Hot Housewares1 Mar, 2014 By: Doug McPherson Response
So what is up with housewares? Interest. That’s what’s up. Way up — hotter than the inside of a shiny new invective oven.
The 2014 International Home + Housewares Show returns, once again, to Chicago this month — and it sold out in record time.
Organizers say no less than 400 new (yes, new) exhibitors will be on hand to share their wares across all home product categories. Add to that the tens of thousands of new gadgets offered by other exhibitors, and there’s your proof housewares are going through the roof.
Phil Brandl, president and CEO of the International Housewares Association (IHA), the group that puts on show, says sure, a general upswing in the economy and improving housing sales aren’t hurting. “But really, even in a tepid economy, sales of home goods don’t usually dip as much as other categories — mostly because consumers spend more time in their homes,” Brandl says.
It turns out, something else is at play that simply can’t be ignored: what Brandl calls the “the rise of global design leaders.”
He says during the last economic downturn, home goods suppliers and housewares put a lot of dough into design and innovation. Brandl and many others in housewares say home goods owe much of the resurgence to human creativity, innovation and a healthy dollop of design.
Those three key ingredients have been baking in the proverbial oven and, now, the concoction is ready to come out. “That investment is now poised to bring new products and new functionalities to consumers,” Brandl says.
Designs on Innovation
Brandl says the “overarching focus” for home products right now is design. “To me, design is key given how many companies are either working with well-known designers or adding design talent to their staffs,” he adds.
Steve Heroux, founder and CEO of Hampton Direct Inc., a direct response marketing firm in Woodland Hills, Calif. (behind hit products like Wraptastic, the Chillow, Instahang and Furniture Fix), agrees that innovation is rising and that he’s seen more of it lately than in past years.
“Innovation is what feeds our industry. Being innovative and first to market is the only recipe for success,” says Heroux, a member of the Response Advisory Board. “More inventors are coming to Hampton Direct with great housewares product ideas — many products that solve everyday problems in and around the house.”
That’s precisely the message from Damon Wilmott, senior vice president of sales at Joseph Joseph, a United Kingdom-based maker of housewares, including kitchen tools.
A hot-selling example is the Joseph Joseph Twist Whisk. With the turn of a handle, it transforms a flat whisk into a balloon whisk. “It’s a 2-in-1 and great for storage,” Wilmott says.
And the company’s Garlic Rocker offers a very basic way to crush garlic (many chefs use the back of a knife) that’s much different than an over-designed and tough-to-clean traditional press. It lets users easily crush garlic, transfer to food and clean effortlessly, and then remove the garlic odor by simply washing with the steel product itself.
Beyond particular products, Wilmott says housewares in general have seen big growth. “The interest in housewares has grown and it continues to grow because consumer demand for innovation has risen,” Wilmott says. “With the boom in celebrity chefs, house renovation TV programs, and interiors magazines, consumers are paying more attention to their living spaces.”
Janet Delaney, senior manager sales and client relations at Hearthware (products include the NuWave Oven and i-Roast), says housewares’ innovation is up because customers have become more savvy and technologically aware. ”We’re dealing with a much more sophisticated consumer who is demanding a more sophisticated product,” Delaney says.
That’s one reason Brandl and his group continue to make room for innovators at the IHA show, which has built a stellar reputation for working with inventors over the years. This year it’s celebrating 60 inventors and recognizing innovation in 13 product categories.
Brandl says the IHA innovation awards expanded to those 13 categories in 2013 and there were a record number of submissions last year as well. “Even though we’re still in the product submission phase, we fully expect another record for 2014,” he contends.
So what products are rising to the surface in this swell of fresh-found interest in housewares? Brandl says home food preparation is, probably buoyed by the influence of celebrity chefs — just look at Response’s cover story (see page 24).
Another case in point is Hearthware’s recent appointment of Chef Bobby Trevino as executive chef in conjunction with its NuWave Precision Induction Cooktop (PIC), which combines far infrared, conduction and convection heat to speed up cooking. Delaney says the product’s quick rise even surprised her.
“Coming into 2013, we knew we had a hot new product, but we didn’t expect the PIC to become such a runaway success so quickly,” Delaney says. “The public reception has been tremendous.”
Hearthware has now sold 1 million PICs since its introduction in 2011 via retail and the Web. And to keep sales going, in January the company hired Trevino to manage its culinary team and develop recipes for the PIC.
Wilmott, too, is seeing “substantial growth” in kitchen food prep items.
“It’s becoming more popular to cook and entertain at home — functional and stylish products enhance the experience and make the kitchen a fashionable place to socialize with guests,” he says. “We’re paying attention to the utility category and are seeing a surge in demand for this area.”
Dean Chapman, president and CEO of Prepara, a kitchen tools company in New York, says Prepara’s salad chopper tool and veg savors were real sleepers but caught fire mid-year alongside a new line of coffee products that performed “extremely well while still being nurtured into our brand.”
Other categories Brandl says are showing promise: home cleaning, personal care, home beverage preparation (especially coffees, teas or carbonated beverages), and home organization.
And another re-emerging trend to keep an eye on: “Made in the U.S.A.” products are getting added to shopping lists for 2014. “Our research and conversations with retailers tells us ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ is a consumer-demand-driven trend,” Brandl says.
Plus, green is making a comeback. “Even though demand slipped slightly during the past few years, it’s growing again,” Brandl adds. “Both greener product and packaging are coming in at a faster rate (at the show) than in the past few years.”
At Hearthware, social media is gaining strength as a sales tool. The company is tapping Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and cooking club websites to build an engaged social community where customers, both old and new, are asking cooking questions, sharing recipes and even sharing how much they love of Hearthware products.
Hearthware came to realize a new chef would only help to drive that social media engagement, especially when it introduces new products, says Jeremy Pohn, the company’s social media coordinator.
“We learned customers sometimes struggle to adjust to a new technology, such as induction cooking,” Pohn says. “So to boost customer satisfaction, we brought in an executive chef (Trevino) to offer some guidance and answer questions and develop recipes so customers can be successful cooking with the NuWave PIC.”
Trevino works on Hearthware’s Facebook page and its cooking club website, answering customer cooking questions and adding to discussions. He also develops recipes and produces recipe videos that are posted on Hearthware’s social media.
Pohn adds customers feel more comfortable when they can put a face to the company. “When potential customers see the chef interacting and answering questions on social media, they feel more comfortable investing in a product and they know their questions will be answered. They find a kind of solace in a professional chef. He performs very well in front of the camera, and he can demonstrate complex recipes in a way that even novice cooks can understand.”
“Our design process is continuous improvement, and to help us with this, we listen to who actually uses our products,” Wilmott say. “We have an extensive PR strategy that helps us connect with our end users. The Internet is certainly a growing marketplace and one not to be ignored. We try to operate responsibly in this market and have loyalty to our brick-and-mortar retailers who work hard on a face-to-face level with the consumers.”
Still, there appears to be plenty of room for fundamentals and traditional selling in housewares. Wilmott says Joseph Joseph works to sell its products through “simple, easy-to-understand” packaging and by partnering with trustworthy retailers.
“We work with department stores, design shops, gourmet specialty retailers, high-end food stores, catalog and the Internet,” he says. “To show our brand to the consumers, we encourage merchandising by brand and then develop an impactful and eye-catching display. We’ve seen a trend for consumers collecting by brand and loyalty to particular manufacturers of product. And on a trade level, we produce a coffee-table-style catalog and exhibit at the world’s best trade shows.”
Chapman at Prepara agrees and says, “Selling always seems to come down to good strong product, on-time delivery and seriously well connected reps and salespeople — the personal touch is still the best. We’ve dabbled with new methods, but it seems our audience responds best to the tried-and-trusted old-school media channels. They’re not afraid of new channels, but to get from there to Prepara is a path that’s connected via older media.”
In DRTV, Tim Murphy, a senior strategist at R2C Group, a direct response firm that’s working with floor-care giant Bissell, says he’s seen a noticeable shift in the channel during the past few years.
“We’re seeing major brands such as Bissell returning to direct response advertising to build their brand value over time and drive sales,” Murphy says. “Product demos are key in housewares, so a company like Bissell can now spend the time and attention it needs to fully illustrate its products.”
Murphy says when Bissell launched its new PowerGlide® vacuum with Lift-Off® technology last year via direct and retail channels, it still kept a level of brand advertising in the marketplace while creating longer formats that could demonstrate the product’s versatility and — at the same time — build on its brand equity as a trusted name in home cleaning.
“We know TV impressions drive more than just direct response — they drive significant sales through Web and retail as well,” Murphy says.
Another TV success story comes from New Bern, N.C., home of a step stool that’s tough to tip over. Called Safe-T-Stool, the maker claims it’s the only stool engineered to never tip or flip. In January, it sold 1,700 stools at $29.96 each in less than 10 minutes on QVC.
Ron Pontiff, who spent 10 years creating the stool, calls QVC is “the holy grail” for generating massive, immediate exposure for new products. “Their viewership numbers are enormous, and they have a solid reputation for only carrying quality products,” he says.
Pontiff explains the brokerage firm he worked with pitched eight products and QVC chose only his. ”We feel honored. I know QVC was very pleased with the volume,” he adds.
Before QVC, Pontiff sold the stool online only. He says his plan now is to beef up his online advertising, then move into print, TV — and eventually retail.
Regardless of how housewares are sold, Wilmott says functionality, innovation and problem solving are always key.
“Yes, aesthetics are important but should never override the functionality,” Wilmott says. “We’re all about redesigning and improving everyday products. The world does not need another me-too product. Either improve it or do something else instead.” ■