RUBBERMAID SPICES '97 COLOR OFFERINGS

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CHICAGO — The announcement by Rubbermaid Inc. of a dozen new colors at the International Housewares Show does not contradict Rubbermaid's restructuring plans to slash its number of stock-keeping units by 45 percent, a top executive said.

David Gibbons, president and general manager of Rubbermaid's Home Products Division, said the new colors will not add SKUs to Rubbermaid's product portfolio. Instead, the firm also discontinued some slower-selling products and colors, he said.

Rubbermaid announced the restructuring in December 1995, before announcing financial results that saw sales gain by 8 percent over 1994 to $2.34 billion. But profit, hit by skyrocketing resin prices and the cost of the restructuring, plunged by 74 percent to $59.8 million.

As a major part of the effort, Rubbermaid cut the number of SKUs and focused individual factories on specific product categories. Examples of SKUs include combinations of Rubbermaid items, arranged in different-sized packages or different colors.

The Wooster, Ohio, housewares giant has not yet released its 1996 figures.

Rubbermaid announced the 12 new colors at a news conference held during the Chicago show.

Gibbons said the move follows a consumer trend away from darker colors to brighter midtones. A display of bright ``Sunrise Yellow'' laundry baskets, wastebaskets and clothes hampers lured visitors into Rubbermaid's booth.

``In a recent consumer survey, yellow ranked second after white as an obvious color choice for the kitchen,'' said Richard Ahern, Rubbermaid's design manager and color forecaster.

Wolfgang R. Schmitt, chairman and chief executive officer, laid out Rubbermaid's advertising strategy.

``Consumers are not responding to a lot of copy, a lot of words. They are visual,'' he said. ``We're trying to see the world through our customers' eyes and communicate very visually, with few words.''

Rubbermaid also will continue installing its Little Tikes playgrounds at airports, stadiums and day-care centers.

``People are spending more money on their younger children than ever before,'' Schmitt said.