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Newell Brands CEO: It's a summer of 'glamping' due to the coronavirus

Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi and Alexis Christoforous speak with Newell Brands CEO Ravi Saligram about the company’s wide portfolio of brands, expectations after COVID-19, how the virus has brought the Newell Brands workforce together, and investing in the outdoor industry.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: Between the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions and the beautiful summer weather, many are lighting their grills and packing their coolers to make this pandemic a little more bearable. All week long, we are highlighting companies in the outdoor industry that are helping us make the most of this time. This morning, we have with us Newell Brands CEO Ravi Saligram. Ravi is the maker of Marmot, Contigo, and Coleman, among many other household brands. Ravi, good to-- good to see you. The last time we saw you, you were the CEO of Ritchie Brothers, so it's good to see you in the post era, one-year mark for you there.

So the Coleman brand in particular, how are you turning that brand around? You high-- you definitely don't leave it-- gone unsaid that that brand has struggled a bit. How are you trying to transform it?

RAVI SALIGRAM: Yeah, Brian, thank you for having me on the show. And, Alexis, as well, thank you.

So Coleman, it's a brand with a lot of heritage, a lot of equity. Actually, this year we're going to be celebrating 120 years. So brands that have that kind of longevity are really consumer preferred, and it takes a lot to really hurt them. We've had ups and downs, but we really want to look at the next 120 years and say how do we strengthen this brand, which is an American icon-- in fact, a global icon.

Brian, actually, it's a very popular brand in Japan. I was in Japan pre-COVID and was just amazed to see how loved the Coleman brand is and how it's grown there. It's a premium brand, does very well.

So in the US, what we're really trying to do is restore innovation. And with the changing of hands and stuff, the brand lost its way a bit, but now we're really squarely focused on innovation. And post-COVID, if there is one redeeming feature, if you will, is that people are seeking the outdoors. They want to be one with nature.

And those who have never really been into the rugged stuff, we offer them glamping opportunities because Coleman-- in fact, I think Jimmy Fallon did a show from one to our tents. And so you can go to the backyard, if you wish, or into the wilderness. But it's great for family and for bonding because you are cooped up at home. So when you're cooped up at home, we've got a lot of things with our Rubbermaid products, our Sistema, FoodSaver, and all of the cooking, which is really doing extremely well.

But with Coleman, we brought out a new dome tent with poles which are very easy, even the beginner. And then one exciting product we have, Brian, is something called One Source, which is a lithium battery that can operate a lot of your appliances. So camping isn't what it used to be. We've brought a lot of modernization and technology.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, it's not your grandpa's camping anymore, right, Ravi.


ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: We've seen a lot of-- a lot of people have a run on these products from your company and others to these outdoor products, everything from kayaks to tents to barbecue grills. How have you been able to keep up with demand? Has that been yet another challenge, trying to meet this increased demand?

RAVI SALIGRAM: Yeah, on the outdoor side, we've been doing quite well and keeping up with demand. Particularly starting in June, we really started seeing demand shoot up into double digits, and it's continued on through July for all the ones, Alexis, that you mentioned-- grills, tents, stoves, shelters, et cetera. But we have been doing very good demand planning and keeping it up.

It's been a bit more challenging on our food business with Rubbermaid and FoodSaver because demand there is just through the roof, and it started way back in the year. And so we've had out of stocks. Ball, for instance-- you know, restaurants are using it to do cocktail delivery. So that demand-- keeping up demand there, and also with our appliances with Calphalon and Oster, that has also been tough. It's for toasters and blenders and so on.

But we're working very hard. Our front line-- I really am so grateful to our front-line employees who have shown remarkable dedication in our factories and warehouses.

BRIAN SOZZI: Ravi, Newell Brands is not just the camping company, and I think you said-- you made a very powerful statement on your earnings call last week. "The spirit of innovation is back at Newell," and I pointed to two products you have coming out soon, new antimicrobial Rubbermaid containers and also a new iced-coffee maker that you can use at home by Mr. Coffee.

How have you changed the culture or how do you start to change a culture at Newell Brands? This is a company that before your arrival really struggled for three years.

RAVI SALIGRAM: So, Brian, that's a great question. So, look, historically, all the way back to when we were the Rubbermaid Company, Rubbermaid was number one on Fortune's most-admired list in 1994. And we used to put out an innovation every day, so it's in our DNA. I am trying to just bring that out.

And just last few years when Newell acquired Jarden, there was a lot of internal focus. So now we're trying to get the external focus, get focused on the consumer, get focused on the customer, collaborate with the customer, really understand consumer insights and get ahead of them.

So the iced-coffee maker is a great example because our frustration has been as Starbucks and all the others were closed during the lockdown, the millennials, the young people really love iced coffee, and they've not had a way to make it. So we saw this, got ahead of it, went fast, and are launching it. So we're very-- we're launching it online, and it will be very exciting.

And then the other one, the antimicrobial for Rubbermaid with the antimicrobial coating, our new CEO, Kris Malkoski, for the whole food business really got on top of this and said, hey, with all the concerns about COVID, let's try to-- she was familiar with that coating. That product, start to finish, was done by the team in six months. And so we're very excited, and that's happening throughout.

And Jim Pisani, who's taken our outdoor business, is driving it. So the key, Brian, has been putting on top a leadership team. I've now got new CEOs. And by the way, I'm very proud, Alexis, that four out of my eight CEOs are women for all our business units. And so that-- they all have people-first, consumer-first culture. That's what I interviewed for and, obviously, domain expertise and consumer-packaged-goods people.

And so we're really unified as a team. For us, people come first-- our employees, our consumers, our customers. So that's changing the attitude. But believe it or not, COVID, in a very perverse way, has actually helped us bond. Even though we're working from home, there is an esprit de corps and a sense of, hey, unity.

And I think people-- you know, what they look for their leaders is authenticity, transparency. When I came in, I told it like it was, but I also said our best days actually lie ahead of us.

And so our people-- or 30,000 people have gravitated towards it. Our people are galvanized. Our leadership team is really getting all our people in the right direction. Innovation's going to become an engine. And I am very confident that we will drive shareholder value and we will get us back to what Newell used to be in the Rubbermaid days and hopefully get us back someday onto Fortune's most admired.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Ravi, you know, outdoor and recreation is sort of having its moment in the sun right now, but what's your outlook for that part of the business as winter starts to roll in, and is this just sort of what people are feeling in the moment but post the pandemic, they're going to sort of lose their luster for these products?

RAVI SALIGRAM: I think, Alexis-- so, first, we may be having a looming recession. Combined with that, you've got all these trends where people don't want to travel by air. So you're seeing a lot of staycations. You're seeing road vacations. So I think camping has always been a mainstay of America, and with glamping added on and backside camping-- and now there is a whole new thing about, instead of tailgating, doing backyard tailgating at home.

So all of these really saying, hey, people want to be one with nature, whether you're an amateur, whether you're a professional. So I think that is going to be a mainstay. But also with the recession coming on, our products are great value. We do quite well during recessionary times.

And then with the right team now as we innovate and go forward-- and by the way, our outdoor business is really three parts. There's Contigo and Bubba, which is our beverage business, which is on the go. And hopefully as that starts coming back on, that'll start growing. Then, of course, all our outdoor tents, et cetera. And then we've got Marmot which is a cult brand. People are-- I'm just-- when I read the comments about Marmot, people love this brand because there is a cultishness about it. And we've got a OneCube technology, great innovation, coming out towards the end of the year. So I'm very confident about the outlook down the road, and we've got a new team who will really turn this around.

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, let's leave it there for now. Newell Brands CEO Ravi Salgram, good to see you again. Good luck--


BRIAN SOZZI: --down the path of recovery. Thanks for teaching me a new word today, glamping. Never heard of that before.

RAVI SALIGRAM: [LAUGHS] You should do it.

BRIAN SOZZI: We'll talk to you soon.

RAVI SALIGRAM: Thank you. Thank you so much. Bye-bye.