Winter 2014
Housewares Are Hot! By Heather Johnson Durocher

The marriage of form and function (and fun) is making housewares a vibrant product category.

The colorful tumblers, some 600 to 700 of them, are stacked seven feet high against a 24-foot wide wall in Matt Holmes’ shop Home & Company. “We make a large presentation—we’re essentially conveying to the customers that they need to stop and pay attention to what they’re seeing,” says Holmes, owner of the specialty shop located in Holland, MI. “That goes a long way.”

Indeed it does. He says his customers are snapping up the tumblers—suitable for both hot and cold liquids and featuring emblems and other designs—that are made by Tervis, a Sarasota, FL-based manufacturer of insulated drink ware.

Holmes and his staff originally displayed these items according to each tumbler’s emblem, but have since switched to bunching them together by size and style—for example, water bottles are all placed together. They realized that customers generally had a specific functionality in mind for their desired tumbler.

When it comes to housewares, Holmes says products that let people express their sense of style while offering great function is huge. “Combine something unique along with a great function or value to the customer…with those two things, sales trend upward,” he says.

Big business

cactus_3-copyFrom drink ware and cooking utensils, and home décor and seasonal items, to home storage organization and floor care, and “virtually any kind of appliance you can plug in and move around,” housewares is a “gigantic” product category, says Perry Reynolds, vice president of global trade development for the International Housewares Association in Rosemount, IL.

“It’s big business,” Reynolds says, citing the latest industry sales figures of $69.3 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2012. Globally, sales are at $317 billion, according to the Association’s 2013 State of the Industry Report. Sales in the U.S. are up 3.3 percent over 2011, Reynolds says, adding that home and housewares in particular have given retailers “a significant boost in the last six to 12 months.”

Form + function

Duck-TimerYellow-copy-copyReynolds says that high-quality design and function are among the top trends in housewares. “There are so many creative companies. There’s a profusion of color, there’s a profusion of functionality,” he says.

Creating designs that “really speak to customers” is integral to the product, says Kim Livenwood, Tervis spokesperson. “If you are a sports fan, we have it. If you are a beachgoer, we have it. If you like flowers, we have it. The list goes on and on,” she says.

Functionality is also important to Tervis, Livenwood says. “Tervis also does what it says it is going to do—keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold, reduces condensation, is microwave and dishwasher safe, plus comes with a lifetime guarantee,” she says.

Design Ideas, a Springfield, IL-based manufacturer of housewares products, believes in products that are “functional, fashion-forward and moderately priced,” says Mary Sheehan, marketing coordinator. “All of our products have a story to tell and a lot of thoughtful design goes into each and every product,” she says. “Our design team is very passionate about creating innovative products that make our customers’ lives just a little more colorful, more satisfying and more fun.”

RagonHouseCollection-copyDesign Ideas products include: table textiles, vases, wall décor, candlelight, doormats, home organization products, soaps, kitchen organization products and seasonal home decorations. The company’s FireEscape Shelf—made from hand-welded epoxy-coated steel—is one of its more popular products. “It makes a classic element of outdoor metropolitan landscape a part of your indoor décor,” Sheehan says. “This sturdy urban accessory resonates with our customers because of its uniqueness and its versatility. You can use it to display candles and potted plants. Use it in your kitchen as a spice rack. Use it to display photos and other memorabilia.”

Retailer Brenda Buschkoetter, owner of Impulse Gifts in Jasper, IN, says her customers like functional indoor décor. One example: iron wall baskets. “We use it for magazines—it’s an envelope type look, real functional and usable,” Buschkoetter says.

At CKK Home Décor, a Frisco, TX-based manufacturer, collections include hand-painted barware and frames, pillar candles and journals that are part of the Top Shelf line. Among the artisan pieces are best-selling décor candles, says Alexandria Whitson, marketing and trade show coordinator.

In the kitchen

Monbento3-copyCooking and baking are other areas where functionality and design come together for houseware products. Mark Preston, marketing associate with Kenmore, N.Y.-based manufacturer Wild Eye Designs, says the “honeycomb” pattern and burnt-orange color are hot right now. One of the company’s products with this “modern retro” look that remains a top seller is the Brie Baker. “It’s a beautiful ceramic dish that you put in the oven with Brie cheese and it yields a wonderful soft-melted cheese dip,” Preston says of the item that comes with a spreader and recipe booklet in colorful packaging. Other strong sellers in this trendy collection are Wild Eye Design’s salad servers, cake server, cheese board set, and appetizer spreaders, spoons and forks.

Whitson, of CKK Home Décor, encourages collection displays. Top Shelf products, she says, are offered “in trend-right collections that truly build the retail story behind the assortments.”

Chicago wholesaler Tag offers a variety of kitchenware, including aprons and mitts, bakeware, cutting boards, dishtowels and canisters. Pops of color and clever designs all are part of the company’s vision of bringing “well-designed, stylish and affordable products in the home of every consumer,” says Dan Gullicksen, a member of the sales and marketing team.

Going global

TervisWizardofOz-copyAnother trend in the home and houseware products is featuring influences from around the world. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Sarut Group, which is behind brands such as Pylones and Piq, offers products such as sculptures and other products made from discarded flip-flops found on far-flung beaches, including the Kenya coast. Another line includes reclaimed boxes and frames that are made from recycled pencils, buttons, beads and computer scraps.

Sheehan, of Design Ideas, is also seeing global influences growing among home and houseware products. “Consumers are seeking more unique, handcrafted items that are not mass-produced in China,” she says. “Many of Design Ideas’ new housewares products for 2014 are handcrafted by artisans we’ve partnered with in Thailand and other areas of the world.”

Whatever housewares your store features, industry insiders agree that these products are best marketed when they can be touched and viewed in ways they could use them in their own home.

“It’s so important to merchandise a product in use. Break it out of the packaging and encourage customers to pick it up and get to know the product,” Sheehan says. “This allows customers to better understand the product’s function and its practicality. The power of engagement always helps get customers more interested in products.”

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com




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