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Summer 2012
House Rules

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The growth of housewares as gifts has much to do with the confluence of three industry phenomena. Find out what they are and how you can profit from this increasingly strong gift category.

It was not too long ago when every household or kitchen appliance stuck to the same boring porcelain-white sterile format. Those were the days when adventure meant buying a new appliance in avocado green or harvest gold. Then, says Perry Reynolds, something interesting happened: Design started to play a greater role in the development of housewares.

Giving design its due

The rise in housewares—specifically kitchenware—as “trendy” items worth stocking in gift shops can be attributed to many factors, including their move away from ho-hum, says the Vice President of Marketing and Trade Development at the International Housewares Association. The kinds of housewares taking up prime real estate in gift shops like yours, are the ones with an emphasis on style, design and tongue-in-cheek vibe. Move over boring old kitchen grater. Companies like Pylones can now offer cheese graters shaped like the Eiffel tower or even ones where a woman’s skirt serves as the grating base. As with any other items in a gift shop, these products stand out because they are fun conversational pieces while also serving a definite function. In other words, they are a perfect marriage of form and function.

Reynolds says that we’re rapidly seeing a convergence between the housewares and gift worlds. “What is propelling that convergence is the degree to which home products suppliers have embraced design as a strategic point of differentiation.” For their part, your customers have responded. “For some years, leading-edge, design-focused suppliers of home products have populated museum and gift store shelves. As evidenced by the gift store display at MOMA in Manhattan, design in home products has come of age and now can transit easily between gift and home store environments,” Reynolds adds.

And it’s no longer just avocado green that’s ruling America’s kitchens anymore. The housewares industry churns out thousands of fun products in a variety of trendy colors. The Pantone Color Group pointed out that eight palettes with many color variations will reign in the home goods world through 2013. Design and color = no more ho-hum.

Home base

Trendy housewares have also benefited from the confluence of two related phenomena: the rise in home entertaining supplemented by the increasing popularity of television cooking shows. “Consumers are watching their pocketbooks and cooking shows,” says Jim Kuether, Retail Director at Pylones, “As consumers are becoming more money and health-conscious, they are looking for colorful products that offer multi-functional benefits and that make cooking simpler and healthier.”

Paolo Cravedi, Managing Director for Alessi USA, agrees. “We are seeing a return to cooking and entertaining at home, which is dictating many of the trends in housewares,” he says, adding that the company is also seeing a surge in the “tea culture,” introducing new products to meet this growing trend.

Retailer Mary Batson of Out of the Box in Crystal Lake, IL, has seen the rise in home entertainaing and with it, an increased demand for hostess gifts, table favors, placecards and even serving pieces. The retailer has enjoyed much success with trendy housewares from tag mainly because, she says, “their products are useful, good quality and always on the cutting edge of color and style.”

Of course the rise in home entertainment is complemented by the corresponding popularity of television cooking shows. Chefs like Mario Batali and Rachel Ray, even shows like Hell’s Kitchen, have made cooking at home seem fun, healthy and adventurous—the DIY concept that’s worth looking into. And your customers realize: If it’s worth getting into, it’s worth getting into whole-heartedly. The same old kitchen gadgets won’t do anymore. They need the professional stuff. “Consumers want to bring high-quality tools into their homes, the sorts of tools used by chefs, by caterers, by professional decorators and even by home maintenance professionals,” Reynolds says.

How does all this work in your favor? “Among the side benefits to the retail world provided by this shift is the willingness of the consumer to pay for this level of quality,” Reynolds says. In other words, your customers are primed and ready to pay for quality, functional housewares.

At home in your store

So if your customers are primed and ready to pick up a trendy houseware or two, what products would work in your store? Cravedi from Alessi says smaller objects that lend themselves to cooking and entertaining (and ease of stocking) do well as gifts: a tea kettle, a sugar-and-creamer set and even a trivet. Alessi recently introduced a collection called “Ape,” named for the popular Italian after-work Aperitivo. “It’s a set of small bowls and dishes to be used for potato chips, almonds, olives and other bar snacks, but it’s meant to be used both at home and in a public setting,” Cravedi says.

Fumi Suzuki, the General Manager of Mollaspace, says any housewares products will do “well as long as they are functional and unusual with a good sense of humor.” Suzuki says a focus on green design has driven much of the product work at Mollaspace. “Consumers are starting to join together to help the environment to make a better future. We are seeing more materials made from renewable resources such as corn starch, which is biodegradable in a controlled environment,” Suzuki says. One of the company’s signature products is My Eco Can, a reusable drinking container made to look like a soda can. The can is made from polylactic acid, which comes from corn starch.

Green products also work well for Zak Designs, says Irv Zakheim, President and CEO. “Our Confetti bowl sets made with recycled melamine are extremely popular gift items,” Zakheim says. He has noticed an upswing in ethnic themes for home entertainment—Asian, East Indian, Hispanic and others.

Reynolds reminds retailers that as with any other gifts, functionality is important. It’s not just about pretty looks anymore. “In addition to design appeal offered by housewares products, these products are clearly recognized by consumers as gifts and in many pricepoints. Home products for gift stores can be affordable and functional as in tools by Joseph Joseph, Alessi and Nambe,” he says.

Reynolds notes an increased interest in wine accessories—”wine openers and aerators might be a category that would fare well in a gift environment where more traditional gift store offerings might serve to round out a visual story,” he says. “And remember, home products can also add a world of visual merchandising expansion for stores from brightly colored silicone products to stainless steel coffee carafes to dramatic room vaporizers that also dispense fragrance,” Reynolds adds.

Dude, where’s my bar

About the most interesting developments in the world of housewares is the increased attention the guys are garnering. Man cave, anyone? “The trend toward men’s interest in housewares may be spawned by a number of factors including the emergence of celebrity male chefs as dominant cultural figures, the growth of outdoor cooking and even a rise in celebrity male home repair or decorating icons,” Reynolds says. Cravedi of Alessi agrees, pointing to the popularity of male chefs such as Mario Batali and Bobby Flay as reasons for the upsurge.

Zakheim says that men are typically drawn to gadgets and that men “who like to cook tend to be drawn towards gadgets for the kitchen—whether it’s the latest innovative kitchen prep tools or just a cool new serving tray for the barbecue.” Kuether from Pylones says the company has a line of products that work off of masculine themes—items such as pizza cutters, wine bottle openers and mugs and magnets.

For the man cave, think city globes, boombox stereo docks, ebot speakers, and even desk items such as Alessi’s paper clip holder, Chip. Mollaspace offers a Pulpop MP3 speaker, made with recycled pulp, for a man cave. “The sound is amplified by the vibration inside the hollow space of the speaker,” Suzuki says, adding that the speakers are a big hit for sports games.

Design, form, price points, home entertainment—these factors have created a perfect synergy for the rise of trendy housewares as a sound gift category. Reynolds points out that the International Housewares Association compiles an annual State of the Industry report that most recently measured the industry’s retail sales at $66.8 billion annually in the U.S. (for 2010). The association expects mid to single digit growth for the foreseeable future—maybe even higher if the economy recovers more dramatically.

Many gift retailers scout out the latest in the category at the association’s annual International Home + Housewares show. “Gift retailers already represent the third largest contingent of buyers who attend the show,” Perry says.

“Many obviously see the value in marrying home goods with gifts in their stores.” One can see why this marriage would indeed be a recipe for success.

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Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is the managing editor for GIFT SHOP, GREENRetailer and Specialty Retail Report magazines. She oversees and executes all editorial processes and is responsible for delivering editorial content for both magazines. To implement the magazines' editorial missions, Apte works with an extensive team of writers and photographers from across the country. She is also responsible for certain online deliverables including editorial content that complements the print edition of both magazines.

Prior to joining Pinnacle Publishing Group in 2006, Apte was Editor-in-Chief for INDIA New England, a bimonthly publication catering to the South Asian community in New England. In her role for the company, she oversaw an extensive editorial lineup featuring a wide variety of news reports and features. Apte first joined the newspaper as a general assignment reporter. Her reporting, specifically on a series of stories about Indian immigrants returning to their home country in the wake of India's economic boom, earned her a national award from the South Asian Journalists' Association at their 2005 convention held at Columbia University's School of Journalism.

Formally trained as an engineer, Apte made a gradual switch to journalism after a stint in technical writing at Abaqus, Inc. Apte enjoys reading and reviews contemporary literary fiction for Mostlyfiction.com in her spare time.

Apte earned an M.S. in Energy and Environmental Studies from Boston University and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. Apte welcomes reader input. Please email her at papte@giftshopmag.com.


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