Hardware industry looks to housewares once again

Nearly 40 years ago, thousands of hardware stores cut back their housewares departments in order to enhance their basic hardware/plumbing/electrical/tools categories. This was so they could compete more effectively against the fast-growing Home Depot, Lowes and other home centre chains.

Today, the trend has reversed. Once again, hardware stores are expanding their housewares departments as they realise they must attract more female customers, whose only shopping options in non-metropolitan areas might be a drug store or supermarket with limited assortments and lower quality items. In metropolitan markets, of course, shoppers have far more options. There are mass merchants like Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target, and specialty chains such as Bed, Bath & Beyond. But even in these built-up areas, smart independent hardware retailers are creating a niche for themselves with tailored housewares assortments.

That’s one reason why the International Housewares Association, sponsor of the International Home & Housewares Show held in Chicago in mid-March, devoted so much space and attention to the role of smaller specialty retailers. That’s also why it organised the showroom floor as they did, so retailers could focus on the categories of special interest – such as storage, cleaning and home décor – to them.

In fact, this year’s Home & Housewares Show demonstrated how different successful trade shows are today from years past. No longer are they just a showcase of products. Successful shows today provide attending buyers educational seminars, market research data and future forecasts to help them better cater to today’s consumers.

One educational session at the show focused on design trends. It focused on the consumer’s interest in ‘green’ products, while simultaneously stressing that today’s smart consumer is quick to identify and distrust false eco-friendly claims and to punish such vendors. Retailers and wholesalers are insisting that vendors minimise packaging waste and consider the environmental impacts of products’ life cycles.

Other seminars that were of special interest to hardware/home centre retailers and other specialty shops emphasised the appeal of visual merchandising, as well as better displays to encourage impulse buying and prolong shopping visits. They also forecast colour trends to help retailers decide which shades and tones to buy.

Buyers learned how to make ones store a shopping destination in what is, today, a competitive climate. There were also lessons on how to use Google and social media to attract younger consumers.

Two sections of the show proved especially valuable for hardware retailers. The Clean + Contain showroom included bath and shower accessories, cleaning products and supplies, home improvement and DIY products, storage and home organisation needs, outdoor living, and even pet supplies. In the Lakeshore building, exhibitors included companies involved in floor and carpet care, energy conservation products, air and water purifiers, humidifiers, and cooling and heating products.

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