Black & Decker retooling its consumer line for the do-it-yourself market

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Aiming to repeat the coup it scored with its DeWalt line of professional tools, Black & Decker this week will unveil a huge campaign for a new line of consumer tools that it hopes will power a new surge of growth in its do-it-yourself market.

Code-named Genesis, the campaign includes the introduction of power tools beginning next month, the expansion of an interchangeable battery system for cordless products, a $16 million, 10-week ad campaign and promotion of an 800 advice line.

"The power tool market is ripe to be transformed and that's what we're going to be doing," said Chris A. De Bleser, vice president of marketing for consumer products. "We feel that with the products, the programs and the advertising, we'll take the business to a whole new level," he said.

Black & Decker plans to add 20 to 25 new variations of consumer tools during each of the next three years, Mr. De Bleser said. "That's more tools in the next three years than we've done in the last 10 years," he said.

The new campaign comes three years after Black & Decker ushered in its DeWalt professional tools, eclipsing its Japanese rival and helping fuel a turnaround after years of stagnant earnings.

In that campaign, the Towson-based manufacturer ditched thname Black & Decker -- associated with less expensive power tools -- and adopted the moniker of DeWalt for the line of high performance power tools.

It even changed the color from black to bright yellow.

Roaring past the market leader -- Makita -- DeWalt now has $310 million in sales, dominating the $730 million professional market.

was a smashing success," said Michael L. Mead, an analyst for Legg Mason Inc., a Baltimore brokerage firm. "This product came out of nowhere to take the No. 1 position in tradesman power tools from Makita."

The launch of the new effort comes as the Fortune 500 company, with annual revenues of $5.2 billion, is riding the crest of record profits and a resurgence in its stock price.

DeWalt has been a key ingredient in this revival.

But with the economy slowing and the new housing market soft, one analyst said it is an opportune time for the company to start promoting its lower-cost line.

"When things are slowing down, you have to offer popularly priced products," said R. Bentley Offutt, president of Offutt Securities Inc., a Hunt Valley-based institutional research and brokerage firm.

"They're obviously doing it for that reason," he said.

DIY 'very emotional'

This time Black & Decker is keeping its name. And already it is the leader in the $580 million do-it-yourself (DIY) market, with its share exceeding the 42 percent hold that DeWalt has on trade tools.

But the company expects another growth spurt, fueled by the fact that more than 60 percent of American homes are more than 20 years old and that more is now being spent on home improvement than on new home construction, Mr. De Bleser said.

In addition, Mr. De Bleser said cordless tool sales are expected to increase from 30 percent of the DIY market to 50 percent in the next three years.

The new campaign is the culmination of more than two years of research into why people buy power tools, and how those motivations can influence design.

Instead of being neatly divided between people who just want tget a job done and professionals, Black & Decker found it needed to make its tools appeal to a range of buyers, from the novice to the serious user who wants serious tools.

"DIY is very emotional," Mr. De Bleser said.

To appeal to these "investigators" and "enthusiasts," as Mr. De Bleser calls them, the new tools have been restyled with soft triggers, textured handles and a new jade-green color. They are also heavier, giving them a more solid feel. Four of the new tools will be high performance cordless models.

Black & Decker is replacing its small Quantum line with Quantum Pro, aimed at the high end of the do-it-yourself market.

Quantum Pro will be sold only through mass retailers like Wal-Mart and Kmart to avoid siphoning off sales of DeWalt tools, which are sold only by hardware stores and home centers.

Savings on batteries

And 15 of the tools will use the VersaPak system of interchangeable, rechargeable batteries. Introduced last Christmas with a flashlight, drill and screwdriver, the system includes a recharger and a set of 3.6-volt cylindrical batteries that slip into the bottom of various tools.

Now most cordless tools have built-in rechargeable batteries or detachable batteries that fit only that tool. With VersaPak, one set of batteries will operate a variety of equipment and cut the price of the tools themselves.

"You will be adding to your tool collection and not your battery collection," Mr. De Bleser said.

Black & Decker also will be introducing a SnakeLight and a Dustbuster that can operate on the VersaPak batteries, and the company is considering expanding their use to products like mixers and curling irons.

There are also discussions with other companies about expanding the system beyond just Black & Decker products, Mr. De Bleser said.

help customers use the new tools, the company also plans to promote its 800 help line, which advises callers not only on using the tools but how to actually do a job.

In existence for a year, the line has already gotten 400,000 calls, and that was with the number buried in the information manual, )) Mr. De Bleser said.

Guitars and Ed Asner

To sell these revamped tools, the company will be airing a series of new television ads by Fallon McElligott Inc., a Minneapolis agency known for its unconventional advertising approach.

The ads will be seen nationwide starting Oct. 16 and running through Christmas.

With a guitar strumming in the background, the melodious voice of Ed Asner evokes the joys of restoring an old table, building a book shelf for a child or the virtue of getting a job done, as the camera shows a particular tool in action. The name of the tool is mentioned at the end -- right before the commercials' tag line -- "Black & Decker. It's how things get done."

"They presumably have established that there is a segment of baby boomers who vibrate to this type of thing," said Dr. Gabriel J. Biehal, an associate professor of marketing at the college of business management at the University of Maryland.

"That type of advertising tends to be quite a lot more effective than saying our drill does this, this, this, go buy one." he said.

Advertising is just the first step, Dr. Biehal said. The consumer must like what he sees once he gets to the hardware store, and Black & Decker hopes its redesigned tools will make the grade.

Given the concentration on the DeWalt line in recent years, Black & Decker's consumer tools had been relegated to the background.

"Given the tremendous, if not overwhelming, success of the effort behind DeWalt, like any other corporation, you can't do everything you would like at once," said David S. Leibowitz, managing director of Burnham Securities Inc., a New York brokerage.

And even though the company has the top position in the market, there is still a sizable chunk held by such competitors as Skil and Ren.

The company also will be competing against equipment already in the home, as it pushes consumers to switch from corded to cordless products, Mr. Leibowitz said.

And while VersaPak makes the cordless tools more attractive, consumers will primarily be looking to see if the cordless equipment performs as well as corded tools, he said.

"If that can be accomplished, the battle will more than halfway won," Mr. Leibowitz said.

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