14025 Mon, 03/17/2008 - 10:15am
By Barbara Thau
CHICAGO–Merchants here at the International Home & Housewares Show are on the hunt for everything, from gadgets with a fresh and functional twist to small electrics with that special something to spice up a category that has been lackluster for many retailers, buyers told HFN.
Retailers are also looking forward to meeting with their vendor partners to hash out ways to counter rising costs for raw materials and fuel, they said.
Mike Nemoir, executive vice president of home for Bon-Ton, is in search of “newness and innovation to help spark the business. It’s been flat,” he said. “Consumer confidence is pretty low.”
Cookware, small electrics and casual dinnerware have been sluggish at Bon-Ton while gadgets have been a bright spot, although the category “doesn’t generate enough volume” to make a big difference in the business, Nemoir said.
In housewares, “the same old, same old is not going to work anymore.” To that end, the retailer will be scoping the aisles for truly new fare in small electrics, “from coffeemakers to toaster ovens and mixers, and cookware in all kinds of metal,” he said.
Nemoir will also be looking for ways to grapple with raw material price increases in stainless steel, for example, “which are coming,” he said.
Amazon.com is mining the market for products to make coffee and tea a growth opportunity, Chris Nielsen, vice president of home and garden for the e-tailer, told HFN.
“The items that tend to do well for us have an innovative component to them. Our customers are interested in items with some functional innovative, some improvement in terms of how the item operates, ease of use,” he said.
Amazon is also in search of gadgets geared for both traditional and ethnic cooking.
“We’ve had a lot of success with products connected to people entertaining at home, [be it] serving or making drinks,” Nielsen said. “We’ll definitely be watching out for those types of products” at the show.
Amazon has been pleased with its housewares business. “We’re very encouraged by the start to the year. We have not seen any slowdown in demand,” he said. “We’re looking for a great rest of the year.”
Although 2007 was a good year for housewares at Bloomingdale’s—driven by new fare in the specialty coffee category, a strong decorative housewares business and a solid promotional calendar—“we’re off to an up-and-down start to the new year” Michelle Israel, operations vice president of housewares and luggage, told HFN. “We’re looking for some consistency.”
At the show, Macy’s tony division will seek to build its decorative housewares business and [look for opportunities to] cross-merchandise functional and decorative housewares,” she said.
Israel will also be keeping an eye out for new color and design trends.
The Container Store will be shopping the show for holiday 2008 and spring 2009 assortments.
This is the big show for the storage and organization emporium, Mona Williams, vice president of buying, told HFN. “We see every booth, we walk every aisle … looking for new products, new material and to see what’s coming out there in color,” she said. The bright color trend—such as orange—has not changed in recent years, she said. The Container Store also plans to expand beyond its storage niche to pick up trend ideas.
Nearly every year, its trek to Chicago turns up an item or two with that unexpected “wow” factor, which is usually from a new, undiscovered vendor, Williams said. “It’s that unique product we have not seen before. Something that fills a niche for the customer.”
Rising product costs “are on top of every retailer’s mind,” she said. “We want to make sure that in an effort to hold costs down, the manufacturer doesn’t take away from the quality of the product.”
At the show, the retailer will also be looking to discuss green standards with suppliers. Today, “everyone has a product that is considered eco-friendly,” she said. But The Container Store wants to make sure that those products live up to their green label. “We want to feel comfortable with the definitions of any product we present to our customers,” she said.
Also, the retailer is looking for goods that up the ante in food-storage safety, a topic that has been in the news, she said.
ShopKo had a weak fourth quarter in housewares and January has been “very disappointing” as the regional discounter has been “pummeled” with snowstorms, said Rod Ghormley senior vice president and GMM of home.
ShopKo will search the show’s aisles for merchandise in vibrant hues, as colorful lines—such as Rachael Ray cookware and acrylic dinnerware—have been heating up sales at the chain, he said.
And although merchants are “falling over themselves for … proprietary, private and personality brands. … There are some very good national brands that the customer respects but are being left behind by many retailers,” Ghormley said. To that end, ShopKo will be feeling out opportunities to tap into that “brand equity” at the show, he said.
The retailer’s housewares department is currently undergoing a makeover designed to better showcase brands with display tables as opposed to just gondola runs, Ghormley said.
Meijer, the Midwestern chain that created the supercenter format, is shopping the market for “chef-level type product that you would find at the mass level with a little extra spark to it: whether it’s a color, or a finish on an appliance,” said Rob Atteberry, vice president of merchandising. “Next month, Meijer will roll out Grand Gourmet, a private-label cookware, bakeware and small electrics line that will extend to barbecue grills and outdoor garden goods,” he said.
Atteberry added, “We’re a large grocery—we’re always looking for food prep items that differentiate ourselves.”