Gladiator: Going or Gone?

© 2005 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Spring 2005
Author: Carla Rautenberg
Pages 52-54

Gladiator: Going or Gone?

By Carla Rautenberg, Special DAS Correspondent

If the garage door is the new front door to the American home (pp. 48-50), how’s the foyer looking?

Three years ago, giant appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corporation sensed a growing trend and took aim at the garage renovation market. With a big-bucks national advertising campaign, the company introduced Gladiator GarageWorks, its first new brand in close to half a century.

If this new brand is successful, the garage door industry may have much to gain. Reason: As Americans attach more value to the garage, they are more likely to spend more for the most visible part of the garage … the garage door. In a best-case scenario, Gladiator’s victory may cause garage door manufacturers and dealers to realize greater profits from a greater demand for upscale doors.

The Gladiator line went on sale in 850 Lowe’s stores in January 2003. As reported here in our spring 2003 issue, Whirlpool projected sales of $300 million per year by 2007.

What happened? Is Gladiator headed for boom or bust? We recently checked in with Christopher Hubbuch, manager of shared drivers and integrated marketing for Gladiator GarageWorks, for an update.

How were sales of Gladiator GarageWorks products in 2004?

CH: Sales were very strong last year, up 300 percent over 2003. We don’t release actual numbers.

What contributed to such healthy sales growth?

CH: We expanded into 860 Sears mall stores in ’04. Since we’re also selling in more than 1,000 Lowe’s and working with contract distributors, independents, and regional chains, we now have about 5,000 distributors.

We enhanced our product line as well, adding some lower-priced items that increased our take-with products. And we expanded our advertising campaign.

Two years ago, Gladiator was expected to generate $300 million/year in sales by 2007. Are you still on target?

CH: It will be a stretch. We’re not currently releasing any targets.

Do you have a timetable for determining the long-term success of GarageWorks?

CH: Four to five years. The positive message from the senior leadership of Whirlpool Corporation is that they see this business as having the potential to be successful. They say they will give us the support we need, internally, to make it happen. And they have been.

We see that consumers want to invest more in the garage in general. Part of that is because they’ve already invested in the high-priority rooms—they’ve done the kitchen, they’ve done the master bath. The garage used to be far down on the list, and now it’s at the top.

Our research* shows that 32 percent of homeowners are willing to spend $1,000 or more to improve the inside of their garage, and 10 percent would spend $8,000 and up.

So people are willing to invest in this. Their mind is there. Their pocketbooks are there.

Can you tell us more about your marketing plans?

CH: Each year since 2002, we’ve increased our ad budget by 100 percent. The difference for 2005 is that these funds will be used to drive more traffic locally and regionally, versus a national ad campaign.

With this new direction, it’s more what works well in Cleveland, what works well in Indianapolis, what works well in Boca Raton. Those could be different things.

Is Gladiator doing any partnering with garage door dealers?

CH: It has not grown as quickly as we would have liked. We’re still about 60 percent DIY. As we start getting into higher-end options, then it becomes more of an installed solution.

Have you considered any type of joint marketing with a specific garage door manufacturer?

CH: We’ve talked to a couple. There’s been interest there. We just have not yet been able to come to a financial agreement.

We would love to find either the right national partner, or multiple regional partners, to really take this and run with it.

Do you have any new products that might interest our readers?

CH: The GearTrack package is just beginning to hit retail dealers. And we have a whole collection of hooks, baskets, and shelves that are at a more entry-level price point. They still work with the GearTrack and the GearWall.

Our new flooring solution will really be an ’05 product, as far as distribution goes. It’s a flexible, rubberized plastic. It’s extremely simple to install. Just roll it out and trim it. No adhesives are required. You can spill gasoline, brake fluid, or sulfuric acid on it, and it doesn’t hurt it. Like all of our products, it meets residential building codes.

Still Going Strong: Whirlpool’s Gladiator GarageWorks exhibit at the 2005 International Builders’ Show in Orlando continued to attract high traffic.

New Use for Garage Doors: In advertising, Gladiator has been using the garage door in unique ways. Left: A 2004 billboard. Right: This 2004 image of Gladiator products behind a “glass garage door” appeared in a magazine ad with this caption: “Works of Art Belong Behind Glass.” Photos courtesy of Whirlpool and Gladiator GarageWorks.

* Whirlpool Corporation conducted an Internet survey of 1,000 homeowners with a garage, aged 25-64, and with minimum household incomes of $50,000.