Idle Hands Prove Innovative for Housewares1 Mar, 2011 By: Jackie Jones Response
Consumers who learned to be self-sufficient during the U.S. economy’s downfall provide inspiration for the housewares industry and the DR measures used to market new, multifunctional products.
When the U.S. economy began its sharp decline a few years ago, consumers did what they could to cut back — and that, more often than not, meant jet-setting nights out on the town were exchanged for social gatherings contained within the four walls of people’s own homes. As the economy has begun what many are touting as a gradual recovery, consumers are proving they aren’t quite ready to part with their homebody, financially savvy ways.
In fact, 63 percent of restaurant-goers surveyed still think it’s too expensive to go out regularly, according to market research company Mintel Intl. Group Ltd., and consumers’ growing trend toward self-sufficiency at home has proved to be a boost to the housewares industry — both in terms of customer response and increased innovation by inventors new to the market.
"All eyes are on what appears to be economic recovery in the making for the U.S., and I think we’re probably in a time of re-growth and rebuilding," says Perry Reynolds, vice president of the International Housewares Association, which hosts its annual International Home + Housewares Show on March 6-8 in Chicago. "One of the things we have seen is that some of the people who were thrust out of a job during the downturn have used that time to follow a dream and create a product. So the housewares industry in particular is seeing an awful lot of innovations and creators out there."
Hampton Direct Inc.’s Furniture Fix is the direct response marketer’s latest foray into the housewares market and taps into consumers’ need for multifunctional products. Hampton Direct has hit it big in the past with other housewares products such as the Wonder Hanger, the Total Pillow and Twin Draft Guard.
Seeking All-in-One Solutions
The housewares industry is coming off a particularly successful fourth quarter, with many chain retailers reporting impressive sales results from the end of 2010 and encouraging outlooks about where the industry is headed for 2011, according to Reynolds. Cooking and food preparation, and products that stress sustainability and simplicity, are the most noticeable trends driving consumer purchasing, he notes.
"In addition to cooking more at home, consumers have become interested in how the home is managed and organized," he says. "They’re more focused on cleanliness, and the tools in the housewares industry that they have at their disposal in such areas have multiplied."
Manufacturers have taken notice, and more and more brands in the housewares space are creating multifunctional products that target consumers looking to not only stay at home for meals and entertainment, but also those who are out to get more bang for their buck.
Brands keen to consumers’ needs include: Fagor, which has recently released items such as the Tabletop Halogen Oven, a product that can bake, steam, roast and grill within one unit, and West Bend, whose Electronic Versatility Slow Cooker is featured at the 2011 Home + Housewares Show.
"Across the kinds of purchases people make for their homes, we’ve seen the innovation wave jump pretty high," Reynolds says. "Something as simple as keeping your cereal from getting soggy too fast has even spurred innovation. It keeps retail interesting."
Reynolds also advises housewares marketers to not overlook the importance of children in the upcoming year. Though they might not have the purchasing power themselves just yet, they are driving an increasing number of trends, he says.
"We’ve seen an increase in kids’ cooking and baking products — we’re seeing more of those at the show this year," says Reynolds, who attributes much of the draw to celebrity appeal. "There are a lot of tools in the housewares market enabling people to eat healthier, and a lot of celebrity chefs who are pushing consumers in that direction. I’m surprised by how many kids enjoy watching food-preparation shows as well, and it’s fascinating that there seems to be a large child audience for cooking competition shows. All of that has increased the chance people will fix meals at home."
Hampton Direct Inc., a marketing firm headquartered in Williston, Vt., that has seen recent success and media attention for its popular PajamaJeans, is no stranger to the housewares space either. The DR company frequently topped the charts in 2010 after hitting it big with products including Twin Draft Guard, Wonder Hanger and the Total Pillow, which "have catapulted (the company’s) success within the housewares category," according to Steve Heroux, president and CEO of Hampton, which expects similar results in 2011.
"Categories that are likely to remain strong (this year) are energy-saving, ease-of-use items, problem solvers and personal care," Heroux says. "Because the economy is turning around, consumers are likely to purchase affordable items and feel-good, comfort brands."