How Black & Decker's Wrench Stole Christmas -- and Other Hot Products

Adjustable Cool Tool in Short Supply, Along With Wii, TMX Elmo, HDTV

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COLUMBUS, Ohio ( -- Who could have guessed one of the most sought-after gifts this holiday would be a wrench?
Photo: Black & Decker

Black &'s battery-powered adjustable size Auto Wrench was a runaway holiday hit. The novel tool sold out quickly at Home Depot's 2,127 stores.

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Well, when Jeremy Wheeler, director-sales at Black & Decker on the Home Depot account, saw the prototype for the 8-inch, battery-operated wrench nearly a year before Christmas, he had a good feeling. "You could just tell it could have a lot of appeal."

Ad campaign
He and his crew decided on a national push for the cool adjustable tool at the holidays. The big-box chains jumped on board, and Home Depot committed to supplement the product's national TV spot with heavy print ads. "We just knew that we were going to have a success," he said.

He just didn't know how much: After the TV spot from McCann Erickson hit, there weren't enough twrenches to go around.

"The response from our customer base was more than we expected," said Mr. Wheeler. "We could have probably sold many more if we would have had them."

Quick sell-out
Black & Decker declined to disclose sales figures, but the wrench sold out quickly at Home Depot's 2,127 stores. "We sold everything we bought by Christmas," said Billy Bastek, a hardware merchant for Home Depot. (Sales are "loco," a Spanish-speaking sales associate in a New Jersey store told a consumer unable to find the wrench at two Home Depots on Dec. 23.)

Barry Fradkin watched the frenzy helplessly at Ludewig's Hardware in Teaneck, N.J. "Once they started advertising, we couldn't get it," said the former owner of the 4,000-square-foot store now operated by his son. "We've had three or four people a day coming in and asking for one." Mr. Fradkin, 43-year veteran of the hardware business, said the four he stocked flew out the doors.

The operator on Lowe's customer-service line days after Christmas said none were available for purchase online. When told Lowe's was offering the product for just $17.99, compared to his list price of $35, Mr. Fradkin said: "I'd buy those myself and sell them because I can't buy it at that price."

EBay price
It's a better deal than on eBay, where two days after Christmas, the buy-it-now price was $57.99.

Despite the hit product, Black & Decker's outlook isn't so jolly. On Dec. 15, the $6.5 billion company warned it would likely report an 8% sales decline for the fourth quarter.

Holiday shoppers didn't go loco only for wrenches. "Consumers were driven into a frenzy to buy some things, but the supply was so limited," said Britt Beemer, America's Research Group retail analyst.

Among them:

Nintendo's Wii: As soon as boxes hit the shelves, they were gone, despite blogs buzzing about overactive players and flying-Wii-mote accidents-pictures of broken TV sets, windows and more -- along with the strange phenomenon of Wiis freaking out next to luminous Christmas displays. Nintendo also got an unexpected present in gangbuster sales of Nintendo DS Lite.

TMX Elmo: In a survey one week before Christmas, 55% of parents said they gave up trying to find it.

HDTVs: A survey of retail store managers the day after Black Friday found they could have sold 10 times more sets if they'd had them.

IPod (again): Though Microsoft had high hopes for Zune, anecdotal evidence points to domination by Apple's iPod. Though market share of traffic to was up 1,030% on Christmas Day vs. the previous Monday, Dec. 18, market share of visits to the iTunes website was up 1,222% over Christmas 2005, and visits outnumbered 30 to 1.

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Beth Snyder Bulik contributed to this report.
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