Housewares Design Awards

2004 Best in Category: Furniture


Coleman Tuff Duty Workbench

Developing a line of garage storage items was a new endeavor for O’Sullivan Furniture and one that would require the company to toss aside much of its conventional wisdom regarding how furniture items are designed.

In creating what today is the company’s line of Coleman-branded garage storage, the challenge for O’Sullivan was to design an assortment of “furniture” that would be durable enough to withstand the rigors of life in a garage while offering an attractive look to the line’s target audience— the weekend mechanic/landscaper.

“Our focus, no matter what type of product we are developing, is to offer items that combine functionality and style,” said Michael Franks, director/strategic planning and communications for O’Sullivan. “But working on this line was slightly different as we had to take into account that these items would most likely receive a higher level of abuse and be placed in an area of the home that is typically not climate controlled.”

The lack of a stable environment in a garage meant that O’Sullivan needed to manufacture the panels of the Coleman line to withstand a wide range of temperatures and humidity levels. In addition, units are equipped with self-leveling feet that allow the larger cabinets in the collection to be raised off the garage surface, allowing for airflow and eliminating condensation.

The panels, which are constructed from particleboard, are encased with O’Sullivan’s proprietary finish, Work Shield, a resin-based laminate that greatly increases the durability of the board. The Work Shield finish also resists scratching and abuse from tools or other weighty objects that may be placed or dropped on to the work surface.

Durability was also a major factor in design of the drawers, each of which are constructed with half-inch thick bottoms and metal slides.

On the functional side, O’Sullivan equipped products in the line with a variety of storage options, ranging from the more common adjustable shelving and drawer storage to peg boards, which allow for a variety of items to be hung off the work surface. Some garage items also include task lighting and an easily accessible power strip.

The overall look of the product was another key element. Since the garage storage line is likely to be used more by men, the initial line features a steely-gray finish with 3-millimeter metal banding that not only protects edges of product throughout the collection but also adds to the masculine look of the line.

O’Sullivan’s entrance into the garage storage arena was necessitated in large part by the shrinking marketplace for traditional ready-to-assemble furniture. A number of factors including a consolidated retail landscape, the drop in home office furniture sales and increased pressure from non-wood import product have combined to shrink the market share of some of the RTA industry’s mainstays.

With decreased demand and competition among vendors strong, O’Sullivan entered garage storage seeking new sales opportunities beyond core RTA categories such as home office and home entertainment.

O’Sullivan decided to license the Coleman brand after research found that consumers view products sold under the Coleman name as offering a high level of durability and quality.

“For us, the brand did not have to say garage, and we did not want to tie it directly to anything automotive,” Franks said. “Our research found that only a small percentage of people work on their cars and more people use their garage as a base to do landscaping and garden work around the home.”

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