Here’s how the company describes itself on its website: “Rubbermaid is a leader in developing innovative, high-quality solutions that help consumers keep their homes in order. Widely recognized and trusted, Rubbermaid designs and markets a full range of organization, storage and cleaning products to keep the home – including closets, garages, kitchens and outdoor spaces – neat and functional, freeing consumers to enjoy life. Rubbermaid is part of Newell Rubbermaid’s global portfolio of brands. Recognized as a ‘Brand of the Century,’ Rubbermaid is one of only 100 companies named as having an impact on the American way of life.”

Positive Themes

The dominant theme is great products, and reading the sound bites shows people aren’t talking about just a couple but well over a dozen—including bins, modular canisters mops, sheds and spatulas. The closet system was a particular favorite.

  • See, there is simply no need to buy additional cleaning agents. Rubbermaid has built a system that seldom needs cleaning because dirt does not easily attach to its outside and inside parts. What I really love about the Rubbermaid closet system is that you can expand them as you like and it [Rubbermaid] is very versatile. It adapts into your liking and color and size preferences. So, it is basically you who designs your closet. (source)

Using Rubbermaid products to efficiently store things was also high on the list of positive themes. Makes sense, given that that’s what the products are designed to do. But consumers still praised them for their utility and versatility.

  • We also keep a deck of cards, some word search books, pens, etc. to use when we can’t be outside. And crayon/coloring books for our granddaughter. The rubbermaid tubs are awesome. We keep several of them to store blankets, pillows, hoses, etc. in. We sit them on a tarp at the front of the camper when we don’t use them. (source)

Speaking of versatility, Rubbermaid products are popular because they have so many uses: to carry firewood, as litter boxes, for kids to sit in and slide down the driveway, and as planter boxes.

  • If you have the yard space to set up the turkey wire you can grow in containers and let the vines climb. Peas, beans, maters, cukes and even melons, pumpkins, and gourds do well. Big Rubbermaid storage boxes make great planters. One box with a trimmed down lid with holes drilled into it and stuck inside of it will form a resevoir. Drill holes into a second storage box and set it on top of the lid. (source)

Negative Themes

“Not good quality” was the dominant negative theme. Many consumers feel the products are poorly designed, or break, or deteriorate too quickly. This first poster felt the poor quality typified the declining quality of goods available to the American consumer.

  • Even just warming food on low settings caused damage. Some of the plastic comes off in the food your heating. I tried to call and emailed Rubbermaid and theywere completely unresponsive. I would steer clear of this product, I don’t feel it is safe. I wasted money on two sets which are now unusable. (source)

Several posters blame Walmart for driving down Rubbermaid quality by insisting on ever-lower prices.

  • On Nov 22, 8:00*am, Brooklyn1 Gravesend1 wrote: On Mon, 22 Nov 2010 07:28:57 -0800 (PST), John Kuthe wrote: On Nov 21, 8:28*pm, “Pete C.” wrote: Please refrain from purchasing Rubbermaid products and recommend others do the same. This formerly reputable company is now engaging in country of origin labeling fraud. Rubbermaid folded up U.S. manufacturing years ago and sold all their big molding machines to China, thanks to WalFAIL!!/walmart/view/ John Kuthe… Manufacturing hasn’t moved due to Walmart, they moved for cheap labor. (source)

While this sound bite doesn’t specifically mention the decline in quality, it does give the relevant background on the effect of having to compete on price. Apparently, it’s well documented that Walmart’s pricing policies contributed to Rubbermaid’s sinking fortunes, which led to a merger with rival Newell.

  • In 1994, RubberMaid had a great relationship with WalMart because RubberMaid provided excellent quality, high valued items for a reasonable price and much of its product was sold through WalMart. Back then, RubberMaid was rated the #1 company in the US because it was able to compete on efficient, yet high quality products for the American marketplace – and WalMart helped as the largest retail outlet for RubberMaid products. Yet, when RubberMaid was forced to increase their prices due to the costs of their basic supplies, WalMart refused to accept the new prices and dropped many of the RubberMaid products from their stores. In a fairly short time the loss of WalMart as an outlet led to the demise of RubberMaid. or this one, discussing the aftermath of Walmart’s threats towards Rubbermaid during the mid-1990’s after Rubbermaid merged with Newell and gave in to Walmart’s business “tactics” with regard to Rubbermaid’s future pricing: Quote: Newell Rubbermaid is the largest producer of consumer rubber products in the United States, and Wal-Mart sells by far the largest volume of Rubbermaid products of any retail store. (source)

Regarding insights for Rubbermaid, it seems like continuing to expand their product line is a smart strategy. For the most part, people still trust the brand and will choose to buy new products that have the Rubbermaid name on them over similar products from obscure manufacturers.

The quality and pricing issues are tougher. Clearly, if the company could produce the same high-quality products it produced before and do so at a price that meets Walmart’s requirements, they would do so. But given the rise in the price of raw materials, that apparently isn’t possible. And since Walmart is (or was) the largest retail outlet for Rubbermaid goods, dropping them as an outlet is out of the question.

It sounds as if this is a case of a company forced to compete on price, when it would rather have retained its image as a brand whose higher quality justified higher prices. As a result, Rubbermaid’s previous reputation for quality has suffered, and that change in brand image (and in per-unit sales revenue) negatively affected the company’s bottom line to the degree that it had to seek a merger to survive.

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