Rubbermaid Company History
From a Small Ohio Town to a Consumer and Commercial Giant
The Rubbermaid name has been around since the 1930s, but the roots of the popular housewares manufacturer can be traced back even further. That tale goes back to Wooster Rubber Company in Ohio and leads to today's organization that is part of the Newell corporation.
Table of Contents
- Rubbermaid Early History
- The War Effort and the Victory Years
- The Roaring ‘50s and ‘60s
- Rubbermaid Calling
- The ‘80s and ‘90s: Trials and Triumphs
- Changes in the Company in the 1990s
- The Newell Acquisition
- The Wooster Factory Goes Dark
- Major Acquisitions, Alliances, and Mergers
- The Company of Today
Rubbermaid Early History
Nine men pooled their resources in tiny Wooster, Ohio, in 1920 to plant the company's roots in the form of a factory producing toy balloons. The (Wooster) Daily Record documented the official incorporation of the company on a Saturday. The group – including two men, T.E. Rice and A.L. Ebert, who merited named mentions in the brief article – intended to call the enterprise The Good Rubber Company. Unfortunately, "... this name conflicted with another concern elsewhere in Ohio," The Daily Record reported. On the spot in the state capital of Columbus, the men opted for The Wooster Rubber Company.
Wooster Rubber plugged along quietly for its first few years, producing those balloons under the brand name Sunshine Balloons in a small factory and office building the company built. Horatio Ebert and Errett Grable took over the operation in 1927 from the group of nine. The two men were reportedly looking to try their hands at something new. As for what they were doing before they got into the rubber business, that's a bit unclear. Various sources indicate they worked as executives of the Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), or the WearEver cookware division of ALCOA.
Whatever the case, they found success in Wooster, with the company generating at least modest profits through the 1920s. Like much of the world, though, Wooster Rubber would take a huge hit as a result of the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression. With millions of Americans forced to choose which necessity was most important to them, there was little money left over for frivolous things like balloons. The company faltered and the owners knew it likely wouldn't last much longer if the country's economic struggles didn't end soon.
It was during this period that the company took the turn that would produce the Rubbermaid we know today. On a trip to New England, Ebert found a red rubber dustpan in a department store. The product was one of the first rubber pieces on the market that wasn’t the boring white that is the natural color of rubber. The earliest variation was black, made by the Goodrich Tire Company with a carbon black chemical produced by Binney & Smith, the company that would eventually produce Crayola Crayons. They found the mixture produced an especially durable and long-lasting tire, so Binney & Smith began working on dyes in other colors.
Meanwhile, in New Haven, Conn., Seamless Rubber Company employee James Caldwell was daydreaming with his wife Madeline about improving some of the day-to-day tasks of keeping the house clean. Inspired by the new colors in rubber, they conceived 29 products that could do just that in bright hues. Their first product was a red rubber dustpan, and its first salesman was Caldwell. Though the first rubber version cost $1, considerably more than the metal versions of the time, Caldwell told The New York Times in a 1973 interview that he, "... rang ten doorbells and sold nine dustpans," with a sales pitch that his dustpan was far superior to the metal ones because it would not bend and warp. That meant it would always make full contact with the floor, eliminating the issue of dirt sliding under dents in the edges of metal pans and frustrating homemakers.
Caldwell dubbed the business Rubbermaid, to reflect the material the products were made of and the jobs they were meant to do – those of a maid. Their operation merged with that of Wooster Rubber in 1934, with Caldwell becoming the leader of the new company and Rubbermaid becoming its primary line with the retirement of Sunshine Balloons.
Over the next six years, sales would grow from $80,000 to more than $450,000 as the company further developed all but two of the products the Caldwells dreamed up around the dinner table more than a decade prior. That included soap dishes, rubber gloves, rubber-coated dish racks, and dish pans.
Resources on the Founding
- Company history blog article
- Company history from Reference for Business
- Etsy listing for early red dustpan
- Wikipedia entry about Wooster, Ohio
- Invention of rubber dyes
- Wikipedia article about WearEver Cookware
The War Effort and the Victory Years
With the onset of World War II, the company found itself struggling again. Though there was still demand for its products, procuring the raw materials to produce them became impossible in May 1942 as the government demanded the end of production of rubber items for domestic uses. The public was urged to turn in its private rubber items, from garden hoses to kitchen gloves, for items to be used by the troops, including gas masks and life rafts. Wooster Rubber shut down its housewares production lines, which meant a roughly three-year pause of the Rubbermaid brand.
Caldwell secured a contract to produce items for the war effort, a move that meant the now-quiet lines were revamped and the factory would become busier than it had ever been. Wooster specialized in parts for warplanes, the construction of which took hundreds and even thousands of pounds of rubber. Its focus was initially a self-sealing top for fuel tanks for those planes, though it also eventually produced life jackets and tourniquets. A pre-war payroll of a few dozen ballooned to more than 500 in two years and the income of that bustling period would carry the company far into the middle of the century.
With the end of the conflict, Wooster moved back into the production of consumer goods, though now without the coloring agents that were still in short supply thanks to the needs of war. Their rubber made it into cars across the country in the form of floormats and cup holders, though sales of those items were quickly eclipsed when the company was able to start producing its rubber housewares in color again.
For the housewife of the post-war era, Rubbermaid became a hot commodity. Advertisements the company took out in magazines aimed at women proclaimed the suburban home that was becoming so popular could be cleaned in half the time with their products. They also sought to make the products a part of fashion, showing their colorful products in the hands of smiling women in nice clothes and beautiful houses. Those efforts apparently worked, with the company's profits doubling to more than $5 million in the latter half of the 1940s.
Resources on the War Effort
- Wooster Digital History Project section on the war years
- Wikipedia entry on the company
- Encyclopedia.com entry on the company
- U.S. Navy article on the E Award
The Roaring ‘50s and ‘60s
If the after-war years put the company on a skyward trajectory, the decades that would follow gave it rocket boosters. Some of the biggest changes in the identity of Wooster Rubber and its well-known brand came during this time, as new facilities, new materials, a stock offering, and even a new name forever altered its direction.
To begin with, it took its first international step when it purchased a factory about an hour northwest of Niagara Falls in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. It maintains a presence there today.
That facility would introduce one of the innovations of the decade: vinyl-coated wire products. This gave the company the ability to produce everything from wire dish racks to corrosion-resistant kitchen shelving. The factory was continually upgraded, until it was producing a full line of products for both the American and Canadian markets by the middle of the decade. Despite the long-ago start in international marketing, the company struggled to grow that side of its business, with it providing only about 11 percent of its profits through the 1990s.
About a decade after it introduced an employee profit-sharing incentive, the company made its first official move at going public. Wooster Rubber stock was offered on the over-the-counter market, meaning it wasn't listed on any public exchange. That option is usually taken by smaller companies that can’t meet the benchmarks required for listing and many investment advisors recommend making heavy investments in these. However, those who picked up a piece of Wooster Rubber back in those days could have made a tidy profit in just a few decades, as the company not only earned listing on the New York Stock Exchange by 1959, but continued remarkable profit growth.
Money raised through that initial stock offering enabled Caldwell to explore possibilities in a material that had recently become quite popular in the American home: plastic. While synthetic plastics had been around since the 1800s, they had only recently been accepted as durable and relatively cheap materials for consumer goods.
The manufacture of plastic items is quite different from the processes involved in forming rubber products, so expanding into this area meant new equipment purchases, retooling of lines, and, eventually, a large expansion of the company's facilities as the new products proved wildly popular. Caldwell spent the first infusion of stock cash on machines that could produce the first plastic item, a dishpan of a type that still remains a popular item. Sold on the pitch that it would expand the versatility of sinks for everything from washing dishes to soaking laundry, the item proved to Caldwell there was a future in plastic housewares.
The move also enabled the business, which officially replaced the Wooster Rubber Company name with Rubbermaid in 1957, to expand into commercial products. That started with an innovation in the hospitality industry crafted by the company, which was the first to introduce a rubber bathmat with small suction cups on the bottom of it to hold it in place. This safety innovation is commonplace now and seems like a fairly simple innovation, but there is a good reason it hadn't been done before. Creating the piece required hours of research and development, which led to the realization that it would take a three-layer mold.
The success of that product led to continued growth into the commercial area with everything from housekeeping carts to ingredient bins. The commercial division established a headquarters in Winchester, Va., in 1967 and has since become a major part of the business. Meanwhile, the portion of the company dedicated to the development and production of items for use in foodservice and healthcare established a home office in Huntersville, N.C.
The company furthered its international efforts in 1965, when the purchase of West Germany manufacturer Dupol provided its first expansion outside North America. The move came at a time when the original Wooster plant on Bowman Street had been expanded as much as it could be. By the early 1960s, the firm had more than 1,000 employees in Wooster alone and needed more room. That led to a 1960 groundbreaking on a massive new facility on Akron Road in Wooster. According to the College of Wooster’s digital history project, CEO Donald Noble made it clear then that the company was committed to the town that held its roots.
"This groundbreaking ceremony is symbolic of our faith in Wooster and the people of this community, and of our desire to continue to be a part of Wooster," the online archive quotes Noble as saying.
Resources on the 1950s and 1960s
- Ohio History Central piece on Wooster
- Investopedia definition of "over-the-counter stock"
- Commercial history from company's European website
- Commercial operation locations
- Patent using Dupol and the company’s name
Two of the company's biggest competitors in housewares and kitchen items for the consumer had one thing in common by the end of the 1960s: the house party. Both Amway and Tupperware built booming businesses around the idea of turning average people into their sales networks, while saving money on professional staff. The incredible growth and profits the two companies were achieving made the model hard to ignore, particularly for their competitors.
The older firm first stuck its foot into the door of home sales in 1969 with the founding of Rubbermaid Party Plan Inc., which not only became a separate division of the company, but also established its own production facility in Chillicothe. There, workers made the items that filled the pages of the expansive catalog offered by local demonstrators, who were supervised by district managers. A classified ad placed in the Dec. 4, 1975, issue of the St. Marys (W.Va.) Oracle-Pleasants County Leader by one of those managers offers demonstrators, "No collecting! No packing! No Delivery! Top commissions!"
The catalog offered items like food storage items, avocado-green tumblers, plates, a unique lazy susan canister set, and a host of other kitchen products. None of them were available through normal retail streams and nearly all of them were made of the plastic that the company was building much of its success with. As with Tupperware and Amway, demonstrators would invite friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else they could convince to show up to house parties.
An advertisement placed in the March 31, 1974, issue of The Kansas City Star declares the operation "the fastest growing party plan in the country and [it] actually doubled in size last year." It quotes General Manager Richard D. Haggart as saying he intends to continue that trend for the current year. His hope was buoyed by new distribution centers in Los Angeles and Chicago, in addition to the one at the plant in Chillicothe.
Within five years of its introduction, the party plan operation was bringing in about 10 percent of the company's overall income. Despite that seemingly promising number, the operation wasn't profitable for most of its existence. It took nearly seven years to get into the black, but it quickly turned back to the red after that. That fact kept the division on the chopping block for most of its life, and the axe finally fell in January 1981.
A death notice for it in The New York Times indicates about 350 employees were let go in connection with the end of the party plan unit, which closed at the same time the automotive accessories business was ended.
"The company said that sales of the two operations totaled about $26 million last year, but noted that both operated at a loss," the Times piece notes.
Resources on the Party Plan
- Flickr user image of party plan catalog
- West Virginia newspaper ad for demonstrators
- Pinterest user image of cutting board
- Etsy user image of plastic ladle
- Trademark filing for logo
- New York Times article on closing of division
- Plastics News obituary for former employee
- eBay party plan products for auction
- Kansas City Star advertisement for representatives
The '80s and '90s: Trials and Triumphs
The company began direct distribution to supermarkets in the 1970s, but insisted those businesses adhere to minimum pricing standards. That practice led to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission that alleged the set-up – in which one company was manufacturer, distributor, and was mandating prices from wholesalers – violated antitrust laws. A cease-and-desist order that came out of that legal process didn't stop the company from providing products straight to customers, but did end minimum pricing requirements.
Despite that setback, a strike in the mid-1980s in Wooster, and raw materials prices increases that started in the late 1960s and would continue into the 1990s, the company continued to grow. A new plant was opened in LaGrange, Ga., in the late 1970s to produce things like plastic hangers for automotive mats.
Moving into the 1980s, Donald Noble, who had taken over as president after Caldwell's retirement in the late 1950s, decided to retire himself. His replacement was Stanley Gault, a former executive for General Electric and the son of one of the original nine investors in Wooster Rubber. He made a commitment to continue the growth of both the product offerings and the profits, one he would keep as he led the company to become a Fortune 500 business.
Within his first three years at the helm, Gault announced a restructuring that would eliminate four divisions of the company, including the party plan and automotive operations. He also cut some European production and heavy duty garbage cart manufacturing.
Further moves to combine remaining operations left the company with essentially the same structure it has now, with a division for home goods and another for commercial products. While the homewares operation was busy marketing new items like brightly-colored food storage containers, the commercial side moved into developing industrial and agricultural items like panel carts and stock tanks. Meanwhile, it kept up production of its items for foodservice and healthcare operations.
Much of the expansion during this time came through acquisitions, which started with the 1981 purchase of Carlan, which had just months before purchase the Con-Tact brand. With that, the name was now on plastic coverings used for everything from lining shelves to papering walls to "even [making] a piece of art," an ad introduced in the 1980s proclaimed. The purchase also led to the creation of Rubbermaid Specialty Products Inc. in Statesville, N.C., in 1983.
This period brought a number of expansions into new product areas. The 1984, 1992, and 1994 purchases of the Little Tikes Company, Iron Mountain Forge Corporation, and Ausplay, respectively, introduced it to the play structures field. The acquisition of the Gott Corporation in 1985 brought the name to insulated coolers and beverage holders, while two others in 1986 got it on computer accessories (MicroComputer Accessories) and floor care products like mops and brooms (Seco Industries). Another buy, this one of Eldon Industries in 1990, furthered its reach into computer accessories.
Further expansion in the period were made with joint ventures, first with French manufacturer Allibert in 1989 to produce plastic outdoor furniture and then with Curver Group to sell housewares and furniture. The latter deal meant the products were now found in countries in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The acquisition efforts, which Gault explained were made based on the best interests of the company, helped top the president's goal of quadrupling sales in the 1980s. That mark went from $350 million to more than $1.45 billion, a growth that notched the company a place on the Fortune 500 list of the nation's highest-grossing closely-held and public corporations for the first time in 1983.
During the 1990s, the company continued its shopping spree, with purchases of all or a majority of nine companies, including Graco Children's Products and Carex Inc., maker of home healthcare products. Such phenomenal growth into new areas led the company to establish three new divisions, which brought the total number of those to five, though that wouldn't be the case for long.
Resources on the End of the 20th Century
- Funding Universe history of Carlan Inc.
- Wikipedia entry on the Fortune 500 list
- Superior Customer Value in the New Economy: Concepts and Cases, Second Edition by Art Weinstein
- Patent for automotive mat hanger to be made at LaGrange factory
Changes in the Company in the 1990s
All the buying led to income increases and to the introduction of about 400 products every year during this period, but it also created a fractured and spread-out company. On top of that, the continued rise in raw materials prices, fueled in part by continuing instability in the oil market and the skyrocketing costs of resin, produced some real challenges.
Meanwhile, the company's leadership was unstable. Gault hired the man he hoped would be his successor, Robert E. Fowler Jr., in 1981. A GE alum like Gault, Fowler was reportedly told by the board of directors in 1987 that he would not be allowed to step in as CEO when Gault left. When Gault did retire in 1991, a year later than he intended to, he handed the reins over to Walter W. Williams. Williams would hold the job for only 18 months, retiring at the end of 1992. Gault, now CEO of tire manufacturer Goodyear and still the chairman of the company's executive committee, was brought back temporarily. Finally, a permanent replacement was found in 1993 with Wolfgang R. Schmitt, who had been at the company for just under three decades.
The ongoing issues forced the company to establish a restructuring plan in the mid-1990s, the first major reorganization in its history. Executives hoped the changes would not only help bring more cohesiveness to the company and allow it to deal with raw material cost increases, they also aimed to stay ahead of a growing list of competitors.
The process they set out would take two years to implement and commenced in 1995, the same year the operation's factories achieved ISO 9001 certification. Nine of those plants would be closed by the end of the year, in conjunction with the elimination of 1,170 jobs. With those cuts, moves were made to bring the number of divisions down again, with two merged to leave four total.
The company took a charge of $158 million to pay for the changes, but would soon make up for that lost funding. Savings of $335 million, the result of a project to streamline production, were realized in 1996. Further, the company sold its office products division to Newell Inc. in May 1997 for $246.5 million. Finally, it eliminated 45 percent of its SKUs, which combined provided only 10 percent of overall revenue.
Prices also increased in the mid-1990s, a fact that led to a major dispute with Wal-Mart, which had already come to dominate the American retail landscape. The rise of the box store would take the company from selling to thousands of retailers individually to getting two-thirds of its volume from a handful of them, Schmitt would later recall on a 2004 episode of the PBS newsmagazine Frontline.
The biggest of those was Wal-Mart (now stylized as Walmart), which had a reputation for playing tough with manufacturers, something they argued was in the best interests of the customer. When Rubbermaid announced it would be raising prices, Wal-Mart refused. The row that ensued resulted in the retailer dropping several products, a hit that left the company reeling. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart filled the now-empty shelf space with lower-priced items from competitors, which thereby gave those brands more revenue and more name recognition.
"Rubbermaid represented an innovation-oriented high road towards U.S. competitiveness," Duke University Professor Gary Gereffi says in the transcript of the Frontline episode. "I think Wal-Mart represents a cost-driven, low-price low road towards U.S. competitiveness. And in a sense, they're two dramatically different styles in which the U.S. economy can be organized. I think the Wal-Mart model is winning out."
Despite being named America's most admired company by Fortune magazine in 1993, the struggles it faced meant it would not survive as an independent entity for much longer. Credit-rating agency Moody's placed its debt under review for a possible downgrade. That came as talk of a merger with Freeport, Ill.,-based Newell were revealed.
Resources on the Company's Struggles
- Company named America’s most admired by Fortune magazine
- New York Times report on leadership changes
- Transcript of PBS Frontline, 2004
- "Wal-Mart's Influence Grows," USA Today, Jan. 29, 2003
- Update from Moody's in regards to restructuring
The Newell Acquisition
The company’s purchase by Newell was finalized in 1999, and the two paired to create a company that bears both their names. The purchase totaled $5.8 billion and garnered one of the most well-known brands in housewares in the world. Still, the merger was not a smooth one and some questioned the wisdom of it, with an Oct. 19, 2003, piece in Bloomberg Businessweek averring, "No one doubts that Newell wildly overpaid," and goes on to call the deal a "merger from hell."
While the language is strong, it seemed fair at the time. Shortly after the deal went through, a Nov. 21, 2001, rating action from Moody's downgraded both the long-term and short-term debt of the venture, while also giving it a negative outlook. Stock prices had fallen by nearly 50 percent and the remnants of Wooster Rubber were generating only about 35 percent of sales.
At the same time, that division was taking a large amount of investment from the group, something it set out to reverse in the coming years. Some production was moved to Mexico to save on costs and the operation combined in a single headquarters in the Glenlake Towers in Atlanta's Perimeter Center edge city in 2008. Nearly 70 production or office facilities were also closed during the period in further cost-cutting measures.
The company embarked on further cost-cutting restructuring in 2011, combining its three operating groups into two – one for commercial products and the other for consumer goods. Another consolidation of plants and distribution centers led to 500 layoffs.
Along the way, development of Newell's prior holdings, including Sharpie writing utensils and Calphalon, and new acquisitions helped grow the bottom line. In 2000, the group bought the stationery products business of Gillette, which brought well-known brand names like Paper Mate, Parker, Waterman, and Liquid Paper into the fold. That was followed by the purchases of American Tool Companies (2002), American Saw and Manufacturing Company (2003), DYMO (2005), CardScan (2006), Endicia (2007), Aprica Kassai of Japan (2008), and Contigo, Avex, and bubba brands in 2014. Additionally, the interactive whiteboard division of Mimio was acquired in 2006.
While the expansions have continued to provide incremental growth, the stock price remained stagnant at a level half what Newell stock was valued at before the deal. To address that, current President and CEO Michael B. Polk announced the "Growth Game Plan" in 2011, a long-term proposal to grow profitability.
Resources on the Newell Acquisition
- BloombergBusinessweek article on integrating the two companies
- Kansas state government article including history of Gott Corporation
- Forbes profile of the company
- Moody's credit rating history
- Moody's Aug. 4, 2003, rating action
- Reuters report in The New York Times on 2011 consolidation
The Wooster Factory Goes Dark
The efforts of the early 1990s to turn the company around led to the closure of the remaining facilities in Wooster, a sad fact for local residents and a major loss of revenue for the town.
The first cuts came just months after the merger was made official, with 520 employees cut in May 1999. Company officials cited new automation as the motivation for the decision, while acknowledging cuts were typical after a buy-out. However, then-Vice President of Human Resources Joe Marotti said no further cuts were expected immediately.
When further payroll cuts were announced in May 2001, Marotti assured they wouldn't take a big bite in Wooster. By August 2003, the tune seemed to be changing as CEO Joe Galli told The Daily Record of Wooster he is "disappointed" in the division’s results as the company as a whole announced decreased profits.
What seems to have been the final nail in the coffin for the Wooster plant came on Nov. 10, 2003. That’s the day a line of incredibly intense thunderstorms rolled across Indiana and Ohio, spawning four tornadoes and doing $20 million in damage to the factory. Executives would cite the potential costs for repairing those issues as part of the reasoning as they announced the closure of the facility just a few weeks later.
In January, the blow-mold department was closed, leaving 85 people out of work. The initial round of structured layoffs, implemented between March 13 and April 24, 2003, crossed 388 employees off the payroll. More than 700 jobs were lost on the manufacturing lines and in the warehouse with the closure the following March. Some manufacturing continued into May 28, with 144 more people losing their jobs then and another 53 cut in mid-June. The company decided just before the shutters were pulled in to keep operating the distribution center there, which meant 126 people were able to keep their jobs. All-told, Wooster lost about 1,200 jobs in just a few months.
The company announced in late 2011 that it would also close the distribution center, ending nearly 100 years of manufacturing in Wooster. Though the company that built it no longer operates there, the Wooster facility is still putting out rubber products thanks to Wayne County Rubber, which took over the factory in recent years.
Resources on Closure of Wooster Operation
Coverage of Closure from The (Wooster) Daily Record
- "SEC Approves Rubbermaid, Newell Merger" Feb. 5, 1999
- "Efficiency Plans Cause Downsizing, Rubbermaid Says" May 18, 1999
- "Rubbermaid No Longer Stands Alone" March 12, 1999
- "Newell Rubbermaid Stock Takes Plunge" Sept. 5, 1999
- "Revolving Door Spins Again at Rubbermaid" Aug. 2, 2000
- "Newell Rubbermaid Cuts to be Easy on Wooster" May 13, 2001
- "Newell Earnings Down: CEO 'Disappointed' in Wooster Group" Aug. 1, 2003
- "Newell Cuts 85; Blow Mold Department Eliminated" Nov. 20, 2003
- "Rubbermaid Leaving Town" Dec. 10, 2003
- "Negative Signs for City and County" Dec. 10, 2003
- "Company Retirees Sharing in the Loss" Dec. 11, 2003
- "Council to Adopt Budget 'As Is'" Dec. 13, 2003
- "The Silver Lining is Out There" Dec. 26, 2003
- "In March, 388 at Newell Out of Jobs" Jan. 15, 2004
- "Newell Rubbermaid Posts Fourth-Quarter Loss of $211.6 Million" Jan. 30, 2004
- "Life After Rubbermaid" March 28, 2004
- "150 Rubbermaid Jobs Stay; Distribution Center Remaining" April 14, 2004
- "Rubbermaid Manufacturing Ends Today" May 28, 2004
- "Rubbermaid Auctions off Equipment no Longer Needed in Wooster" June 17, 2004
- "Newell Sells Wooster Building" Dec. 29, 2004
- "Final Nail in Coffin of What Once was Rubbermaid" Dec. 2, 2011
Major Acquisitions, Alliances, and Mergers
- 1920: Wooster Rubber Company founded
- 1933: Rubbermaid founded
- 1934: The two companies merge
- 1965: Acquires West German plastic manufacturer Dupol
- 1980: Acquires Carlan, owner of Con-Tact plastic coverings brand
- 1984: Acquires Little Tikes Company, maker of play structures
- 1985: Acquires Gott Corporation, maker of insulated coolers and beverage holders
- 1986: Acquires MicroComputer Accessories, maker of items like multi-form printer feeders and computer desks, and Seco Industries, maker of floor care products
- 1987: Acquires Viking Brush of Canada, maker of commercial brushes
- 1989: Joint venture with French manufacturer Allibert to make plastic outdoor furniture in North Carolina
- 1990: Joint venture with Curver Group, part of Dutch chemical maker DSM N.V. to sell housewares and furniture in Europe, Middle East, and North Africa; Acquires Eldon Industries, manufacturer of computer accessories
- 1992: Acquires Iron Mountain Forge Corporation, maker of playground systems
- 1994: Acquires Ausplay, Australian play structure manufacturer; Empire Brushes, manufacturer of brooms, mops, and brushes; and Carex Inc., maker of products for home healthcare; Joint venture with Richell Corporation, maker of housewares in Japan, to expand sales there
- 1995: Acquires French plastics manufacturer Injectaplastic S.A. to get back into the European market after dissolution of Curver deal, and a 75 percent share in Dom-Plast S.A., the leader in plastic household products in Poland
- 1996: Acquires Graco Children's Products Inc.
- 1997: Strategic alliance with Amway Corporation to develop cobranded premium products
- Jan. 1998: Acquires Curver Group
- 1998: Makes last acquisition as an independent company, as it buys Century Products, maker of car seats, strollers, and infant carriers
- 1999: Company is acquired by Newell to form Newell Rubbermaid
- April 1999: Acquires Ateliers 28, French maker of drapery hardware
- Oct. 99: Acquires Reynolds S.A., French writing instrument maker, and McKechnie P.L.C. consumer products division, including Harrison Drape, Spur Shelving, Douglas Kane, and Nenplas/Homelux
- Dec. 99-May 00: Acquires three European picture frame businesses: Ceanothe Holding, Mersch, and Brio
- Dec. 00: Acquires stationery products division of Gillette Company, including Paper Mate, Parker, and Waterman, as well as Liquid Paper
- April 02: Acquires American Tool Companies, including Irwin, Vise-Grip and Quik-Grip
- 2003: Acquires American Saw & Manufacturing Company, maker of Lenox brand of linear edge power tool accessories, hand tools, and band saw blades
- 2005: Acquires Dymo, maker of on-demand labeling solutions
- 2006: Acquires CardScan business card scanners
- 2007: Acquires Internet postage company Endicia and its Picture-it-Postage brand
- 2008: Acquires Technical Concepts, maker of public restroom equipment, and Aprica Kassai, Japanese maker of strollers, car seats, and other children's products
- July 2014: Acquires Ignite Holdings, makers of Contigo and Avex
- Oct. 2014: Acquires bubba brands, maker of reusable drinkware
Resources on Business Changes
- Atlanta Journal Constitution article on bubba brands acquisition
- Wall Street Journal article on Contigo, Avex acquisition
- Atlanta Journal Constitution article on Contigo, Avex acquisition
- Wikinvest article on Endicia acquisition
- Wikipedia article on Endicia
- Patent listing for MicroComputer Accessories Inc.
- Wikipedia entry on Little Tikes Company
- Chicago Tribune article on acquisition of Gott Corporation
- Plastics News article on Curver Group acquisition
- Playground Professionals article on history of Iron Mountain Forge Corporation
- Orlando Sentinel article on Empire Brushes acquisition
- Orlando Sentinel article on Carex acquisition
- New York Times article on purchase of McKechnie P.L.C.
- Press release regarding American Tool Companies buy
- Press release on American Saw & Manufacturing Company purchase
- Wikipedia entry on Graco
- Wikipedia entry on DYMO Corporation
- Press release regarding Technical Concepts acquisition
- Article from The Chicago Tribune on Gillette stationery division purchase
The Company of Today
Since the merger with Newell and despite the challenges at the end of the last century, the products born of the company founded in 1920 continue to be hugely popular. Though its housewares operations continue to generate a major part of its name-recognition and profits, the commercial division has surpassed it in terms of sales. According to the company’s Q2 2014 report, home goods contributed 12.4 percent of total sales, while commercial products added 16.2 percent with $222.3 million. That number represents and an increase of 5.4 percent, from $21.9 million to $36.2 million, in operational income compared to the same period in 2013.
Despite some recent declines in sales for the healthcare division, the quarter also brought increases in that area. The report attributes the increases in these core areas to favorable pricing and high production.
"Outstanding top line performance in Writing, Tools, and Commercial Products drove core sales growth of 4.6 percent," President and CEO Michael Polk said in a supplemental press release. "Normalized gross margin increased to 40.3 percent driven by pricing, productivity and positive mix. Normalized operating margin increased to 15.8 percent despite more than doubling our investment in advertising, and normalized EPS increased 18 percent to $0.59. These strong results give us increased confidence that our strategy of accelerating advertising and promotion in support of our brands is working."
The increases are in contrast to the First Quarter of 2014, when the commercial products division was down 0.3 percent compared to the same period in 2013. The start of the fiscal year was the weaker of the two quarters both years, with $182.6 million in total sales in 2014.
Polk credits some of the Q2 growth to recent acquisitions, including the purchase the same year of reusable drinkware brands like Contigo, Avex, and bubba. The company has also grown its product offerings since the merger, which has meant more products in commercial and healthcare segments.
Now, the name can be found in every area of business, from warehouses to doctors' offices. The commercial division is further divided into eight categories of products: Skincare, Washroom, Waste, Material Handling, Cleaning, Foodservice, Safety, and Agriculture. Each has some key products that have become ubiquitous in their respective areas, including:
- Auto foam soap dispensers
- One Shot foam and liquid soap dispensers
- Manual hand sanitizer dispensers
- Auto Faucet SST
- TCell odor control systems
- Baby changing stations
- Waste Management
- Brute utility cans and dollies
- Recyclable waste containers
- Smoking waste receptacles, including Smokers’ Pole, Aladdin Smokers’ Station, and GroundsKeeper
- Material Handling
- Heavy-duty utility carts
- MediaMaster audio-visual carts
- Hand trucks, trollies, and dollies
- Housekeeping and janitor carts
- WaveBrake mopping systems
- Microfiber wet and dry mops
- Ingredient bins
- Ice totes, scoops, and carts
- Food storage containers
- Cone and mobile barrier systems
- Floor and hanging safety signs
- Over-the-Spill slip resistant pads
- Structural foam stock tanks
- Farm and lawn carts
- Contractor wheelbarrows