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Built NY doing more than holding its own.


NEW YORK -- Built NY is expanding into new lines, products and materials, as the housewares company moves beyond its ubiquitous neoprene bottle totes to fulfill its mantra of being a full-fledged "lifestyle accessories brand."

The company will launch a slate of products--including a wine opener, a tote and electronic storage--at the upcoming International Home & Housewares Show. The new items will mark a turning point for the 4-year-old company. "This is what we've always intended to do with the brand," said John Roscoe Swartz, co-founder and co-creative director. "We've been building toward this Chicago Housewares Show since the first day."

Since its founding in July 2003, the company has focused entirely on neoprene storage items, starting with a bottle tote and expanding into lunch bags and baby items. Along the way, it has built sales of $12.5 million using one material. But this Housewares Show--following closely on an inaugural showing at the Consumer Electronics Show--is where Built will make the biggest impact, Swartz said. The company is unveiling its first gadget--a ratchet wine opener--along with a foam ice bucket, a new neoprene construction and electronic storage items.

The introductions meet Built's strategy of finding a material that seems interesting and then building a product around it, initially without regard to price or market potential. "It's a little crazy, but it's part of our manifesto--material comes first," Swartz said. "It's weird and a little scary; it's not the way you're supposed to do things."

The result is sometimes a hodgepodge of items, many of which are never made. "There are lots of products we don't bring to the market. We're not naive; there are certain price points that they have to fit in" to be viable, he said.

But this year, the company found several materials and products that work. Take the ice and champagne buckets, for example. They are made of hard insulating foam like the kind used in refrigerators. "We found the material at a factory and thought, 'What does it want to be?'" The designers decided on a bucket, but they wanted to ensure it would hold the largest-size bottle on the market, which turns out to be Dom Perignon champagne, so they designed the large-size bucket around the bottle. The smaller-size bucket is meant to just hold ice.

The buckets include stainless-steel tongs, which are stored on the lid and act as the lid remover. The buckets are made of one piece of materials, so instead of a loop handle, they have knobs. "One thing we really try to do is use one material piece as much as possible," Swartz said. The buckets--the large is named Sedna after the newest, farthest and coldest planet (discovered in 2003), and the smaller one Oort, after the Oort cloud in outer space--retail from $50 to $70 and come in two styles: brown with orange interior and slate with glacier interior.

Another significant introduction is the Wine Ratchet bottle opener. Swartz and his colleagues came across an old corkscrew in an antique shop and liked how the washer with teeth easily opened bottles. Most of all, the bottles opened with a "pop" sound that Swartz said lever openers don't have. "This horrible thing has happened: People have forgotten the sound of the cork pulling out of the bottle and the sound of a party," he said. "We're a bit evangelical about it." The ratchet design allows people to use it with one hand, even if the process requires a bit more work than lever-style openers. The Magnum model features two worms to fit different-length corks--a screw that is too long for a cork will shred pieces of cork in the wine, and one that is too short for a cork can break it, Swartz explained. The Magnum, which retails for $99, also features a built-in foil cutter and is made of solid cast zinc. A second version, which retails for $49, has one worm and is made of a metal core with rubber casting. Swartz said the two units will be targeted to different retailers.

Built also is launching Overbuilt, a line of neoprene items that is constructed from a heavier-duty neoprene made for coral reef divers. This neoprene resists tears, and is more durable and insulating. The Overbuilt line includes one- and two-bottle totes and a tote bag. The tote bag, at 12 inches high by 18 inches wide, is designed to hold virtually everything. It comes with a patent-pending strap-and-buckle system that eliminates the need for a padded shoulder strap. It retails for $99. The Overbuilt bottle totes feature zippered closures for added insulation and front pockets. "It's more extreme; it's tricked out," Swartz said. They retail from $25 to $30, compared with $15 to $20 for standard bottles.

In January, Built showed for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show with a line of electronic holders, including laptop portfolios, music holders and a charger bag. The company show these at the Housewares Show as well.
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Title Annotation:the markets: housewares
Author:Bernard, Sharyn
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Mar 5, 2007
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