Newell Rubbermaid on Sept. 22 will receive the Global Gateway award at the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce's annual gala of the same name. Ted Woehrle talks about staying relevant to the company's local base while expanding abroad.

It only takes a quick glance around the lobby of Newell Rubbermaid Inc.‘s Sandy Springs headquarters to see that the Fortune 500 firm is built on consumer products.

Pots, pans, paintbrushes and pens share the floor with strollers and bandsaws in a gleaming building on Glenlake Parkway, just down the road from fellow global giant and Sandy Springs resident United Parcel Service Inc.

While Americans know Newell Rubbermaid’s Sharpie markers, Paper Mate pens and Graco baby products, the company is having to translate the value of these trusted names into new countries and cultures as it accelerates growth overseas, said Ted Woehrle, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

The U.S. accounts for nearly 70 percent of Newell’s revenues, with a significant proportion also coming from Western Europe. But that balance is beginning to shift, Mr. Woehrle told GlobalAtlanta.

The company faces a tough environment at home as American consumers have cut back. Its baby products unit has especially struggled.

But a growing number of middle-class consumers in emerging markets like Brazil and China can now afford products from Newell Rubbermaid’s wide portfolio of brands, Mr. Woehrle said.

The key, he said, is matching the right products to the right markets. That requires investment in product and consumer research as well as recruitment of managers who are well-versed in international business, both globally and in Sandy Springs.

“Investing in those developing markets, choosing the right markets, the right brands, the right products, the right route to market is essential for our success and one of our top priorities,” he said.

At times the process also requires tweaking products or the brand messaging to match local conditions.

Mr. Woehrle cited the company’s Lenox bandsaws. U.S. buyers value power, while Chinese customers prefer a tool that lasts longer. The answer? Newell developed two products with different features and composition, each adapted to the needs of its respective market.

Staying true to a brand message while building recognition “from scratch” in a new country requires subtle but substantial marketing changes, Mr. Woehrle said.

Sharpie markers, for instance, are pitched to artists and other “expression makers” in the U.S. Reaching that community in Brazil would require different television imagery and marketing campaigns, he said.

Newell Rubbermaid on Sept. 22 will receive the Global Gateway award at the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce‘s annual gala of the same name.

The award shows that the company’s global strategy is paying dividends in its backyard, leading to a more diverse and talented workforce, Mr. Woehrle said.

“In the U.S. headquarters, we need to recruit and retain the right kind of management talent that really understands global businesses,” he said. “If all you’ve ever done is sold products in the United States, it’s very hard to connect with someone that’s struggling and trying to build business in international markets.”

Newell Rubbermaid reported sales growth of 5.1 percent to $1.57 billion in the second quarter, with Latin America and Asia posting solid gains even as the company’s major markets – the U.S. and Europe – faced strong headwinds.

Michael Polk, who replaced Mark Ketchum as the company’s president and CEO in July, has projected 3 to 5 percent growth for the second half of 2011.

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As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...