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East, west, home’s best: Exploring the International Home + Housewares Show

Homewares sits at the intersection of fashion and functional design, covering everything from vacuum-cleaner robots to vases. Sarah Dunn visited the heart of homewares at the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago.

By Sarah Dunn | May 31, 2018 | News

The challenge for retailers upon arriving at the International Home + Housewares Show is not finding sources of inspiration, but deciding which to tap first. This immense trade fair is the heart of homewares, providing a hub for exhibitors from 47 countries to present their goods to retailers and buyers.

The Chicago-based show deals with everything connected to the homewares category. Its three main hall areas are divided up into different sectors grouping similar exhibitors together for ease of navigation. In Clean + Contain, there’s all things to do with bathrooms; laundry; storage and organisation; outdoor living and pets. The Discover Design section showcases particularly design-led products.

This year’s show featured an emphasis on ‘smart’ gadgets, which use technology to take over tasks on behalf of their busy owners. This combined with the burgeoning wellness trend to make up the Wired + Well section, displaying electronics; appliances; healthcare-related items; and goods for floors and carpets.

At Dine + Décor, homewares’ implicit connection to fashion was fully in evidence. Beautiful products covering cookware and bakeware; kitchen gadgets of all kinds; decorative items and food products were presented.

The show is run each year by the International Housewares Association, represented in Australia and New Zealand by Robert Parker. Parker is a senior retailer himself, having started the Your Habitat chain of specialty homewares stores over 30 years ago in Tasmania.

Parker says any retailer in housewares, electrical, hardware, gift or specialty kitchen goods would benefit from attending. It’s not just about sourcing new product, he says, but also seeing some of the world’s best retailers and learning from the expert presenters who speak at the show.

“Another great benefit for retailers visiting Chicago for the Show is to see the best US retailers first hand - widely recognised as the best in the world,” says Parker. “I always recommend retailers stay in Chicago an extra day after the show to participate in the retail tour organised by the IHA.”

He notes that as well as discovering exciting new suppliers and items, retailers attending the show may also find new products from suppliers they already work with at home.

“In many cases, retailers are able to look at complete ranges from the big brands, instead of relying on selected ranges carried by importers or distributors in the local market. Sometimes retailers can discover a product that they know would work for their stores that the distributor hadn’t selected - by working with the distributor, retailers can ensure the best range is available in the home market.”

Because the show is aimed at the US domestic market, Parker says, retailers are able to purchase direct from manufacturers or brands. He says smaller quantities of goods can often be negotiated compared to buying from the Asian market.

Personally, Parker likes to walk the aisles checking out all the new products, but he also makes sure to visit the ‘Inventors Corner’, attend as many seminars and presentations as possible, and study the Global Innovation Award (Gia) winners. Your Habitat was a Gia Global Honoree in 2003, and Parker says the awards showcase the “state of the art” of homewares retail and product design.

Kiwi retailer Liz Oldfield of Milly’s Kitchen has attended the International Home + Housewares Show every year since 2012. Like Parker, she says the seminars, trend discussions, forecasting and business best-practice workshops are key attractions alongside the product selection.

Like many retailers who travel long distances for business, Oldfield uses her trade show time as an opportunity to continue building relationships with her store’s overseas-based suppliers.

“I love seeing our suppliers, building relationships which are now, in many cases, friendships,” she says. “New Zealanders are, in my experience, always greeted with affection. Suppliers love that we have made the trip from the other side of the world.”

She says that in the years she’s attended, she has noticed the show’s offering becoming more global.

“Suppliers are much more willing to do business in much smaller quantities, which is great for small businesses on the other side of the world who will never be buying in massive numbers - although freight is always going to be a killer!”

Oldfield says there are few US homewares trends which have yet to reach the Kiwi market, although she personally isn’t sure she subscribes to the American enthusiasm for microwave cooking and boxed cake mix.

“It really is becoming a global village these days and it doesn’t take long for trends to reach us,” she says. “The US seems to love their apartment gadgets like toaster ovens, etc, and as we see Kiwis adopt apartment living together with empty nesters wanting to downsize, I think that these trends could be interesting to watch.”

The most useful aspects of attending the International Home + Housewares Show for Oldfield is seeing how other retailers approach their business, connecting with international suppliers and retailers, and “getting out into the world”. The United States is home to many market-leading retailers, several of which are introduced to show attendees on the IHA’s 2018 Chicago Retail Tour. These include Bed, Bath and Beyond; Best Buy; Crate & Barrel and Walmart.

“I have always loved the American levels of customer service and attention and we are always trying to emulate this in our stores,” Oldfield says. “Visual merchandising at stores like Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table, but also some of the smaller independents, is often at levels to which we can only aspire but which is inspirational nonetheless.”

For Kiwi retailers looking to attend the show for the first time in 2019, Oldfield recommends they take inspiration from their customers and make a shopping list. It’s easy to endlessly walk the show and become overwhelmed by the variety and volume of what’s on offer, she says, but those who’ve taken the time to work out where the holes in their ranges or categories are beforehand will be well-rewarded.

“Jump onto the show website, download the app, use the pre-planning tools and bring your walking shoes!”

Sarah Dunn travelled to the International Home + Housewares Show courtesy of the International Housewares Association.

Key trends from the International Home + Housewares Show

Trend-hunting is a huge drawcard for attendees of any trade fair. We’ll deliver the goods, but before you start noting down products to order, take heed of this warning from Michael Prince, president of Beyond Design, who gave a presentation on ecommerce at the show.

Asked for trends to watch in 2018, Prince replied that consumers are overwhelmed at the volume of disposable, trend-led goods in what’s perceived as a flooded homewares market.

“Never in the history of the course of consumerism have consumers cared less about the product than they do now.”

Consumers are now seeking emotional reasons to buy, he says: “The goal is to attract consumers who believe in the same goals as you.”

Prince says retailers should not simply be searching for trendy products, but seek out stockists with coherent, values-based messaging. If one product is much like another and priced the same, he says, the consumer will default to that made by the company they like the most.

“All products equal, it’s the company that can connect with the consumer, not the product, and that can make all the difference.”

He believes retailers should have a clear purpose, and invest in brand-building to share that purpose with the customer. The days of simply selling a product are over, Prince says.

“If you’re not telling the world why you exist, you’re wasting their breath.”

And without further ado, here’s those trends.

Hydration. According to show publication, Home + Housewares Inspiration, the hydration craze is driven by consumer desire to reduce plastic waste from single-use water bottles and a focus on healthy living. Popular products include Dopper, Hydaway and S’well.

Spiralising and vegetable preparation tools. The continuing popularity of these items stems from an ongoing focus on ‘eco’ and ‘wellness’ values, a serious driver for the whole of the housewares industry. These values are behind an increased interest in healthy eating and entertaining at home, according to Inside America’s Kitchen, an audit on kitchen trends conducted by The NPD Group.

“The move towards fresh or clean eating has had an impact on how kitchens are equipped and set up today. Pantries are stocked differently, and kitchen appliances, cookware, technology and tools are evolving to make fresh food prep and cooking more convenient and foolproof.”

Consumer trend forecaster Tom Mirabile sees the health and wellness movement as extending across almost every category, giving retailers “layers of potential product-selling” tools spanning home gardening and cookware to smart products and waste-reduction devices.

Multi-cookers. An electronically-controlled pressure cooker named the Instant Pot is the latest kitchen gadget fad in America, inspiring what The Guardian has described as “mass devotion”. The NPD Group reports sales of similar multi-cooker devices increased 79 percent as of the 12 months ending November 2017 to more than $300 million, driven by consumers’ desire for convenience and healthy home cooking.

IOT-enabled labour savers. Amazon has yet to fully hit New Zealand, meaning any local uptake of artificially-intelligent personal assistants such as Alexa and smart devices linked to them remains a little pointless. However, there’s still a world of lesser Internet of Things products to explore – products to note include the TasteTro Spice System which blends spices to order based on a recipe database; and a smart oven by US-based Tovala, which is paired with a complementary meal kit service. Customers need only to scan a barcode on their meal, then put it in the oven.

Mirabile says smart products are all about taking the drudgery out of mundane tasks and giving people what they want, when they want it. “We’re going back to basics,” he says. “It’s still all about finding solutions for people.

Elevated essentials. While many chores are being eliminated through smart home devices, some of those which remain are being transformed into opportunities for mindfulness through better product design. Trend Bible’s Helen Jamieson says consumers are finding more efficient, enjoyable ways to clean, and manufacturers are coming out with ranges of natural, eco-friendly products which “look more like something you would find in a beauty store than the cleaning aisle” to support this. Products which caught our eye included Woolzies essential oils combo packs and Nellie’s Lamby Wool Dryerballs, made from New Zealand wool.

Pantone’s Ultra Violet, the 2018 colour of the year. Lee Eiseman, color expert for the IHA, says colour trends are affected by the world around us, noting that the healthy eating trend has brought with it a movement towards featuring “natural, earthy” colours on packaging and products. Conversely, Ultra Violet evokes “originality, ingenuity and visionary thinking”, Eiseman says.

“Ultra Violet is a color that is evocative. It’s very meaningful – it embraces both red and blue, and hey, we live in a complex world. It is also about non-conformity – that should be celebrated, don’t you think?”

Living well in smaller spaces. Jamieson says that as population density increases all over the world, cities are becoming crowded and smaller homes are more desirable. . The homewares design world is adapting to this change, producing more items which are multifunctional, such as a two-in-one ironing board and mirror.

Additionally, consumers increasingly want to change the feel of their spaces to reflect shifts in their use. Jamieson has noticed products like the Moodo smart aromatherapy diffuser emerging to allow this.

This list was compiled using direct observations, plus reports from Liz Oldfield of Milly’s Kitchen; consumer trend forecaster for the International Housewares Association and senior vice president of global trend and design for Lifetime Brands Tom Mirabile; Helen Jamieson of Trend Bible UK; Lee Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and color expert for the International Housewares Association; and material from the International Housewares Association.


 

Right up there with Harrods: Mount Maunganui’s Paper Plane at the Gia Awards

A perfectly-styled homewares store from regional New Zealand beat out a galaxy of international contenders to be named as a Gia Special Award winner at the International Home + Housewares Show this year.

The awards are run alongside the show to foster innovation and excellence in houseware retail. Last year, one of five Gia Global Honoree awards went to Matakana retailer Green With Envy. Of two available special awards this year, one went to UK department store heavyweight Harrods, and one was given to Mount Maunganui’s Paper Plane.

We asked Paper Plane co-founder Krista Plews about retail excellence, North American trends, and winning the Gia Digital Commerce Award for Excellence in Online Retailing.

Tell us about Paper Plane as a business.

Paper Plane is a homewares and lifestyle design store and studio, based in Mount Maunganui and online. My husband, Tim, and I opened the doors in 2013, with the desire to design and curate timeless, quality goods with a clear function and a point of difference. We are constantly evolving as we explore our own creative interests and discover unique artisans – from locally hand-crafted ceramics and leather goods to traditionally-made European household utilities.

What are your inspirations for Paper Plane?

Connecting creative independent designers and makers to our market is one of our driving forces. We love playing a small part in enabling their journey. We’ve also become closely connected to our local and online communities, so designing and curating goods for them excites us.

What’s an aspect of Paper Plane that you’re particularly proud of?

We have managed to find a nice balance between catering to our market in the moment while quietly guiding it towards a more thoughtful approach to acquiring homewares and lifestyle goods. We encourage people to invest in pieces that they interact with on a daily basis – goods that are timeless, beautifully crafted and built to last. It’s incredibly satisfying to enjoy your morning coffee in a mug that has been made by hand using clay from Northland or black sand from a New Zealand beach.

What do you think made it stand out to the Gia awards judges?

Authenticity. I think that our genuine passion for design and detail is visible at every level of our business. Our Paper Plane team is made up of creative minds with a united vision, and this is evident in our product design and curation, our graphic design right through to our customer service.  

Can you share some thoughts on the different approaches to homewares retail in New Zealand versus the Northern Hemisphere?

I’m originally from Canada, and spent years in the design industry there. There are homewares available in abundance, and at rock bottom prices. While that may sound great, I find it incredibly tragic. The industry is comprised almost solely of large companies often pumping out poorly-made goods and cheap design replicas. The independent designers and crafters are few and far between, as is the charm. We love the New Zealand homewares industry. While homewares are more costly, we consume less and choose wisely. We value goods that are made locally, sustainably, by hand and with authenticity.

Tell us about some developing trends you’re investing in for 2018.

With time, we are becoming more and more aware of our responsibility to run a sustainable business. There is so much to learn, and while we are taking steps to apply better practices behind the scenes, we are striving to offer our market a wider range of goods that are sustainably minded as well. We recognise that we have a responsibility to make a positive impression within our community, so we’re taking our customers on this journey with us this year.

Are there any trends you’re leaving in 2017?

As our sixth year of business approaches, we are having a big ‘clear out’. While some goods we’ve had from the beginning are staples we’ll continue to sell, we’re keen to move on from goods and materials that are being replicated and mass produced. Say goodbye to metallics, script fonts and marble. 

What’s the next step for Paper Plane?

We’re exploring ways to ‘grow within our four walls’ this year. There’s a lot we can do without a massive outlay; it’s a good challenge for the team. The specifics are under wraps… wait and see!

Forking out: Homewares by the numbers

The homewares industry accounted for US$355.4 billion at retail worldwide in 2016. As well as being significant in its own right, homewares is influential across a number of other retail categories, including grocery and other food retailing; furniture, electrical and hardware retail; and clothing, footwear and accessories.

Homewares isn’t recorded as a retail sector in its own right in New Zealand by Statistics New Zealand’s Annual Enterprise Survey, but the most analogous category, that of ‘Furniture, floor coverings, houseware and textile goods’, hit a rough patch in the latest-available release from September 2017. It fell by $15.67 million from the June 2017 quarter and accounted for $603 million, or 3.6 percent of retail’s core industries total $16,599 million.

However, the category was up by 3.7 percent over the same quarter in 2016 and had previously been experiencing strong growth.

Growth in ecommerce spending on homewares is healthy, too. According to BNZ’s Marketview Online Retail Sales report for December and January, spending on the ‘Furniture, housewares and hardware’ category online was up by 26 percent in January 2018 over the previous year, and 7 percent for February 2018.

Westpac economist Michael Gordon has connected retail spending to New Zealand’s obsession with property. He says when property values are rising, people tend to feel wealthier and more inclined to spend, but a cooling property market has dented spending figures recently. Whether this is a permanent slowdown or a bump in the road is not yet clear, but it seems logical to assume that if the whole of retail rises or falls with house prices, then homewares will be even more closely connected.

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