If, like me, the closest you ever come to serious DIY is blu-tacking The Marketeer’s Year planner to the office wall every January then chances are you’ll struggle to remember the brand name that is hidden beneath the rust on that saw in the garden shed.
However, serious DIY enthusiasts and professional tradesmen take their tools very seriously indeed, as does Ian Watson. As marketing director UK/Asia Pacific at what was known as Record Tools, it is now Watson’s job to make sure that all tradesmen and serious DIYers know that the new name on all their hand tools in the future should be Irwin, as part of the firm’s £2m rebrand.
I had heard that Watson, aged just 30, was a “live-wire” and on meeting him at Irwin’s 17-acre manufacturing site in Sheffield he certainly lived up to his billing. It was 9 a.m. and he was quarrelling with the receptionist about the contents of his pockets.
“Can you see anything strange about the contents of my pockets?” he asked, holding out his hands, in which sat a credit card, some keys, £100 in cash and two curled-up tea bags.
I gave his pockets the all clear, but pointed out that trouser pockets could be seen as a strange place to keep your tea bags. He reluctantly agreed and offered me a drink. In light of recent revelations, I opted for a coffee and kicked off the interview.
The re-branding of Record to Irwin comes four years after the company was acquired by the American Tool Company (ATC) and almost a year after ATC was subsequently acquired by Newell Rubbermaid, the US organisation that turns over $7 billion per year selling brands such as Parker pens, Pyrex cookware, Swish curtain fabrics and the Little Tykes toy brand.
“In May 2002 we started to look at the American Tool Company, which had grown by acquisition of many other tool companies like Record,” says Watson. “Every time ATC acquired another business it kept the brand name and so it ended up with a portfolio of 36 different brands. There were just too many brands in our portfolio and we had no user-brand connection. People did not associate, for instance, a Record tool with a Jack saw or a Marbles vice. So we realised that we needed a single company.”
The Irwin brand name was chosen to take the company forward, as it was one of the strongest global brands in the portfolio and was easily transferable across different product types and translatable across foreign markets.
Watson says: “We want Irwin to become a global power brand, but to be firmly positioned towards the end user of our tools – that is, professional tradesmen and expert DIYers.
So, how is the re-brand going to be instigated? Perhaps the biggest physical difference will be the appearance of many of Irwin’s tools. When the first re-branded tools are dispatched in the next three months many will have been re-designed to incorporate Irwin’s new blue and yellow corporate colours. All packaging will also incorporate the eye-catching colour scheme, as will merchandising materials, point-of-sale and advertising campaigns, handled by BJL in Manchester.
However, while Irwin will become the new brand, in some cases it will act as an umbrella to a number of its already established brands.
“We did research and found that some of our brands, such as Record, Jack and Marbles, had equity with professional tradesmen. From this it became clear that brands without equity would come under the single brand name Irwin. The brands with equity were not going to be thrown away, so they will now come under the Irwin umbrella brand name, but retain their individual brand names as well.
“The Irwin mark on the tool ultimately means that it is professional quality and the beauty is that Record has always been a professional brand, so this is not such a big shift for us.”
The marketing support strategy takes the form of a three-pronged attack, as Watson explains: “We have to get people to recognise the Irwin brand from now on, so all our marketing spend will be directly targeted at the end user. A lot of marketers get wrapped up in ideological issues, but here we are pragmatic. I am measured on growing our business. If we win awards for our marketing creativity but do not grow the business, ultimately I get sacked. I would rather build the business by 25 per cent than win an award.
“We are targeting professional tradesmen in three key areas – where they work, where they learn and where they play – in order to build the Irwin brand.
Where they work
Watson is now in the process of putting together a five-strong “Swarm Team”, whose “goal in life is to go out and preach the gospel according to Irwin”. Their work will be demonstrable and will see them meet up to 25,000 tradesmen between July and December to demonstrate and outline the benefits of using Irwin tools.
Watson says: “Our swarm team is going to make the Irwin brand very cool and market it as the brand that the professionals use. This activity will support distribution channel activity, which will take the form of field marketing events run in conjunction with builders’ merchants and DIY shops.”
The company is also going to have a website for the first time, which will be simple but highly functional – just what most busy tradesmen want.
Where they learn
Watson’s team, assisted by Communique PR, is now in talks with a major trade organisation that will enable Irwin to plug into and exploit (for want of a better word) the skills gap that is said to exist in trades such as construction, plumbing and joinery.
Watson says: “It is now our intention to work closely with local colleges and the trade bodies to develop a training initiative that will help close this skills shortage gap whilst, at the same time, getting the Irwin branded tools into their hands, which, hopefully, they will adopt from then on.”
Irwin concurs that this is a long-term strategy, but one that he says all at Irwin are committed to.
Where they play
To cover all the angles, Watson’s team is also developing an initiative in conjunction with the Daily Star, which will see the company supplying top-quality football strips for kids’ football teams up and down the country, for ten weeks from the end of May.
“Around 12 million people play and watch football at a weekend,” says Watson. “And we know that many tradesmen have kids that play and that there is not a lot of money around for them to do that. So we are giving something back through this initiative.”
Not to leave the adults out, Watson is also organising a nationwide five-a-side football tournament in partnership with Power League. To make the games even more “fun”, all the teams will be playing in blue and yellow strips – confusing, but a great way to get all those involved indoctrinated to the new Irwin corporate colour scheme.
“It will be a real family day out,” says Watson. “It is an ideal way to get the Irwin brand and products across in an informal way to our customers.”
The tournament kicks off in September and there will be five regional heats leading up to a grand final at the end of the year.
The first re-branded Irwin products will be hitting the shelves in the next three months and Watson says that they will be rolling out one product range at a time, to make sure that Irwin ships an entire product range that is consistent with the new Irwin identity.
With regards to the competition, such as Stanley, Cooper Tools and Barco, Watson says that the approach Irwin is now taking, to build its brand and its marketplace with its longer-term goals, is unique.
“This is a completely new approach and totally focused on the professional end user. Our competitors have ranges that go from high end to DIY, but we want to be clear that Irwin is positioned purely for the professional end user and the pro-DIYer.”
Before leaving the Irwin building, Watson takes me into the company’s showroom, which is a veritable paradise for the DIY enthusiast, with rack upon rack of various sized saws, wrenches, ratchets, vices, hammers, drill bits and so on all displayed across its walls. Soon the whole room will be awash with the new blue and yellow colourway, which Watson is only too eager to see happen.
Gathered around one demonstration table in the showroom are a number of Australians watching a demonstration of an Irwin blow torch. As they start waving the flaming items around I decide to make a swift exit, leaving Watson and the receptionist free to get to the bottom of the “tea bag in pocket” mystery.
Ian Watson CV
Ã¯1987 Started as an office junior at specialist chemical
company Lea Ronal. Over the next nine years he
worked in its administration, sales, customer service
and marketing departments, while studying for an
ONC, HNC, Degree and Post Graduate in Marketing.
Ã¯1996 appointed marketing manager at Lea Ronal.
Ã¯1999 Lea Ronal acquired by Roman Haas. Watson
offered a European marketing position based in
Coventry which he declined.
Ã¯1999 After a brief period unemployed he joined
Record Tools as a product manager (shortly after its
was acquired by ATC) and assisted the marketing
director John Ward set up the marketing team.
Ã¯2001 Watson was appointed as marking manager of
Record Tools after Ward moved to a European role.
Ã¯May 2002 Watson appointed marketing director UK/
Asia Pacific of the rebranded Irwin Industrial Tool