By David Gill
Housewares vendor executives are preparing for next month’s International Home & Housewares Show in the hope that 2010 will put 2009 far behind, in a business sense.
The show is expected to present its usual panoply of new product launches. Indeed, to many vendors, new products will be the key to this year’s growth in all of the housewares categories. Some manufacturers, such as Bodum, have ambitious plans for the show. “We had over 169 product introductions in 2009, and we’re planning on more than 200 for this year,” said Melissa Romaine, marketing manager for Bodum.
Speaking to HFN during the International Housewares Association’s annual housewares show preview in New York City in January, Romaine said, “Last year, we introduced our first line of small electrics, including a broad line of toasters. Everything from last year is going forward this year.”
Similarly, gadget maker Microplane is making what Dayna Butler, national sales manager, described as “a significant investment” in expanding into new product categories with its patented technology—and will launch new products at the show to further this investment. “Two key factors—retail customers seeking innovation and consumers recognizing the value in Microplane—will result in continued positive growth for us in 2010,” Butler said.
Microplane is also targeting consumers from a marketing and strategic sense this year. “Our objective is to continue to grow and leverage our brand recognition with each new item,” Butler said.
Other vendors also see elevating their brands as crucial to their success this year. Ryan Douglas, chief executive officer of Verilux, said. “We will continue to focus on building awareness of our product offerings as a key driver for increasing sales. As more consumers become aware of Verilux’s array of healthy lighting products and the positive effect they can have on their individual lives, our sales and market share will grow at a faster pace.”
The opportunities that have opened in some product categories have also provided more grounds for a hopeful outlook. “We think consumers will continue to focus on their cleaning needs in 2010,” said Brad Hoare, general manager for the Eureka floor-care brand. “Consumers continue to look for practical products with value, and our Eureka line offers great value-added tools and features at affordable price points. We also see a number of niche markets that continue to grow, presenting a great deal of opportunity for us to appeal to very specific cleaning needs, like pet owners and health-conscious consumers.”
It’s not that the market won’t continue to be difficult in 2010, however. “We expect the marketplace will continue to be challenging, but we feel confident that our brand is well positioned in the premium category to offer stylish quality products at an attractive price,” said Richard Chapman, general manager of the Electrolux floor-care brand.
With the slowly emerging economic recovery, vendors believe that one of the challenges they will face is pricing.
“Price will always be a factor,” said Joseph Renteria, marketing and sales manager for Tribest. “We’re hoping to build up in 2010 with products that are high in quality and at good price tags. You always try to offer quality at value costs.”
The 2009 holiday sales period, which for retailers turned out to be better than expected, created momentum for the housewares industry going into this year. As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Retail Federation, retail sales for November-December 2009 rose 1.1 percent over the prior year’s holiday-sales period, to nearly $447 billion. Before the holidays, NRF had predicted that sales for the period would decline by 1 percent.
This growth was reflected in some of the sales results for the housewares vendors. Bodum’s Romaine said, “Our sales were up over the prior year. Normally, Christmas is not a big indicator, but this year saw a definite improvement for us, especially with online retailers.”
For some vendors, the success they enjoyed occurred with customers over the broad spectrum of retail channels. “We had a very strong holiday season in both our retail and direct channels,” said Verilux’s Douglas.
Electrolux’s floor-care products also enjoyed a healthy end of the year, according to Chapman. “Sales across all platforms exceeded our run rate for prior periods,” Chapman said.
For Microplane, a major indicator of how strong the holidays were came in the form of replenishment orders. “We received quite a few last-minute orders that we were able to fill quickly,” Butler said. “Our most recent product introductions sold well and have helped to expand our footprint in the kitchen-gadget category.”