Alternative metal serveware and giftware has held up well in the troubled economy, due to its functionality, strong bridal interest, and its casual lifestyle appeal.
“The alternative metal business, such as cast aluminum, is doing the best [compared to silverplate], and this business is being driven through bridal and gift registrations,” said Chris Wile, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Wallace division of Lifetime Brands. “The carefree aspect of our alternative metal business from the consumer standpoint, along with the fantastic price:value relationship we maintain, are helping to drive our current assortments.”
“In a bad economy, bridal helps us hold our own because people still get married,” said Sherri Crisenbery, vice president of Lenox Brands. Lenox’s metals business is evenly divided between alternative metal serveware pieces used mainly for entertaining, and silverplated bridal gifts, such as cake knives and servers, toasting flutes and photo albums. These ‘day of wedding’ and ‘memory of wedding’ items fuel the bridal business, which peaks in the spring and fall, said Crisenbery.
Julia Knight, whose eponymous company is known for its collection of colored enamel serveware, said 60 percent of her business is generated in the second half of the year. Nonetheless, the company feels its collections are “seasonless,” according to Mark Bergadon, director of marketing and sales.
“It’s perfect for outdoor entertaining because of its durability,” he said. “Because of a broad color palette, retailers can combine and re-combine [pieces] to show consumers how to transition throughout the year. Our serveware makes a big everyday entertaining as well as a holiday entertaining statement.”
Wilton Armetale has developed products that can be used all year long. Its Gourmet Grillware line, for example, can be used on the grill and then taken directly to the table to keep foods hot.
“Spring and summer are relatively strong due to bridal and the fall is our strongest season due to the holiday selling,” said Ken Lefever, president.
Two of the biggest fashion trends in metal serveware are color and mixed materials.
Color primarily comes through the use of enamels. Julia Knight has made a name for itself in this genre, and much of its business is generated through the careful merchandising of color to create a statement at retail and inspire consumers to buy more than one piece.
“Our influence on the metal category has been positive even though the perception is that our collection is less about metal and more about fabulous, colorful serveware pieces,” Bergadon said.
The business has been driven by color and merchandising, he added. “By layering the collection piece upon piece, the consumer is making a multiple purchase each time they’re in the store. It’s not about average price point, it’s about average transaction.”
Lenox sees a trend in metals that have a design in the sculpt. Color does not add value for the type of product Lenox offers, Crisenbery said, but it has found success with tonal finishes and with black enamel, “a neutral color palette that we felt would transcend many market consumers.”
Among its brands, Gorham offers the most color, Dansk runs “sleek and clean,” and Lenox, though traditional in design, has found the most success in more contemporary styles with a design component, Crisenbery said.
Metals mixed with other materials, such as wood, are also popular. Nambe has expanded its line of wood and metal serving pieces, while other companies have shown metals in combination with glass and ceramic. Lifetime has done well with its mirror-finished cast aluminum and hammered collections, said Chris Wile, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Wallace division of Lifetime Brands.
Although metal serving pieces can easily work as stand-alone pieces, the category thrives when pieces are merchandised as part of a collection.
Metals sell better “only and always as a collection. The consumer is attracted to the collection and wants to touch and play with pieces and color combinations,” said Knight, while Bergadon added, “Layering our collection to create an impact drives volume.”
Wilton Armetale’s Lefever agreed. “We feel the better way to sell is by collections. We have larger retailers that do extremely well with collections and patterns. They have the ability to display and merchandise a wider range of products and give the customers choices. We also have smaller customers that, due to space constraints, carry much smaller assortments and tend to carry stand-alone, specific-use products, like a chip and dip or our grill tray. They tend to do OK because their customer is use to that way of merchandising.”
Both Lenox and Nambe believe “item drivers” get consumers interested in a collection and prompt them to come back for more.
“Metals tend to sell better when presented as a category, but supported by with key item drivers within the category,” said Robert Varakian, president of Nambe. Items such as Nambe’s Lounge chip and dip and its Eclipse cheese tray have captured consumer interest, while constant newness drives the business, he said.