How to cultivate more sales Featured

9:48am EDT July 22, 2002

Refreshing the design of an existing product might seem like reinventing the wheel. But it could bring a new category of buyers to your front door.

Union Tools boosted its sales by almost $3 million the first year it redesigned products for the woman gardener, says Larry Damato, a product manager for the Columbus-based lawn and garden product maker.

“The largest success in the [109-year] history of the company has been the product line which we call Lady Gardener,” he says. “The first year we did 300,000 pieces, which was our three-year projection. As a branded program, it has outsold any other branded program Union Tools has had.”

For the 12 months ending July 31, Union Tools posted total sales of $130 million, which includes a wheelbarrow division, an injection molding division and a watering division. Its stick tools division brought in $108 million during the same period, $4.7 million of which was from Lady Gardener sales. There are 14 tools in the four-year-old Lady Gardener line.

His company isn’t resting with that victory. Union Tools just finished redesigning the old stick tool handle into a shaped fiberglass handle for use with five different tools that are expected to be on the market in February, he says. The gripping area and the handle are one piece, the first time he’s known any company to be able to mold fiberglass into a single, multishaped product.

What does it take to redesign a product? For Union Tools, the process involved:

  • A redesign team to craft a project outline. The nucleus of Union Tools’ team includes representatives from marketing, engineering, purchasing and manufacturing. For the shaped fiberglass handle, the company tapped Gahanna-based Priority Designs, whose own team includes designers, engineers, model makers, a scheduler and a communications specialist.

  • Research to determine market potential. “It’s very important to understand what the end user of the product wants,” Damato says. “Sometimes that’s not as easy to find out as you may think it is. A great example of that is the Lady Gardener. We did many focus groups, many mall intercepts [randomly chosen mall shoppers], specifically talking to women. We wanted to understand what they liked, disliked and wanted in a tool that they could not buy today. All that information was gathered and put into the design process.”

  • A compelling reason to redesign. “Some are performance-based or to make it stronger or more ergonomically correct,” says Priority Designs’ President Paul Kolada. “Find new materials [cheaper, stronger, more cost effective] and a process that may allow you to make them quicker and more economically. The key is to make more money on these products.”

  • Market knowledge. “Know the potential and take a risk sometimes,” Kolada says. “Very few product categories stay still. Business is basically competitive. It’s rare when you can stay still and keep doing well.”

  • Patience. The redesign process can take up to 12 months. The team will make computer-based product sketches, followed by three-dimensional models. Focus groups will be asked to comment. Using that input, the design will be refined and computer drawings will depict the final product. The engineering phase defines product details. Then the product is retooled for manufacture.

  • Money. Redesigning a product can cost from $2,000 up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That doesn’t take into account production and retail costs, which must be analyzed. For the Lady Gardener, profit yield took less than six months, Damato says. The redesign process cost $100,000, including $50,000 for two machines needed in the manufacturing process.

“Force yourself to think outside the box,” Damato adds. “The key element is to understand what the consumer is looking for.”

How to reach: Union Tools, 222-4477; Priority Designs, 337-9979

Andria Segedy (aesegedy@sprintmail.com) is a freelance writer for SBN.