RUBBERMAID DEEPENING PARTNERSHIPS

NEW YORK -- Rubbermaid is deepening its partnerships with retailers as part of an effort to bring new products to market faster. "We are now talking about adding these business relationships at three or four levels," said William Hauser, manager of research and consumer services for the Wooster, Ohio-based company. For example, Rubbermaid now has a "top management partnership," he said. Also, Rubbermaid

NEW YORK -- Rubbermaid is deepening its partnerships with retailers as part of an effort to bring new products to market faster. "We are now talking about adding these business relationships at three or four levels," said William Hauser, manager of research and consumer services for the Wooster, Ohio-based company. For example, Rubbermaid now has a "top management partnership," he said. Also, Rubbermaid has developed electronic data interchange with its major customers so computer executives are part of a team "to try to speed up the process." Hauser described these changes in Rubbermaid's partnerships with retailers at a conference here cosponsored by Executive Enterprises and Gerstman & Meyers, a design firm. According to Hauser, Rubbermaid has customer partnerships in each of its six autonomous product divisions: home, seasonal, office, commercial, juvenile and health. However, these relationships are most developed in home products. Hauser explained that these customer partnerships developed gradually over the last 10 years. In 1985, Rubbermaid began "plannogram selling," he said, and developed a promotional planning calendar. In 1990, it began a merchandising partnership with retailers in which they jointly set sales goals. Last year, Rubbermaid developed Best Practices for a section's product mix that is used as a model for customers to follow. Rubbermaid underscores its commitment to retail partnerships by bringing in key executives from a hundred accounts to its headquarters once a year. "Literally, we sit and meet with them and they become part of the process." Rubbermaid introduces an average of one product each day, he said. Its goal is to double sales and reinvent the company every five years, he added, so getting products to the shelves quickly is key.

"On the offensive side, one of the reasons [to increase] speed to market is to meet our company's goals and objectives. On the defensive side, it is to keep our competitors off the shelf," he said. "The way we see speed to market ties into the way we have reformulated our businesses," he said, referring to the evolution of internal business teams. The home products division has had business teams for 10 years, and the other divisions for five years, he added. "Over the last 10 years, the teams have moved to greater responsibility and accountability. We have found that by making them more empowered, we could increase productivity and broaden the total business focus.

"For a long time we were a new product development team. Now each business team owns that product line. For example, the bathware team is responsible for the bathware line -- from idea generation through post-consumer sales through re-invention." These teams, he explained, help reduce product development time and improve decision making. "We restructured the teams away from the functions towards a pure business team, if you will, and dedicated other key resources around them. The market research group and the advertising group essentially now service those business units," he said. Team members actually sit near each other. "Our roles and responsibilities, for a while, were all over the place," he said. "Now we're together. We did something else that really picked up speed. It used to be if we were going to come out with a new product, we literally had to go out to each functional vice president for approval. It could literally take months.

"Now each team basically meets once a month with core members to discuss what needs to be done. It has moved the process from three months to two to three weeks," he said.