It’s been a number of years since I attended the Housewares Show. So it feels good to be back in Chicago in March instead of January when gale winds blowing off the lake painfully pushed temps to sub-zero depths.
As the show begins today, the weather is cold but not in the deep freeze.
Phil Brandl, president of the International Housewares Association, and I, coincidentally, have the same number of years tenure —17 years in fact — invested with our respective organizations. I started covering nonfood for Supermarket News in 1994, and Brandl began the same year as director, marketing and trade development, with the then National Housewares Manufacturers Association. In 1999, the association’s name changed to International Housewares Association. The trade show, likewise, was soon renamed International Home + Housewares Show. The international moniker positioned the housewares association well for the 21st century, Brandl told me.
“We’ve transitioned from being a national domestic show into very much an international event. Manufacturers also have transitioned from being manufacturers of products to marketers of products. So it has been a subtle but meaningful change in terms of the association’s name change,” he said.
Last year at the trade show, 30% of all 21,000 attendees and exhibitors where from outside the U.S.
The global influence on the housewares industry can be seen in a shift in strategy for sourcing and selling products, Brandl noted.
“The model of manufacturing in Asia and bringing the product to sell in North America and export back out has totally changed. It now can be manufactured in Asia and distributed and sold directly into Asia and directly out of Asia,” he explained.
However, there has been stress and compression in manufacturing in some Asian markets, mainly China. Some of this is due to labor costs and limited factory facilities that have achieved quality standard certification that complies with domestic national manufacturing standards. Brandl said the bar is constantly being raised on standards and certification of housewares products driven by retailers demand for quality.
To address this, the IHA is working with members to help develop markets of alternative sourcing. Trade missions have been conducted to countries such as Vietnam, India and Bangladesh.
He said exports of North American-produced goods will become a more important part of the business as well. Key countries for exported goods from North America are South America, India and China.