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Snap! They Actually Built a Better Mousetrap

When word spread through the office of Philadelphia-based product design gurus Bresslergroup that it was taking on another project with Lititz-based Woodstream Corporation, best known for its rodent-control products, there was more than one snicker. Even the Bresslergroup marketing director agreed that this time around, it was OK to indulge in the more than a century-old, pro-innovation mantra attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door."

And that's exactly what the Pennsylvania companies did. Bresslergroup, which has become an industry leader primarily through its work on medical and surgical devices, also helped Woodstream meet some important goals for its redesigned Victor Quick Set Mousetrap. A more simplified design allowed Woodstream to move manufacturing of the trap from China back to the U.S., significantly reducing its carbon footprint. Less packaging also means less waste, and the product is now more attractive to its target customers--women. The successful project not only represents a lengthy and fruitful partnership between the two companies, but also their respective innovative capabilities.

"We've worked on close to a dozen projects together and more are coming," says Julien Godbarge, category manager of rodent control for Woodstream. "Once you work with this kind of an outfit and they understand your target market and how you work internally, you've already traveled that learning curve and it makes sense to make them your supplier of choice."

More than 4,400 patents have been issued for the mousetrap since the U.S. Patent Office's first in 1838, mostly to amateur inventors, but less than two dozen have made their inventors a dime. The snap trap, the traditional model which most of us visualize when there's a mouse in the house, was created in 1899 by John Mast of Lititz, where Woodstream still makes it today. The trap, sold under the brand name Victor, still sits on a 3.5-inch bed of pine with the same coil spring-powered striker, 2-inch trigger rod and metal bait pedal. While Emerson's ultimate message spoke more broadly, he was right about the mousetrap--it hasn't changed much in 100 years because it is a difficult task to make the original concept any more effective, profitable and attractive to consumers.

The Victor Quick Set was originally launched about 25 years ago and has not changed much fundamentally. It had been made in China and distributed broadly in brick-and-mortar retailers of all sizes and online. But with labor costs rising rapidly in China--up 17 percent in the last year--percent in the last year--now was the time to retool the Victor Quick Set. Besides, Woodstream had recently expanded its manufacturing capacity by acquiring an injection molding facility in Minnesota.

Bresslergroup has made it a habit of guiding clients toward local manufacturing to reduce their environmental impact. This is particularly important as many retailers and distributors, like Wal-Mart, now require suppliers to detail how their processes impact the earth. The Victor Quick Set, though, represented the first time a client came to Bresslergroup with a desire to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. The goal was to reduce assembly and parts costs to make stateside manufacturing cost-effective. Bresslergroup's functional analysis of the product took into consideration the number of parts used, assembly time, and packaging.

"It became kind of a competitive game between our engineers and designers, and that's what made it fun," says Bresslergroup Director of Design Matthieu Turpault. "The engineers did a good job of reducing parts and the designers did a good job of maintaining the look and feel of a product that's known to be more effective, while making it more approachable so target users will be more prone to buy the product."

The re-tooled configuration of the parts and spring mechanism can be assembled in half the time as the previous generation of Victor Quick Sets. Bresslergroup helped Woodstream eliminate one million plastic blister packs annually by employing an all-cardboard package, and the impact was compounded by a 20-percent reduction in cardboard use. In addition, the new traps are made of HDPE No. 2 plastic, more readily recycled than the plastic formerly used in Chinese manufacturing. The new design also incorporates a more ergonomic clip that ensures users will never have to touch a dead mouse and a more curved appearance--both attractive to female customers, long the primary purchasers of such traps.

"It became a complete package that could be displayed in retail as one assembled thing," says Turpault. "There is some improved usability, as opposed to arming you with a pair of gloves and plastic bag."

The new and improved Victor Quickset began rolling off the line only two weeks ago, so it's hard to grasp its impact on consumers, but Godbarge says retailers have already taken notice and the news has been met with excitement. Woodstream will focus the rest of the year on spreading the word about how it has returned significant manufacturing operations to the U.S.--the company's Victor wooden trap is the only one of its kind still made in America (at its Central PA facility). In the fall, it will also be launching a new product, the Victor Kill and Seal Mousetrap, which will be the only trap available to kill a mouse quickly and humanely and, through a tight seal, contain all the icky discharge like bodily fluids or parasites. The company's latest electronic rodent control innovation will also be hitting stores with its multi-kill trap that enables consumers to kill 10 mice in one night.

For Bresslergroup, the product designers now have a blueprint for achieving sustainable innovation with other clients seeking an Emersonian impact.

"This project gave us the ability to develop a case study with demonstrable features that we can try to sell to other clients," says Turpault. "We'll make a point of updating our sustainable design practice with packaging, so this will have an impact on how we do business."

Joe Petrucci is managing editor of Keystone Edge. Send feedback here.

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Members of the Woodstream Corp. team (from left): Sean Killian, Karen Tiesler, COF Manager; Julien Godbarge, Global Category Manager-Rodent Control; and Tom Moore, Product Manager.

Close up of the new and improved Victor Quick Set Mousetrap, now made in the U.S.

Godbarge with the new mousetrap at company headquarters in Lititz.

The Woodstream team discuss the impact of their better mousetrap.

All Photographs by Chris Knight

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