ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Even before its Jan. 11 to 14 run at Chicago's McCormick Place next week, supermarket buyers had an opportunity to shop the International Housewares Show without ever leaving their home turf.
The National Housewares Manufacturers Association, based here, set up its "Virtual Show" earlier this year on its new web site, www.housewares.org. It's the latest in technological initiatives the 2,000-member organization is pursuing to foster better supplier-retailer partnerships.
"We believe it will play a major role not only in show activities but in communications between retailers and manufacturers," Philip Brandl, president and chief operating officer of the NHMA, told SN during a preshow interview.
The on-line service provides a listing of NHMA members, exhibit booth locations and a link to manufacturers' web sites. Retailers can search for specific products and companies, examine floor plans for booth locations, read about show events and activities, communicate with exhibitors and other show attendees, and schedule meetings. There are even virtual booths that suppliers can buy to display their products and schedule meetings. Between 25 and 30 manufacturers bought "vBooths" to communicate their product information, said Brandl.
The Virtual Show will be up and running three months after the show for follow-up communications between suppliers and retailers. "We look to evaluate and access the usage and performance of the Virtual Show. Perhaps it will be repositioned as an ongoing, year-round opportunity for suppliers and retailers to communicate," Brandl added.
Brandl views the Internet as a new frontier for the NHMA to explore. "There are certain levels of business that can be communicated over the Internet, but not all," he stated. He estimated about 15% of NHMA members have web sites. By the year 2000 that number should double, he said.
"Our objective is by the year 2003 half of the communication that goes outbound from the NHMA to its membership will be handled via Internet on the web site."
The association also has made good progress on its electronic data interchange project. There are now 450 companies, about 25% of the membership, exchanging billing information through the NHMA's value-added network.
On developing an electronic catalog, "it is still very much in R&D," Brandl said. Certain housewares categories are better suited for the electronic catalog than others, he noted. For example, small electrics are easier to identify than home decoratives, which possess many product attributes.
This year's trade show will feature a Trend Tracker exhibit for the first time. The NHMA has identified Do-It-Yourself Health Care/Home Health Care, Healthy Meal Preparation, Space Creation and Improving on Nature, which includes home environment testing and air purifying and refreshing devices, as cutting-edge trends for retailers to watch.
Brandl said health, safety and casual living with an accent on quality will be particularly important trends supermarkets can capitalize on. The movement to healthy cooking in particular is a natural fit for supermarkets, he noted.
"If supermarkets take a dedicated approach to general merchandise there are tremendous, untapped opportunities for them despite new, emerging super-sized formats," he added.