CHICAGO -- A date change from January to March and exhibit floor enhancements brought increased attendance to the Housewares Show here last month, although the number participating in the Association of Retail Marketing Services Supermarket Promotion Show, which runs in the days immediately preceding Housewares, was off.
However, retail buyers, suppliers and exhibitors attending both shows told SN they were focused on the same things that always brought them to Chicago in January: the opportunity to spot new products and trends.
Final attendance numbers for both shows were not available in the weeks following the events, but a spokeswoman for the International Housewares Association, Rosemont, Ill., estimated total attendance was up 7% -- from 56,000 to about 60,000. Supermarket attendance was similarly up, said Phil Brandl, president, IHA, although he could not cite specific numbers.
Meanwhile, attendance at the ARMS Show was off 15%, said Gerri Hopkins, executive director, ARMS, Red Bank, N.J., to a total of about 350. The ARMS Show is for continuity programs, in-and-out promotions and other merchandising opportunities.
While retail buyers said they were looking for new items to catch consumer interest, attendees and exhibitors at the two shows emphasized the industry overview provided by the events.
"The Housewares Show gives me a gauge of what to look for. Because of our size, we don't make many buying decisions on the spot, but there are always one or two items that I order rather than miss out. Overall, the show gives me more of the big picture," said Dan O'Rourke, culinary category manager, Lund Food Holdings, Edina, Minn. O'Rourke only attends the Housewares Show.
"At Housewares, I look at color and design trends," said Sheila Payton, general merchandise sales manager, Supervalu's Central Region, Xenia, Ohio. Payton attended both shows this year, looking at the ARMS Show primarily for in-and-out domestic products.
Other buyers agree with O'Rourke's assessment, although some gauge the value of the two shows purely on the basis of novel items.
"We're looking for what is new and unique," said Dave Lynam, supervisor of general merchandise, Harding's Friendly Markets, Plainwell, Mich. "We're successful as long as we find something new and unique."
Lynam said he finds the continuities show much more useful than the Housewares Show from a supermarket perspective. Other buyers were more critical.
"How many times can you do cookware or dinnerware continuities?" said one nonfood executive with a Texas-based retailer, who wished to remain anonymous. "Continuities have slowed down, but I'm looking for what is new."
The executive said he primarily attends ARMS, but goes to the Housewares Show to gauge trends there, as well. The ARMS Show went to a new format this year, moving away from private meeting rooms to exhibit booths in a different hotel. Hopkins said buyers liked the new format.
"It was easier for buyers to walk around and spot promotional merchandise they felt would be of interest," Hopkins said.
The IHA also changed some elements of its show this year, most notably the dates, but added exhibitor areas and themes to the show. Design and style were the key themes this year, said Brandl.
"If there are any trends that we have a sense of, it's that there is a keen eye towards product style and design that have been upgraded by the suppliers, that I think are being recognized by the retailer customers," he said.
As the show was winding down, exhibitors -- initially wary of the potential effect of the new Housewares format and dates -- said the show went well.
"I was a little concerned the first day, but once it kicked in it was a really good show," said Peter Corrado, executive vice president, Roscan, St. Laurent, Quebec, a supplier of silicone bakeware and kitchen gadgets. With the show starting on Saturday rather than Sunday, attendance patterns shifted this year, Brandl noted.
In spite of changing traffic patterns for attendees, exhibitors said they were still able to connect with their customers in the same way they have in past years.
"I look at these shows as a national sales meeting for our sales staff where I can train them on the new products and see our key buyers," said Rob Ashford, president, Osmegen, Lehigh Valley, Pa., a manufacturer of air deodorizing products among other items.
Other suppliers said the show was primarily a chance for them to showcase company offerings in a targeted environment.
"This show is an opportunity for manufacturers to show customers the way they want to be seen," said Bruce Aronson, president, A. Aronson, New York. The company partners with major food suppliers to manufacture brand specific products like Wonder Bread-branded sandwich containers that are sold in a number of major supermarkets including Albertsons, Kroger, Safeway, and Giant Eagle.