘Modified’ route to decking

BY Ken Ryan

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.

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