NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Newell Rubbermaid (NWL), known primarily for the plastic storage bins in refrigerators, is expanding to provide consumers with everything from pricey Graco baby car seats to Sharpie highlighters. The company is also delighting shareholders with 35% gains over the past year.
"Over the next year and a half, you will see us take what is primarily a food storage business and extend the shoulders of the brand," Newell Rubbermaid's President and CEO Michael Polk said in an interview.
Polk, who has been at the helm since July 2011, has already begun turning Newell Rubbermaid into a diversified consumer products company. Its global design center now hosts 100 designers devoted to figuring out what consumers want. Staffing at its "insights" team has increased by 50% since 2011.
Last year, Newell Rubbermaid introduced the 4Ever children's car seat under its Graco brand. The product, which is a rear-facing infant car seat, a five-point harness seat, and booster, is designed to do the job of two or three products that would be purchased by parents over the years of raising a child.
"It's more expensive than what you would have paid in the past for an infant car seat, but it allows you to avoid multiple devices over time," Polk explained.
The company's Lenox tool brand -- part of a broader tool business including the Irwin and Hilmor brands -- just released a curved reciprocating saw blade for workers in housing construction or on industrial job sites.
"It's an expensive product relative to others you can buy," conceded Polk, but "it has twice the life."
A new Sharpie highlighter with a see-through tip allows for easier reading of documents. The brand recently unveiled Sharpie Extreme, a line of fade-resistant magic markers engineered to withstand inclement weather outdoors.
Consumers responded to these new products in the first quarter. Core sales in the writing business, excluding the influence of currency fluctuations, increased 9% in the first quarter, led by growth in North America.
And at Newell Rubbermaid's baby and parenting division and tools business, core sales increased 0.8% and 3.2% respectively. Within both segments, sales in North America was described as "strong" or "robust."