February 4, 2009, 12:00 AM

Humor helped Northern Tool launch its latest direct marketing brand

Unlike NorthernTool.com, the company’s flagship e-commerce site that sells tools and gear to serious construction contractors, landscape crews and auto shops, the recently launched Kotulas.com targets do-it-yourself male shoppers with a sense of humor.

Mark Brohan

Research Director

Northern Tool & Equipment Catalog Co. has a corporate sense of humor and is using its lighter side to carve out a new direct marketing brand in the do-it-yourself space.

Last summer Northern Tool, No. 75 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, launched Kotulas.com as an e-commerce site that sells tools and gadgets to men age 40 and up in the do-it-yourself category. In November, Northern Tool followed up its online launch by printing and mailing about 2.5 million catalogs. Going forward Northern Tool, which grew its e-commerce sales by 7% in 2008 to $200 million from $186.8 million in 2007, plans to mail out a new edition each quarter.

Unlike NorthernTool.com, the company’s flagship e-commerce site that stocks about 20,000 SKUs and sells tools and gear to serious construction contractors, landscape crews, auto shops and others, Kotulas.com targets do-it-yourself male shoppers with a sense of humor. The site, which stocks about 1,000 products, carries hard-to-find gadgets and specialty tools that do-it-yourselfers and tradesmen might pick up at a specialized convention or trade show.

To market items on Kotulas.com, Northern Tools writes less serious product descriptions such as selling a retro vending machine that “adds cool to your cold ones” or a toilet seat that attaches to a trailer hitch. “Bears will wish they had one!” the product description says, “Every sportsman needs his own throne, and the off-road commode fits the bill - with comfort and luxury to boot!”

Though Northern Tool takes a humorous marketing approach to the launch of its latest e-commerce site, there’s nothing funny about business expectations for the Kotula brand. “Even with the current down economy, sales for the first six months have been very promising and we are actively expanding our product and marketing efforts to grow the business,” says Northern Tool director of Internet marketing Nathan Miller. “We see a lot of potential for this brand.”

The site, which is named for the family that founded and owns Northern Tool, is already benefiting from additional exposure. Jay Leno has mentioned Kotulas.com in his opening monologue on the Tonight Show and the site has its own running commentary posted on Reddit.com, a social networking news and commentary site. “The emphasis is on unique and hard-to-find items, at tremendous value,” says Miller. “The site is geared towards guys, but there is something for everyone.”

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