Hardware is Happening
1 May, 2014
By: Doug McPherson
It’s a $343 billion industry with trade shows hitting record attendance, innovation is just plain showing off and, yes, products are selling. Strap on your tool belt and learn why.
Last year’s National Hardware Show saw a 16-percent increase in attendance. And the recent event on May 6-8 in Las Vegas was on pace to be the biggest show organizers say they’ve seen in many years — 27,000 attendees were expected.
Richard Russo, vice president of the National Hardware Show, says he knows why things are hopping in hardware. “I think as the housing market and economy continue to recover, consumers are beginning to invest more into their homes again,” Russo says.
For Doug Garnett, CEO and founder of Atomic Direct, a DRTV agency in Portland, Ore., that works with hardware retailers and marketers, the hardware boom may go even deeper into the do-it-yourselfer’s psyche
“Yes, consumer interest remains high and it’s growing. But I also believe we’re seeing an increase in consumers doing things because it offers independence and satisfaction that most aren’t getting from employment,” says Garnett, a member of the Response Advisory Board. “We shouldn’t exaggerate this impact but I think that underneath daily DIY sales, consumers are finding that doing their own projects add meaning to their lives that they aren’t getting elsewhere.”
Plus, Russo adds, there’s a growing demand from retailers. “They’re continually asking for new products,” he says.
That’s something Jeff Gooding, director of consumer marketing at Ace Hardware, can relate to. “We’re always adding innovative items that will help refresh what we offer our customers and help them complete their projects in the best way,” Gooding says.
For Ace, Gooding says it always boils down to consumers’ needs and wants. “They’re looking for faster and easier ways to get their projects done so they can move on to other things,” he adds. “And that’s what we do with our marketing efforts, we remind them what they should be doing, what they need and how to complete it and that our helpful retailers are there for them every step along the way. We’ve found in this day of ever-evolving technology that customer service and personal service is still wanted and needed.”
So what kinds of hardware products are consumers buying? Russo says he’s seeing interest grow in the outdoor category, specifically extended porches or decks, and not just a BBQ and patio sets, but an outdoor living room used to entertain and relax.
Another trend that’s caught Russo’s attention is emergency preparedness and disaster recovery products. He says with all the devastating weather — massive mudslides, blizzards, tornados and hurricanes — more consumers are preparing ahead of time. “Consumers are looking for anything that will help them prepare and to help them in the recovery and cleanup afterwards,” he says.
Russo says this year’s hardware show introduced a new area designed especially for the emergency preparedness category. “Everything from generators to flashlights to water absorption products,” he adds.
Jeana White, executive vice president of new business development at Revere Supply Co. Inc., which has been selling survival products for 78 years, says when bad weather hits, the cash register rings. “The weather dramatically impacts sales of Revere’s LED lighting products,” White says. “During last year’s Hurricane Sandy, all of our east coast retailers sold completely out of lanterns.”
Revere has sold primarily via retailers: L.L. Bean, REI, Dick’s, Sports Authority, Meijer, Walmart, Fred Meyer and specialty retailers. “The key is realizing consumers want to buy quality gear from a brand they can trust,” White adds.
Bob Cannon, a product innovation, sales and marketing advisor in Burton, Ohio, says he’s seeing a movement toward specificity. “Actually, I’m amazed at the ongoing trend toward more specific tools and parts, including custom pieces and away from high volume, all-purpose tools and parts,” he claims.
He has a story to back it up. He says a friend recently moved into an older home and was faced with a lot of updating and remodeling that led to several trips to the local hardware store. “One project in particular stands out because as he wanted a new railing for a stairway,” Cannon says. “The hardware store referred him to a local custom shop. There were lots of standard, stock pieces involved, as well as many custom pieces.”
Russo says manufacturers continue to put a lot of focus on research, development and innovation to keep products fresh.
“Innovation is the lifeblood of the industry, and each and every year our exhibiting manufacturers continue to surprise us with the most innovative products found at any event,” Russo says. “We highlight those products in several areas throughout the show, including our inventor’s spotlight, new product showcase and new product launch.”
In fact, Russo says this year’s show featured a program with partners Invention Home and manufacturers DAP, TTI and Lifetime brands that are seeking inventors. “They held a pitch-type panel this year … they’re looking for the next big thing and hosted private meetings onsite to discover the latest in hardware, housewares and many other product categories,” Russo says.
Cannon agrees with Russo and says innovation in hardware products is a must in marketing today, but adds it’s also very challenging for manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. “While innovations are relatively easy, ensuring the volume to make everyone in the channel profitable on the new item can be difficult. Many times in hardware there is a long time between introduction and becoming a staple in the industry,” Cannon says.
At its heart, Cannon believes innovation is about solving problems faster, easier and at lower cost. “Anytime a new product can do all three things, the likelihood of success is much greater,” he says. “There are lots of great manufacturers and lots of good inventors. We just need a better way of helping them communicate with each other.”
Cannon suggests manufacturers include in their Web presence a place where inventors can submit ideas with narrowly defined parameters the manufacturer will use to evaluate them. And inventors need to learn how to present ideas in a way that makes sense for the manufacturers to take the time to review the idea.
One product garnering the innovative moniker is the Grillbot. Last year, it landed a prime PR spot on NBC’s “Today” show. It’s dubbed the world’s first automatic grill cleaning robot and launched in December 2013. Set it on a grill, push a button and you’re done.
Shawn Dickerson, marketing director at Grillbot, says the “Today” show was an “early piece of luck” when a gadget reviewer learned about the product on Grillbot’s Facebook page. “The reviewer had a relationship with the show,” Dickerson says. “We got a slew of media interest but didn’t get the spike in sales you’d expect from a national media segment because at that point we were still in pre-order stage.”
Today, Grillbot sells primarily on the company’s website (www.grillbots.com
) and Amazon. Dickerson says the company plans to hit catalogs this year: SkyMall, Sharper Image and Hammacher Schlemmer. “We also have multiple drop-ship programs in place around the country where the Grillbot is available for online ordering,” he says.
The company is also hiring a national sales team to expand channel distribution in the U.S. market. Internationally, the company is assembling multiple distributors.
Dickerson says he believes Grillbot would be “a great item to demonstrate” on TV and they’re considering the DRTV route and home shopping channels. “They’d be great fits for us.”
Another product creating buzz is SmartTape, an adhesive disposable tape measure. “You can write on the tape instead of the surface and then you just peel it away. No marks on the wall to scrub or paint over,” says Bill Boyer, vice president of global sales and marketing for SmartTape Solutions.
Boyer says SmartTape is beta testing in a few small independent retailers in Southern California now. “That’s allowed us to refine packaging, messaging, pricing and terms for a much wider distribution effort this year,” Boyer says. “Our key marketing effort right now is almost exclusively tied to easily and quickly conveying what SmartTape does to empower a better DIY experience. While the material is a tape, it is not a tape solution but rather a better tool solution.”
Regardless of how innovative or interesting a hardware product is, it still has to be communicated to be sold. That’s something Garnett at Atomic Direct has been doing for many years.
He says selling hardware has shifted to “omnichannel,” meaning marketers shouldn’t care which channel the consumer uses — phone, Web or visiting stores. “This requires new sophistication from DRTV agencies to plan and measure far more than just phone sales,” Garnett says.
Social media is playing a role, and many DRTV marketers are tapping the new tool — but more as a communication medium than a sales channel, Garnett says.
“In fact, the fundamental truth, as confirmed by Ellen’s huge re-tweet success at the Oscars, is that TV drives social media action so it’s wise to augment DRTV with social and online work,” he says. “But DRTV is the only engine which can power the campaign to high levels of success.”
Garnett says new media isn’t the only place to look to augment DRTV. “We often find the best mix in the world of omnichannel hardware starts with DRTV augmented by independent blogger and magazine reviews — they provide credibility, and topped off with periodic newspaper circulars, can drive final purchases.”
Garnett says unlike generations from 50 years ago, consumers lack many of the hand skills and much of the training they might need. That makes innovations even more critical — because they can help consumers be more successful and confident in their DIY work. And great innovations will find an eager market.
“Our Kreg jig infomercial is a great example,” Garnett says. “The Kreg jig takes joinery out of the arcane world of woodworking and simplifies it to the point where a weekend warrior can build a sturdy bookshelf in an hour or two.”
In retail, Gooding at Ace Hardware says the company’s Ace Rewards loyalty program is the primary direct response vehicle. “It’s a vital piece of our overall marketing mix,” he says.
The program has 25 million members, and Ace shares relevant offers based on members’ purchase behavior. “We use the traditional mail and E-mail to communicate,” Gooding says, “and we’re starting to use more real-time communication through multi-step E-mails and texts.”
Gooding says Ace is focused on meeting the needs of its customers and being helpful, but he adds, “Helpful isn’t just in the stores anymore — it’s anywhere and everywhere consumers seek help and advice, and Ace works hard to be there for them every step of the way.” ■