Highlights from the Chicago Housewares Show


Show Floor2016Last week I spent two days at the Housewares Show after a more or less 4-year hiatus. While not the conclusive guide to the show, let me share my observations as one who has exhibited and attended since 1983. I concentrate mainly on the electrics side, but the overall trends apply to the entire show.

The International Home and Housewares Show is more than just a product exhibition. It’s a global gathering of the industry players, the definitive place to learn about consumer trends, cooking trends and observe how an industry is evolving against the macro forces of globalization, retail and manufacturer consolidation, technology and home fashion. Every marketer should listen to Tom Mirabile’s keynote each year. He does a great job breaking down the key trends in food, household, consumer and retail behaviour and of course this analysis can be applied over many industries. It will eventually be posted Housewares.org for you to check out.

In no particular order here is the big picture:

InventorsEntrepreneurialism is Thriving. I believe that disruptive innovation generally comes from outsiders rather than established brands. Inventors, direct response sellers, start-ups and commercial technology that migrates downwards are usually the source of new ideas in the home. Before becoming a multi-billion dollar enterprise, Keurig started out in office lobbies. While the mainline coffeemaker brands tried to adapt the “pod” innovation from Europe, it was the outsider who put the winning hardware quality plus coffee variety equation together. This year, there continued to be a plethora of new companies introducing this year’s innovations. My first question was often “Who are you people ?” With Kickstarter and other tools, entrepreneurs have more resources than ever at their disposal.

The Shark Tank Influence. It seems that industry nurturing of invention is gaining steam. A whole area of the show is dedicated to Innovators and Inventors. Shark Tank is the new Food Network, inspiring and trend setting. Lori Grenier had a whole aisle section showcasing her investments. Lori, who would be my target shark based on her credentials with the consumer market, is becoming this generation’s Ron Popiel.

E Commerce is Still Booming. The final piece of this entrepreneurial troika is the phenomenal growth of online channels. Speaking to exhibitors, it seems that most brands count the major online site we all know in their top 5 customers and some companies exist based primarily on their online presence.

Smart Home. Each industry trade show features the latest machine to machine technology. This show was no different. There was no shortage of small appliances and panel discussions on where the smart home sits on the adoption curve. The Nespresso coffee machine now can track our consumption of pods and automatically reorder them. On one hand, it seems silly and trivial. On the other hand, we have been out of stock on capsules in our home for about 3 weeks. The best line was from an audience member at the IDEO seminar who said he was marketing a web-enabled sewing machine even though his target consumer is 65 years old. This technology is going to be big; maybe we are not there yet, but we all need to be ready.

15-thumbMillennials and the market. The millennials may not be so different than boomers according to Marsha Everton and Whitney Ryan of Aimsights Group who made an excellent presentation on the 3 phases of life (0-30yrs;30-60 and 60-90). As the Gen X hits 40 and Millennials pass 30, it seems the normal course of life activities – marriage, children, household formation, career progression cause all of us to eventually behave in a similar way. They certainly shop differently, relying on Apps and Social Media more than brand image or store personnel and Millennials are having a major positive impact on trends such as smaller houses, sustainable products and technology. And best of all for the industry, they are Foodies, ultilizing according to Tom Mirabile, their “You are what you eat” philosophy to drive such ideas as time saving tools, fermenting, artisan food prep and creative meals in a bowl.

Commercial Like Appliances for the Home. If you have read my blog before you may recall my admiration and kudos to the Vita Mix company. They really personify the barbell effect and have led the way in bringing commercial quality in to the home. You can see the influence of Vitamix as all appliance brands now have high power, robust blenders. As an industry, the move away from bottom feeding is inspiring.

Imitation and Bandwagon Effect. At my first Housewares Show in the 80’s, the smell and sounds of popcorn makers seemed to come from every other booth. If you went by this show alone, every household in America will soon be cooking their steak with a sous vide oven. Patent protection offers innovators some protection against blatant knockoffs and patience is required for new concepts to take hold. As pointed out above, you can see the inspiration of a Vita Mix or Keurig in virtually every booth. We all love to chase the next big thing.

And now I am off to New Orleans and the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Show. Its travel season!


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  1. Michel Stebenne says:

    Great review David!

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