General merchandise supermarket buyers attending the International Housewares Show this week at McCormick Place in Chicago are hoping the economy will remain strong in 1998 and demand will continue for higher-price-point, quality houseware items.
Some of those attending the show, which began yesterday and runs through Jan. 14, said they will zero in on upgraded lines to broaden their housewares offerings and better appeal to shoppers with more disposable income. Many said their buying will be based on capturing volume from mass merchandisers.
"We need to capture sales from the mass merchandisers and grab that housewares customer before she leaves and goes somewhere else for kitchenware products," said Sonny Ellis, director of health and beauty care and general merchandise at Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La.
Housewares buyers at Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., will look at professional tools and gadgets. "The economy is doing well. People have more money to spend and they're buying some upgraded merchandise," explained Dan Black, managing buyer-merchandiser for general merchandise.
"Some people want better quality and are spending a little more for their housewares. They're treating themselves a little nicer than in tough times," commented Black.
Hank Maupin, general merchandise category manager for Randalls Food Markets, Houston, agreed, and said that, based on the current economy and level of disposable income, consumers seem more inclined to purchase better quality housewares.
Maupin is at the show looking for items that can fit into existing departments and complement the chain's present product lines. He'll also learn "about the newest hot colors and probably also look at tools and cookware in dark-finish tones."
Meanwhile, Associated Grocers' Ellis will spend floor time looking into new kitchen gadgets and tools, "with the idea of beefing up the category with expanded products in better quality."
Ergonomic designs and rubber handle grips are of particular interest since those items are selling in Associated Grocers' market area, said the wholesaler. Other lines the wholesaler plans to bolster are plasticware in food storage, kitchenware, laundry and utility products. "Home-meal replacement in the supermarket is growing, for example, and the concept will be a great catapult for the food-storage category. Shoppers increasingly use these for prepared foods like a whole chicken and sides left over after the meal," Ellis stated.
In a move to broaden appeal for its housewares assortment, Brookshire Bros., Lufkin, Texas, hopes to pick up ideas on revamping several key departments, including a possible 4-foot set of higher quality pots and pans, according to Pat DeWane, vice president of nonfood.
"We'll also take a look at bakeware, foilware, plastics and stick goods for our small combo-store settings and see if we're buying the right lines and products. These are the product areas where we'll concentrate our time at the show," said the Brookshire executive.
In bakeware this year, for example, Brookshire is working toward a good, better and best selection. "We have a good and maybe a better in some stores, but not a best," DeWane added. He said the chain wants to beef up its glass bakeware program.
For Wayne, N.J.-based Grand Union Co., the show will be an opportunity to explore new display fixtures and expanded presentations for bakeware, said Harold Sawtell, director of the general merchandise department.
"We'll look at widening our bakeware variety with new items in 4 more feet of category space, and possibly upscaling bakeware and cookware." Sawtell is looking for new opportunities in bakeware and cookware with the idea of possibly developing "strategies for upgraded products. We even increased our stay an extra day at the show from Sunday through Wednesday to make it around to more exhibits."
Charles Yahn, vice president of general merchandise at Associated Wholesaler's York, Pa., nonfood warehouse, intends to focus on new housewares and pet products. He'll spend time on reviewing "what the new thinking is in these departments.
"We go out there with a few departments in mind because the show is so big. We'll concentrate on a few departments and talk to people and get their ideas on what's new in their areas," said the wholesaler.
Homeland Stores, Oklahoma City, will also walk the exhibit area to search for upscale cookware and kitchen tools with more of a professional look, according to Mike Meyer, director of nonfood.
"This is where you get your bigger rings, especially as consumer interest continues to grow for better quality," said Meyer.
He said hunting for sound in-and-out promotion opportunities will also be high on the list, especially in cookware, bakeware, food storage and gadgets. These promotions fit Homeland's move to bolster its housewares sales in these commodity areas this year, he said.
"These promotions are good for generating impulse sales. It used to be for in-and-out promotions everything had to be priced at 99 cents, or two or three for a buck. But we're at the point if the value is there they'll buy it [at a higher price point]," said Meyer.
Homeland will focus some of these housewares promotions on items with $2 and $3 rings, as well as on multipacks that Meyer said "still work well for food-storage and kitchen utensil features."
Upscale tools and gadgets will also be of most interest to Dick Swain, president of Valu Merchandisers, the nonfood subsidiary of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan.
Valu will shop the show for its new kitchen shop department, which may be in six to eight stores this year. Valu is developing the store-within-a-store kitchen shop concept "with all these products combined into one area as opposed to having them scattered," Swain said.
The boutique department will also contain kitchen domestics, appliances and other assorted housewares. "This boutique store-within-a store department will get back a big chunk of that business from other retailing formats," Swain said. The section might display some upscale tools in bulk rather than carded, as well as a full range of kitchen accessories.