House beautiful

From candles and kitchenware to grooming products and food storage, the housewares category is proving its resilience.

By Carol Radice

The housewares category—particularly inexpensive indulgences such as candles and staples such as storage containers and cooking utensils—is faring better than some other areas of the supermarket, in part due to consumers’ instinct to nest during tough times.

“It’s fair to say there is a greater amount of attention being paid to the home and home décor today,” says Perry Reynolds, vice president of marketing and trade development for the International Housewares Association, based in Rosemont, Ill. While the recession is continuing to drive an increased use of home goods, Reynolds notes that the rising interest in eating more healthy meals at home is also helping to drive sales. He says consumers who were previously unfamiliar with food preparation are buying new kitchen gadgets to save time and improve their cooking skills.

“Ours is a fortunate industry in that when the economy goes up housewares sales go up and when the economy falls housewares sales drop somewhat but not drastically,” says Reynolds. “If anything, a recession makes customers more available to grocers.”

According to industry experts, the trend is having an especially positive influence on branded home product sales. Patrick Anello, director of marketing services, home products for Wahl Clipper Corp., based in Sterling, Ill., says thanks to advances in innovation and technology products such as grooming tools continue to trend up. “With retail sales stabilizing, along with positive changes in consumer attitudes, we see rekindled opportunity for well regarded brand names.”

Key influencers
In addition to consumers’ budgetary concerns, Mike Rojewski, North America sales manager for Plymouth, Mass.-based Cool Gear International, notes that health and portability are driving interest in the housewares category today. “The number of people taking their lunch to work or school has gone up dramatically in the past couple of years, many of whom are not just taking leftovers, but are making food for their lunches a week ahead of time. As a result, basic containers are always good sellers, but multi-use containers are beginning to trend up,” he says.

Another emerging trend is the interest in healthy and green living, notes Rojewski, who adds that consumers are starting to understand the true impact that plastic waste, has on the environment. The next up and coming trend is portable filtration, he says. “To help address this need, we developed our new EZ Freeze Pure water filtration bottles, which combine our freezer stick and carbon filter into a new patented system.”

For officials at Wahl, the consumer’s drive to save has encouraged a new wave of home haircutters for personal grooming as well as for their pets. Anello says during the last few years there has been a significant increase in the number of households using clippers. “The household penetration level is now over 40% when just a few years back it lingered at 33%,” he says.

“Leading the new product segment at Wahl is the Lithium Ion All In One Grooming Kit,” says Anello. Also new from Wahl is an expanded line of personal trimmers for males and females. One of the key items in the line, a deluxe lighted personal trimmer, has been selected as a finalist in the 2010 Housewares Design Awards.

According to Mark Cunningham, vice president of sales and marketing for Cincinnati-based Candle-Lite, overall top trends that are driving interest in the housewares category include cheerful, bright colors in accessories to complement neutral shades in larger furniture pieces. Cunningham also sees health and wellness, natural elements and the evolution of green thinking influencing trends in housewares.

Creating a home
Generating awareness, proper assortment and capturing im­pulse sales are a few of the keys to succeeding with housewares, notes Reynolds. He says the approach can be as simple as placing the strawberry hullers next to the strawberries or as complex as strategically positioning the category and stocking the items their customers are interested in. “There is a continuing opportunity for supermarkets to get a greater share of this business and in light of other retailers clamoring for a piece of the food business grocers should be doing what they can to capitalize on the traffic in their stores to sell more housewares,” says Reynolds.

He believes that by occasionally surprising shoppers with unexpected items, retailers can create a special relationship with their customer.

“While it makes sense that supermarkets are in the kitchen tool and gadget business, the broader question they should ask themselves is if they should also be in cookware business, the collapsible salad spinner business or the herb saver business,” says Reynolds.

Keeping displays fresh, Anello adds, is also crucial. “By rotating their assortment of these items consumers become accustomed to looking for ‘what’s new’ when shopping the general merchandise section of their grocery store.”

Setting up secondary displays is another tactic grocers can leverage, particularly during holiday periods. To incite impulse sales, Wahl offers a variety of floor stand displays that allows grocers to reap additional off-shelf sales during peak seasonal demand for clippers and trimmers such as Father’s Day, back-to-school and Christmas.

While the category relies on impulse purchases, Rojewski points out that at the same time there are specific seasonal opportunities that must be met and offered. He notes that January through March are key buying times for the health conscious consumer and spring through summer are hot times for water bottles for the beach/pool/outdoor activities. Sales during this time, notes Rojewski, are enhanced when cross-promoted with seasonal products such as coolers and beach towels.

He notes that back-to-campus/back-to-school time is also a key selling period for hydration and storage products. “In addition, retailers can promote  these items for ‘staycations,’ long weekends and overnight trips,” says Rojewski.

He says brands continue to bring value to the housewares category. “There will always be a place for low-cost programs, but brands draw consumers in and drive sales at retail.”

Hank Roth, vice president and co-founder for Cool Gear, adds that it is the innovation behind the brands that is driving current and future interest in the category. “Our consumers are looking for a quality product with a value proposition. The product needs to be easy to clean, be useful for today’s fast paced lifestyle demands, and it must be reusable,” says Roth. Hot products at Cool Gear include Stay Fit customized food storage containers, its Pure Filtration bottle which cleans tap water on-the-go for a clean, fresh drinking experience; their Eco-2 Go line, reusable on-the go coffee cups/chillers that look disposable but are reusable, and the new EZ Freeze 4- Lockables program.”

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