A months-long grassroots campaign by Irwin Tools to thank hardworking men and women trade professionals culminates on September 16, 2011 with the first National Tradesmen Day.

Trade worker Delwyn Thornton rings the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 1, 2011 to celebrate National Tradesmen Day.
Trade worker Delwyn Thornton rings the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 1, 2011 to celebrate National Tradesmen Day.

“From media coverage, to our customers continuing to ask how they can get more involved, we’ve had great interest at every level,” says Irwin vice president of marketing Curt Rahilly. “We’re really honoring the tradesman and promoting that having a career as a skilled worker is rewarding. Everyone we meet is excited about it, especially because it’s not about trying to sell something - it’s about looking people in the eyes and saying, ‘thank you.’” Since the team conceptualized National Tradesmen Day back in January, Irwin has held numerous events to bring attention to both the holiday and the workers it honors. As a sponsor of the Bristol Motor Speedway Night Race, Irwin brought 250 tradesmen to the event and held a subsequent contest Thank a Tradesman contest with a VIP Pole Position grand prize. Participation in the contest was telling, Rahilly says.

“We asked people to go to Irwin.com and thank a tradesman that impacted their life. The winner was  Kenny Thompson, who happens to be a concrete finisher. He went on the site and thanked all the tradespeople who helped him build the career he has today,” Rahilly says. “It was really touching to see not just homeowners go online to thank their homebuilders and plumbers, but also to see trade workers recognizing each other.”

Education and Awareness

In addition to showing appreciation for trades across a variety of industries, Rahilly says a major impetus behind the National Tradesman Day has been the need to draw attention to skilled trades as rewarding careers. “We can all appreciate a tradesman coming in to repair an overflowing toilet, but there’s not a lot of encouragement for kids and teens to look at plumbing or other trades as careers,” he says. “As a result, there’s a forecast shortage of skilled labor, so we want to help bring some attention to that issue.”

In keeping with its Nascar tradition, Irwin also took two automotive service technician winners of the 2011 Skills Challenge to the Bristol Night Race. The teens were able to “experience Nascar from a different side,” Rahilly says, by teaming up with one of the race teams and getting some hands-on experience in the pits.

“This was a great resume builder as these students prepare for trade careers,” he adds. “Bristol gives us a great voice to help spread the word.” Irwin has also contributed thousands of dollars in Skills USA scholarship money.

National Attention

To bring attention to National Tradesmen Day outside the Nascar world, representatives from Irwin rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 1. Rahilly called the experience “incredible.”

“When you think about the excitement of the New York Stock Exchange and to be on the floor before it opens, it’s a pretty intense environment,” he says. “When you think about the halls of the most important economic center in the world, and at center stage was a tradesman – that’s a really powerful combination. It added to the excitement when we watched all these executives in suits step aside so a trade professional could open the market.”

Rahilly says Irwin’s sister companies under the Newell-Rubbermaid umbrella, which include Lenox Tools and numerous consumer brands, such as Rubbermaid and Sharpie, have been asking how they can get more involved in the National Tradesmen Day initiative. “The whole company is excited about it because it’s recognizing the people that build our country and keep us up and running,” Rahilly says, sharing a conversation he had with a rail worker recently.

“I was talking to a young guy during one of the races we attended and he told me he fixes track on the railroad,” Rahilly recalls. “He told me the line he works on starts in Florida and ends in New York, and he works on a 50-mile section. I said to him, ‘what you really do is connecting family and friends on the East Coast. You’re allowing transportation to flow smoothly so people can get together.’ He told me he had never thought of it in that perspective before, and that was really powerful.”

To celebrate National Tradesmen Day on Sept. 16, Irwin will host pizza parties and events in parks around the country, including a Hispanic marketing effort in San Diego. Rahilly says in years to come, Irwin hopes to make National Tradesmen Day a global celebration, reflecting the company’s international history and reach.

Mark your calendars for next year’s National Tradesmen Day on Sept. 21. Going forward, the holiday will be marked annually on the third Friday of September. —Lauren Hunter, associate editor, Remodeling magazine

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