Remodeling the Housewares Department

With the right mix and category focus, supermarkets can thrive in the many different housewares categories.

Mass merchants continue to intrude on grocery’s bread and butter—including bread and butter. It seems logical that supermarket chains return the favor, by expanding certain general merchandise sections, particularly housewares.

Obviously it is impossible for grocers to match mass retailers product for product or even category for category. However, with a targeted, focused plan, industry observers say grocers can achieve significant gains and profits in the housewares category.

“No matter what grocers do, it needs to grow out of their corporate strategy, and that has to do with focusing on their customers,” says Perry Reynolds, vice president marketing and trade development for the International Housewares Association, based in Rosemont, Ill. “You certainly can’t force anything if your customer isn’t ready for it. If a chain does a really good job with higher end foods, then higher end housewares can follow along.”

Dedicating sections to core categories—kitchen tools and gadgets, cooking and bakeware, food and household storage and cleaning supplies—is easy and most grocers already are doing that in one way or another. To get the most out of these core categories, retailers ought keep abreast of recent innovations and new products, say observers.

In the food storage segment, Cool Gear International is expanding its On-the-Go food storage program. “We have a collapsible program that allows the consumer a more effective storability of the product when not in use,” says Mike Rojewski, North American sales director for Plymouth, Mass.-based Cool Gear. “New innovative products, like these, that offer an additional value are driving sales.”

Observers say sales opportunities for some of core housewares segments exist beyond their specific areas of the store. For example, displaying food choppers near a vegetable display or avocado and mango slicers near the avocados and mangoes are winning strategies.

Wine aerators have become hot items in recent years. Reynolds says this is the type of product that can quickly and easily add some value to an assortment and smart retailers are merchandising these high-margin items in the beverage section.

‘Tis the season
Hot lifestyle products provide added sales, but consumer interest can fade quickly. Seasonal items however, though short-term, are usually a sure bet. “My favorite is the turkey baster,” says Reynolds. “You can only sell it about five week out of the year, but it is as hot as a pistol. Same with nutcrackers at Christmas.”

As the seasonality of food preparation changes, so does the seasonality of kitchenware products. Reynolds says the stores that are successful enough in becoming purveyors of lifestyle points of view can expand the housewares business in a number of ways.
“Picnic time and holiday time… products that fit those needs are very nice add-ons,” says Reynolds. “And the best part is that they are higher gross margins than food, making for a very nice addition to the bottom line.”

Candles is a lifestyle category that supermarkets can successfully fit into their product mix, say observers. Joe Williams, vice president of Fayettville, Ark.-based Hanna’s Candles, says a dedicated candle department makes a statement to consumers that a retailer is committed to the category.

“When presenting a product layout, use a planogram that can be easily viewed and shopped,” says Williams. “Make sure it has a continuity of product—not just two of these, three of those and one of that. Hanna’s has software available to help layout and advise how the candle program should look.”

He says Hanna’s has seen 50% sales growth in the past year, driven by competitively priced and giftable products such as the Aromabeads and Timberwick brands. Hanna’s also offers a higher end product, Hanna’s at Home.

While retailers can expect to see a sales spike during the fourth quarter holiday season when scented and candles in decorative glass containers and gift packs are popular, consumers purchase candles year-round based on their home fragrance and decorative needs. To address these trends, Candle-Lite, part of Lancaster Colony Co., based in Cincinnati, has created a systematic process for identifying what will resonate with consumers.

“In addition to our internal Candle-Lite market research, we collaborate with our fragrance suppliers and other industry partners to develop the most innovative, top performing fragrance candles,” says Marc Cunningham, vice president of sales and marketing for Candle-Lite.

Knowing that the Hispanic-American consumer is the fastest growing segment in the U.S., Candle-Lite has incorporated Hispanic-inspired fragrances, colors and design into some of its newer collections.

It can be argued that the iPad, smartphones, eReaders and the like have become lifestyles as well. While observers say it is unlikely that many supermarkets would have much success selling the high-end electronic equipment, there is a big opportunity to sell accessories for these items.

“We know the typical consumer does own a lot of consumer electronics and they are comfortable buying accessories—whether that be a case, headphones or charger—anywhere,” says Sam Mizrahi, executive vice president of Avenel, N.J.-based Mizco International.

Within its iEssentials line, Mizco offers neoprene covers and cases in multiple colors for tablets, eBook folio cases and stylus’ for tablets and headphones and earbuds.

Even though electronic accessories may not be a destination shop for consumers, Mizrahi says that because of the prevalence of electronics in society today and the sheer amount of foot-traffic grocery gets, all retailers really need to make product available.

“A lot of supermarkets don’t have much space allocated for general merchandise,” he says. “But the category can go in many different areas of the store. We have been very successful in the back-to-school area as well as the seasonal and the battery endcap area.”

Sometimes retailers can take advantage of environmental trends. A hot topic these days is bed bugs, which have become a nuisance throughout most of the country. As consumers look to rid their homes of the pests, Design Weave USA, based in Jamesburg, N.J., has developed a proprietary patented dryer sheet that is designed to prevent the presence of bed bugs for a week.

The dryer sheets, scheduled to reach retailer shelves this month, are made with all-natural essential oils and contain no hazardous pesticides, according to Dan Harris, vice president of marketing and product development for Design Weave.

“Ours is a unique and patented product,” says Harris. “You can look on grocery shelves and there are a lot of anti-bed bug products out there. Many of them have harmful chemicals and many cannot be used directly on a bed sheet. Here we have a product that actually dries and works on textiles.”

The sheets are packaged in a vinyl resealable bag and can be merchandised in printed display boxes, on shelf or in clip strips. Initial entry into retail is via a 12-pack but Harris says if retailers are more interested in bringing prices down they can be made available in 3- and 6-packs.

There are grocery retailers that are not only surviving but thriving with housewares, say observers. For those that are not, the old argument is, at the end of the day, grocers are still in business to mainly to sell food.

Reynolds offers a different perspective. “It goes all the way up how a chain wants to treat that big asset, their customers,” he says. “How do you want to address your customer, what do you want her to see when she walks in the door? Once you decide how you want to address your customer, you can do a pretty good job of deciding what categories make sense and what level those categories are addressed and how far forward you want to be or how basic you want to be.”

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