Elmer's innovates to stick at the top

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Ironically, the item on a school-supply list that most worries Elmer's CEO Brad Johnson is glue. And don't get him started on those glue sticks.

In Mr. Johnson's ideal world, school-supply lists would be specific, as in Elmer's School Glue and Elmer's Glue Stick. Astonishingly, they are cited that way 99% of the time when a brand is specified, based on Elmer's tracking studies. But that may now be changing.

"Most teachers are highly brand conscious, but we're starting to see a small amount of erosion on school lists," said Mr. Johnson, while touring the Elmer's war room at its Columbus, Ohio, corporate headquarters, where a simulated retail environment includes store shelving and rack upon rack of its more than 200 products. Since 1967, when Elmer's School Glue was launched, it has dominated the market and the privately held company hopes to keep it that way, with a $3 million print and broadcast campaign, via SBC Advertising, Columbus, to preserve its 80% market share during the back-to-school season. The TV spots pull the heartstrings with a nostalgic look back as a mother remembers her first day of school as her own daughter experiences hers.

"It doesn't hurt to keep the private-label guys at bay," Mr. Johnson said. "We need to reiterate we are the brand leader and we will defend that space."

Since taking the helm of Elmer's in October 2003, Mr. Johnson, a former baby-food marketer at Heinz and consumer products brand manager at Kimberly-Clark, has launched a flurry of products, everything from purple glue (goes on purple dries clear), to glitter and no-run glue.

The company's Krazy Glue brand surpasses Elmer's, with $23 million in sales in 2004, excluding sales at Wal-Mart, according to Information Resources Inc. And although Elmer's says it dominates the school-glue market, it holds only about a 51% share in the overall glue-adhesive category, estimated at $101 million in 2004 by IRI. The company wouldn't reveal total sales.

Perhaps, if Elmer's keeps the likes of Target and Wal-Mart happy, it can sustain the brand's comfortable lead. Unlike other so-called commodity categories, e.g. laundry detergent, Wal-Mart has not launched its own glue line. Yet.

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