CHICAGO -- Setting the tone for stylish living, Martha Stewart kicked off the 2001 International Housewares Show here yesterday (Jan. 14) with a keynote address. Indeed, products that convey more style and panache will be heavily sought after by buyers that ascend McCormick Place this week, noted industry observers.
"Continuing trends include more design-oriented products," said Philip Brandl, president and chief operating officer of the newly renamed International Housewares Association, Rosemont, Ill. "The push is upwards of style, and ergonomics. These are factors in consumer purchases."
After declines in 1996 and 1997, supermarkets' houseware sales are again on the upswing, according to the IHA's 2000 State of the Industry Report. Houseware sales in supermarkets ballooned by over 14% in 1999, according to the report. They grabbed $4.3 million in 1999 sales, a sharp increase from $3.7 million in 1998. Overall, supermarket houseware sales accounted for 7.2% of the total $67 billion sales last year for the industry, according to the report. Brandl said the sales increase attributes to the "degree of commitment to promote the category."
Retailers like Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., will be looking for new trends, new colors, new styles and more gourmet-type items, said housewares buyer, Kevin Nicholas.
"[We] want to see where the market is heading, if it's continuing to go upscale," he said. Nicholas predicts there will be a continuance of upscale, trendy kitchen tools like potato mashers, thermometers and wine cork screws, as well as heavy-duty chef items, like heavy-weight steel stock pots. Steven Urgo, general merchandise buyer, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., said the retailer will be more strategic in their approach to this year's show, honing in on expanding categories like home decor and cleaning supplies.
"Home decor items have been successful on a seasonal basis, so we'll look to see if there's opportunity to bring in key items like candles and picture frames [year-round]," he said. "We want to ride that trend, based on the successful foundation we've already seen here."
Nicholas said he credits the upscale houseware trend to several factors. "People have more disposable income, men are cooking more, and cooking is becoming more of a hobby instead of a chore."
Product trends of high style also carry high-end prices. Brandl said high-end items do not have the advantage of low price points and easy cross-merchandising like the lower-end items. They have to be merchandised differently than a throwaway cake pan.
"High-end items need to take the retailer to a new level of commitment," he said. "They are not impulse goods, so retailers need to build it as a destination category rather than an impulse category."
Despite space constraints and omnipresent mass retailer competition, Urgo said those obstacles force retailers to do a better job. "It puts an onus on us to be better merchants and optimize selling space."
Brandl said buyers also are interested in new colors that will be unveiled at the show, as well as new licensing agreements.
Nicholas said he sees the bright color trend on the downturn, while more muted '70s style colors, such as avocado green and harvest gold, are on the upswing.
At this year's show, Brandl said buyers should continue to see products that aid healthy cooking, ethnic cooking and "anything that can save time."
To build upon housewares success in supermarkets, Brandl emphasized devotion to the category. "[Retailers must] have commitment of continuity and promote it on a regular basis, building consumer awareness and expectation," he said. "They (supermarkets) must let consumers know they are in the business."
Urgo agreed. "It's a game of sourcing and timing, merchandising the right items at the right price."