A week ago I returned from my trip to the International Housewares Show in Chicago. The show remains quite vibrant despite over a decade of fears for its demise.
But I was disappointed when it came to innovation. And this is a problem. Fundamentally, any industry needs a vibrant culture of innovative new products in order to be healthy.
And that’s even more true for consumer housewares. For retail to be healthy, no matter how many “entertainment” based in-store options we create, customers need reasons to come to the store. Innovative products are the most effective way to bring new people to the store, increase visits from existing customers, build price and margin support, and enhance the store brand. For manufacturers, innovative new products are a proven way to increase sell through and margins while creating a vital brand future.
After walking the show and viewing the innovation focused display, here are my thoughts:
- Internet of…well…we’re not really sure. Show management put huge effort behind the idea of “Smart”- giving an implication that the internet of things (IoT) products might be everywhere. They weren’t. Why? Perhaps housewares manufacturers have learned these products might connect with the internet but struggle to connect with consumers. (The housewares push for IoT began in the early 2000’s when none of us could figure out why consumers would care to turn their dishwashers on from their computer.)
- The one connected product I noticed was a coffee maker that would pull your espresso shot on phone command. Of course, it would be bitter and cold before you get to it. But heck…it’s “connected”.
- How do you like your pancakes? Artful pancakes were everywhere ; now you can make pictures with varying colors of batter! There was even a pancake plotter that makes pancakes based on your drawing from a computer. All this reminded me of the year the chocolate fountains were at the Gourmet show – fountains that were at Goodwill the next year.
- Colors are not innovation. There is massive energy going into product colors. This has incremental benefit to retailers and manufacturers. Colors make the shelves more exciting and interesting and expand product selection. But they aren’t lasting value product innovations. My hunch is they are so prevalent because changing the color on an existing product seems low risk. But this appearance of safety is actually a big risk since color innovation doesn’t usually offer big return.
- One interesting innovation was at Hamilton Beach – their breakfast maker. Nice new appliance for making it easier to make a good breakfast with the speed we all seem to need in the morning.
- The Keurig whirlwind continues. This was a great innovation years ago. Now they continue cashing it in with immense presence in the small appliance world. That said, stores need Keurig like innovation successes in other categories and we’re not seeing those yet.
- Bar-B-Q. Saw some innovative products around grilling – mostly for expanding the kinds of food you can grill while minimizing the hassle of clean up. But these were consumables and low margin – unlikely to create the innovation power the housewares world needs to maintain its health.
So while Housewares Show wasn’t a complete innovation loss, I found few examples of products that would deliver the power the industry needs. Interestingly, this leaves some categories (like cookware) wide open for new entrants who can crack the code to do something particularly clever.
Let’s hope by next year’s show that the housewares business rediscovers the truth that innovation returns exponential profits and brand value. Until then, stores will have to live with a lot of business as usual.
Copyright 2016 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved