The Whole Package

BY Lisa Girard

There’s an old saying: Don’t judge a book by its cover. But don’t tell that to today’s tool makers.

With the market becoming more competitive—just look at the increased presence of foreign products in the home channel—tool companies are trying to gain an advantage through better packaging. No longer is it enough to box up the product, put a picture of it on the front and stack it on the hardware store shelf. Today’s consumer wants to be able to see, feel and, if possible, try the product out before he reaches into his wallet.

“With hand tools in the last two years, you see a pretty dramatic shift to user-friendly packaging,” said Alex Ogle, divisional vp of merchandising for True Value. “You’ve seen the emergence of gel-grip handles, and the only way to feel that is out of the package, not behind a plastic clam shell.”

Ogle said this open packaging trend coincides with a new emphasis on multi-material handles, ergonomic design, and the advanced product design associated with products like ratcheting wrenches.

“A ratcheting wrench will be 10 to 15 percent higher in price than a standard tool, and as you move up in retails, you have to justify that to consumers,” he said.

Open packaging, where the tools are visible through a clear plastic covering, and half-packaging, which means half the tool (usually the grip) remains outside the package, are both popular options among manufacturers. An example would be Cooper Hand Tools’ new wrench with self-locking slide control: The consumer can test the mechanism while the wrench is still in the package.

“Today, if you can show the product, you have a chance of them spending more time with the product,” said Jason Morris, vp-marketing for Cooper Hand Tools, during last month’s National Hardware Show in Orlando, Fla.

Steve Maltese, vp-e-commerce for Great Neck Tools, agrees that half-packaging is a clear trend in the industry. Plus, it’s important that the tool display is in front of the counter and in full reach of customers, which he said could make a 40 percent difference in sales.

“We find that if the consumer gets a chance to touch the tools and feel the grip, we’ll sell the product better,” said Maltese, whose company offers half packaging on utility knives, screwdrivers, wrenches and other items. “They’re actually buying the grip, so once someone puts their hands on it, a much higher percentage are going to buy it.”

According to Brian Richardson, national sales manager of Campbell Hausfeld, as soon as the company put air tools out where people could touch them, sales increased 20 percent in the category. The company came out with power tools a year ago, and in this category the name of the game has been open packaging.

“You’ve got to be able to put your hand on the hand drill,” Richardson said. “If they can put their hands on it—feel it—you can start to get the average ticket up.”

Alltrade Tools has taken a none-to-subtle approach to this trend: The packaging on several of its tools reads, “Try Me.”

According to Monique Vernhes, director of sales and marketing for Alltrade, her company was a leader in interactive packaging back in 2004, and the trend has grown from there. “It’s really caught on for retailers and buyers,” she said. “The product needs to tell a story, and you can only get so much verbiage on the package.”

It’s all about catching the consumer’s eye, which has been Alltrade’s approach to marketing its licensed Kawasaki power tool line. In addition to the widely recognized brand name, the line’s bright green color also commands attention. “The packaging spells out the warranties and specs, so between the color, features and price points, it’s been a home run,” Vernhes said.

Also in the area of packaging, in the shadow of declining housing starts, many industry players have switched their focus toward home remodels, offering a vast array of project-oriented products and kits. Allied International, for example, offers tool sets geared toward college students, kitchen projects and serious DIYers/light professionals. The company has also included some power tools in its hand tool sets to give the customer more bang for the buck.

“It adds more value and excitement, which generates more sales,” said Brian Budrow, vp-marketing for Allied. “A lot of the sell in the DIY category is presentation, so merchandising is very important.”

Hyde Tools, a leader in the paint tool category, is reaching out to the retailer, shopper and end user by putting together complete packages for home projects, including drywall repair, wallpaper repair and tub and tile kits.

“Remodeling is going to remain big for the next five years, and the industry has to understand this,” said Karen Wilson, corporate marketing officer at Hyde Tools. “Every serious remodeler needs groups of products. We looked at the typical, most frequent repairs in the home and developed these kits to help the retailer and the shopper achieve what they need.”


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How much credit should be given to the co-op business model for the success of the independent hardware and building supply dealer over the last half century?