BUSINESS 2.0: Bottom Line Design  
Rabbit on a Run
Using an existing design as a jumping-off point, Metrokane's popular corkscrew continues to hop past the competition.
By Monica Khemsurov

(Business 2.0) - The name sounded silly. The marketing department complained. Why call an intricately designed gadget aimed at wine connoisseurs a Rabbit? Yet Riki Kane, founder of New York City housewares company Metrokane, felt in her gut that the product's unusual moniker--and its curvy, zoomorphic silhouette--would set the Rabbit Corkscrew apart.

She was right. What started as a playful redesign of the Screwpull Lever Model Classic--an innovative but expensive wine opener made by France's Le Creuset--has become an industry coup. When the Rabbit was released in 2000, Metrokane's annual sales climbed to $8 million, up from $2.5 million in 1999. Profits quadrupled. The company now sells about 200,000 Rabbits a year--accounting for a quarter of its $18 million in annual revenues. "The Rabbit defined us as a company," Kane says. "Consumers thought it was the first lever-style corkscrew."

In fact, that distinction goes to the Lever Model Classic, the first wine opener that could easily uncork a bottle in less than two seconds. But noting that the fussy, $175 plastic gadget was available only through specialty stores, Kane set out to create a more accessible, ergonomic knockoff. Her first attempt, the Faucet, caused Le Creuset to sue for patent infringement in 1997. But during the court proceedings, Kane learned that Le Creuset's patent would expire in 1999, so she seized the opportunity and hired a designer who had done work for Oxo, maker of the Good Grips line of kitchen tools. The result was a sleek metal corkscrew that evoked a bunny's outstretched paws and ears. Though the Rabbit's $80 retail price was 54 percent lower than that of Le Creuset's model, Metrokane positioned it as a luxury item, buying $500,000 worth of ads in titles such as Gourmet and the New Yorker and landing orders from Crate & Barrel and the Sharper Image.

Because it holds a patent on the Rabbit's design and not its functionality, Metrokane now has its own imitators. The company has responded with an offer: A recent print ad urges consumers to trade in their poorly constructed corkscrews for a $10 Rabbit rebate. Metrokane is also battling lower-cost competitors on their turf: In 2003 it introduced a pared-down $30 corkscrew called the Houdini, which sells 120,000 units annually. But what's really helped the company's fortunes multiply is better design. "The Rabbit is so friendly-looking, especially to aspiring wine aficionados," says Anna Rabinowicz, a product design professor at Parsons School of Design. "It makes them feel like experts, even if they're not."

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