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A Helping Hand for Housewares

With a little TLC, retailers can reap huge rewards from the housewares department.


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Apples, bananas, milk, cereal, gardening gloves and soup. 

One of these things is not like the other…  one of these things doesn’t belong. 

With a little help from Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo and the rest of the Sesame Street gang, any first grader knows the answer. 

Unfortunately grocers know it too, at least they think they do, but not for the reasons many may think. While housewares products do not make it onto many consumers’ shopping lists, there is still ample opportunity for supermarkets to sell the wide array of products that fall into the housewares category—usually at very attractive margins.

“Housewares products are an impulse buy, but they are also an opportunity buy,” says Tim Stapleton, president, U.S./international sales for Big Time Products, based in Rome, Ga. “If gloves are not available in the supermarket shoppers will not stop shopping there, like they would for eggs or milk. But if they can pick up a poncho or umbrella, why wouldn’t they? Everybody is pressed for time, everybody is looking for one-stop shopping.”

Of course, the depth and breadth of housewares products available can be daunting for grocers to manage. Most manufacturers understand this and do their best to help retailers focus on the correct products, for the correct time of year, for the correct store. 

With shelf space always a constant concern, manufacturers are helping with streamlined packaging and displays. “We have developed a touch and feel display that does not take up shelf space,” says Steve Yde, director of marketing for Sterling, Ill.-based Wahl Clipper Co. “This allows consumers to see and feel the quality of our Wahl products. This also demonstrates to consumers that the store is serious about the category.” 

Promotions are another way to generate consumer interest. Industry observers say housewares, even if priced competitively, can get boring very quickly for shoppers that regularly walk a store’s aisles.

“EDLP creates no in-store excitement or sense of urgency from the customer’s view,” says Steve Throssel, CEO of Whink Products Co., based in Eldora, Iowa. “Promotions are more important than ever. Grocers should blow out excess inventory with discounted endcaps and keep products moving.” He says shelf-talkers, flyers and in-store coupons are all good product movement vehicles. 

Secondary placement within a store is a wise strategy as well. “It is not enough to just buy it and stock it,” says Perry Reynolds, vice president of global trade development for the Rosemont, Ill.-based International Housewares Association (IHA). “These are, after all, very high margin categories, and focusing here can offer much needed margin gains.”

This strategy, Reynolds adds, can also go a long way toward combating mass merchants and that segments continued encroachment into food sales. “As mass merchants look to food as a traffic draw, supermarkets can counter their advance by implementing strategies to maximize housewares sales,” he says.  

While supermarkets cannot dedicate the same space to housewares that mass merchants can, there still needs to be room for selection. “Nothing is more frustrating for the consumer than no choice,” says Michael Silverman, senior vice president of marketing for Butler Products, based in Hudson, Mass. “All of our consumer research over the past year is pointing toward selection and assortment. With so much competition out there from mass merchants, once you get consumers into the store you don’t want them to leave because you don’t have something they need for their task.”

Beyond dedicating more space and updating assortment, Stapleton says supermarkets can combat mass merchants by simply doing what supermarkets do best—connect with shoppers. “It becomes a personal touch,” he says. “Grocery is usually much closer to customers than mass retailers. They may be talking to store employees in the meat, wine or deli department, but that carries weight, even within a department that is not as relevant—like housewares. It is still a people business. If there is no personality, let’s just buy everything online.”

Home Cooking

Logically, for grocers there is a natural synergy with housewares products related to preparing and serving food. These include wine tools, kitchen tools, cookware and bakeware. Sales in each of these segments are being driven by their own dynamics. 

“Among the standouts are entries into the smart home category where sensors-assisted or app controlled devices are proliferating,” says Reynolds. “In other areas, pour-over coffee is growing; espresso continues as a strong trend; wine accessories are red hot; and coatings are improving cookware performance. But the most pervasive trend continues to be the effective use of design in all areas of product development.”

Buoyed in part by artisan flavors and brew types, coffee and ancillary coffee-related products have seen tremendous growth in the past few years. Whink has capitalized on this trend, adding the Natural Coffee Maker Cleaner to its product line. “We kept our regular Coffee Maker Cleaner as well, since most coffee brewing is still pretty traditional,” says Throssel. Whink’s Coffee Maker Cleaners are designed to unclogs drip coffee makers in order to brew coffee faster and make it taste fresher, say company officials. 

Of course, it is not just food- and beverage-related products that supermarkets can, and should be promoting. Seasonal products can be very lucrative, if done correctly. 

Big Time Products offers an array of seasonal gloves that it helps retailers promote during different times of the year. Stapleton say some are obvious, like gardening gloves during the spring. Others, he says, retailers can get creative.  

“Back-to-school for example, is a very big house cleaning time,” says Stapleton. “The kids are out of the house and parents do their cathartic cleaning to get the house back in order.”

Big Time Products encourages retailers to promote household cleaning gloves around back-to-school. The company has put a lot of effort into enhancing its line, including developing focus groups to see what consumers were looking for from the category.

“We gave them many choices and the value-add of anti-microbial adhesive to gloves, as well good, clean packaging, packaging upgrades and new colors is what the consumer wants,” says Stapleton. “We are also looking at new types of merchandising units—clip strips, wings—all kinds of things to get that impulse sale. Our business is so impulse driven; after batteries gloves are right up there.”

Big Time also offers an umbrella program with its Rainbrella brand. Rainbrella 2.0 will be launched early in 2017 and will feature updated, more style-relevant products—and rain products beyond umbrellas. “We have kids stuff, more ponchos and a more comprehensive umbrella program. That is going to big for us in 2017,” says Stapleton.

Whink has a new Lime and Rust Remover in a 32-ounce brown bottle, that Throssel says is very effective and has a broader general use than the company’s Rust Stain Remover. “It is not organic and has strong active ingredients that get the job done, the first time, saving water and time, while using less product,” says Throssel.     

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