Spotlight hits housewares; casual explodes in lieu of lawn, garden lines

Spotlight hits housewares CHICAGO–With the growing midsummer International Power Equipment Show in Louisville stealing away many makers of big-ticket lawn and garden products, housewares exhibitors enjoyed a more prominent position among the 75,000 visitors to the National Hardware Show here.

There was an explosion of casual furniture, most of it for patios, while energy savings and security products made their mark. Vendors of electronic set-back thermostats and infrared floodlights reported strong interest as prices continue to decline.

Amid reports of healthy sell-through this year, retailers also demonstrated rising interest in barbecue grills, ceiling fans and fan-heaters.

On the home security front, First Alert believes its two Halon fire extinguishers unveiled at the show will help boost retail sales by 40 percent in the next five years.

A major housewares introduction at the show was Tucker Housewares’ new line of under-the-cabinet plastic storage products. Available initially in almond-hue and four-color packaging, the line includes such items as bread boxes and drawers with inserts.

An impressive 10-SKU line of gas grills from Nordic Ware and a first-ever collection of casual furniture from Rubbermaid headed the list of buyer favorites at the show. The Nordic products are self-cleaning and will feature mahogany side shelves. “It’s product that clearly puts Nordic a step ahead,” asserted William Marcil of Nordic. Rubbermaid’s collection, meantime, is named Sundial, and its tough-polypropylene material is advertised as being virtually maintenance-free.


“Rubbermaid’s white resin furniture is very impressive,” said Ed Lanctot, vice president and general merchandise manager at Cotter & Co., the nation’s biggest hardware cooperative. “We also think Nordic Ware has made a fine looking barbecue grill.”

Another influential buyer, Donald Bratt of K mart Corp., echoed Lanctot’s views on the Nordic line, though the big mass merchant will limit all gas placement to models under $200 in price. “In gas models we’re making an effort to step up our customers from $97 single-burner products,” Bratt said. “By promoting effective good volume in the $149 to $169 range.”

Like other shoppers at the show, however, he admitted the proliferation of home centers and big hardware warehouse chains–including K mart’s own Builder’s Square-have had an impact on some categories of home goods. “Grill sales have been rather flat for us the last couple of years,” said Tom Heying, another K mart buyer. “We’re not getting the yearly gains in gas grills that we enjoyed at one time. The increasing competition has been a factor in that.”

The new McCormick Place annex wasn’t open in time for the hardware show, leaving many exhibitors with smaller booths than they’d planned. But attendance was healthy, and organizers allowed main floor vendors to open on Sunday, a day reserved in the past for McCormick West exhibitors only.

“If the annex had been ready we were due for a booth 40 percent bigger than what we have,” said Marshall Bedol, president of Marshallan Industries, the Cleveland-based producer of grills. “But traffic has been very good for us in the main building and all the right buyers are here, so we have to be happy.”

At McCormick West, though, the mood was markedly different. “This show’s been a disappointment for us,” said Cort Clark, president of Los Angeles-based Keroheat, the importer of heaters. “It used to be that we had our own one-day show on Sunday, but that was taken away from us and traffic has been poor.”

In programmable thermostats, Honeywell was in the spotlight at the show. The company has hired a new management team for its retail division, headed by Dennis Gambiana, and said that it will continue to market the three-SKU Quad Six line it acquired last December under Quad Six’s old Magic Stat brand name. On the Honeywell side, a new mechanical model, the CT-150, was introduced at a $69 price point, pre-empting to some extent the old CT-200 at $89.

Jameson Home Products will offer $5 rebates on its two new electronic models under the Ener-Genius label this fall. Prices will be $69 and $89–low enough to persuade many consumers to step up from mechanical units, it was said. Jameson calculates about a half million electronic units were sold in the U.S. last season, not far behind the 600,000 total for mechanical at retail.

“The price spread between the two is closing, and in time there won’t be any reason to buy electromechanical,” said Robert Bukowsky, vice president of sales and marketing at Jameson.

The category leader may well be Hunter, which weighed in at the show with a new generation of electronic units called Energy Monitor II. So far, there are just two SKUs, at $49 and $59, down about $10 from previous electronic editions.

There is, moreover, a new line of mechanicals ranging from $12 to $19 at retail. Shipment will commence in September.

Another hot new category at the show was security lights. It is coming of age as prices settle below $100 after being as high as $300 several years ago when passive infrared technology was new. Tahoe Products has four new models that detect heat and/or the motion of a person within 75 feet and turn on automatically. Prices range from $79 to $99 at retail.

James Wimsatt, president of Tahoe, forecasts sales of 500,000 security lights at retail in the coming year. “They’re perfect for home improvement centers and the hardware co ops, and Sears and Wards are good candidates,” he says.

Rather than infrared, Timely Products had developed security light incorporating the same Doppler radar system that airliners use to detect wind shear. Timely contends the units achieve wider coverage, though that comes at a premium: prices range from $139 to $159.

Hot, wet weather over much of the country this summer contributed to a banner bug killer season, with over 1.6 million units shipped to retailers. Merchants report virtually no carry-over inventory, which should be good news for the profit-pressed survivors in the category. There were once 30 bug killer producers, but a shake out over the past two years has left four or five major companies to split up the business.

Flowtron remains a strong No. 1, supplying all of Sears’ product (accounting for almost one-third of the market) and controlling, overall, more than 50 percent of sales. Stinger has roughly 25 percent, according to sources, while Klenatron and Sunbeam each counts on some 10 percent.

Even Flowtron hasn’t been immune from the pricing battles that have plagued the industry. The company will discontinue its original line of metal units in 1987. They will be supplanted by lower-cost plastic models which retail at $29.95.

Stinger has downsized its 40-watt unit and the price is expected to come as low as $29 next season on promotion, not far above the everyday price of its 15-watt model. Stephen Sadler, a Stinger executive said, “Margin pressure is still intense–bug killers only sell on promotion–yet I think pricing has bottomed out at this point.”

In other product areas, Robertshaw introduced a line of range-top knobs in white, black and chrome colors. Mostly a replacement business, oven knobs have been dominated by commercial suppliers until now, but Robertshaw is confident it can interest retailers in the category.

Caframo Ltd. unveiled its Executive, a combination humidifier and air cleaner. With a list price of $129, the 4-gallon unit is billed as quieter than ultrasonic with an enclosed motor that is resistant to calcium build up and white dust emissions.

Fall chores make spring garden a winner (3)

Shaping Up the Lawn

Fall is, by far, the best time to seed a lawn, or patch up an old one. In most climates, the ideal time for sowing seed and for early growth of seedling grass is between the last part of September and the early part of November. This is the time nature itself selects for seeding. Fall grass seedlings will be vigorous for the following spring and will be better able to withstand the heat and weeds which come in summer. If your lawn is thin and has bald spots, “thicken” it with grass seed in fall. Mow your lawn right up until snow flies or cold winter sets in. Forget the notion that tall grass survives the winter better. Tall grass going into the winter will be susceptible to various fungus diseases such as mold and/or helminsoporum.

Lawn Mower Care

It’s a safe bet that 9 out of 10 CR readers have a lawn mower in the garage with a dull blade. When you get ready to put that lawn mower away, do this 1) Put in a new spark plug. They cost only about $1.50 and can save you a ton of tugging next year. 2) Unhook the wire to the spark plug,(*) take the blade off and have it sharpened for next year. Dull blades cause “gray” lawns by beating the grass off instead of cutting it. 3) Change the oil in fall instead of waiting until a busy spring rolls around. 4) Drain the gas out of the tank. It can turn into varnish-like material and cause problems in spring.

House Plants

Fall chores make spring garden a winner02

Fall’s no time to neglect house plants. If you kept yours outdoors in summer bring them indoors. Keep them isolated for a couple of days and check them for slugs, snails, white flies, and other pests. You might spray them with a homemade spray formula you can mix right in your own sink with common household ingredients.

To make: mix one teaspoon of liquid detergent (dishwashing type such as Palmolive, Ivory, Joy, etc.) with one cup to one quart of plain tap water. Shake this mixture vigorously to emulsify and pour it into a spray or pump bottle. Use at 10-day intervals to check white flies, spider mites, and aphids. A lot of people use Murphy’s oil soap (liquid) diluted at a rate of 1/4 cup to a gallon of warm water. Spray it on top and undersides of foliage.

Potting Soil

Fall is a good time to re-pot most house plants. A good soil mixture for most house plants is made up of one part sphagnum peat moss (or compost), one part sand, one part garden loam, and one part perlite or vermiculite. Many “store bought” black potting mixes are not satisfactory as they may be pure muck and not drain well. If your plants are tall and gangly, prune them back and start new plants from cuttings rooted in a vase of soupy perlite.

Quick Tips

* Pull weeds before they self sow. Crabgrass alone can self sow 10,000 seeds per plant. * Catch clippings to compost, or let them lie on the lawn. One acre of lawn receives 40 lbs. of free nitrogen from clippings. * Don’t be a slave to your lawn. A few weeds won’t harm it. The mower will keep them down. * A properly located shade tree can cut down on your fuel bill by as much as 30%, acting as a windbreak. It takes twice as much fuel to keep a house warm at a temperature of 32 degrees and a wind of 12 miles per hour, as it does for the same temperature and a wind of three miles per hour. * Don’t be intimidated by pruning rules. It’s better to prune than not to prune. But be a barber not a butcher. * Order seed catalogs and curl up with one this fall or winter when the weather’s bad. * Study other people’s plantings and copy them. Ask questions of your neighbor or garden center clerk. * Take advantage of the new low-growing, beautiful annuals for borders, window boxes, and pots. The selection is the best ever. * If you are new to gardening, it’s better by far to have a few showy productive plants than to raise a lot which take a lot of care. (*) It’s important to unhook the wire to the plug before you loosen the blade. It’s possible for the mower to start when you turn the blade and cause serious injury.



Fall chores make spring garden a winner (2)

Fall Cleanup

You can do a lot to prevent insect and disease buildup by giving your garden a good fall cleanup. Pull up vines and stalks and chop them up fine for the compost. This exposes over-wintering stages of insects and diseases and helps cut down on them for next year. If you’ve got the time, spade, fork, or plow the vegetable garden in fall to expose dormant stages of insects.

Sow a Cover Crop

The term “cover crop” refers to a temporary planting made to add organic matter to the soil. Cover crops hold nitrogen and other nutrients that might be lost during the winter. Their tremendous root systems loosen heavy soils, whereas the added humus will help hold the particles of sandy soils together. If you have plenty of garden space, rotate 1/3 to 1/2 of it into a cover crop for a full year. These “green manure” crops, a good substitute for barnyard manure, include oats, buckwheat, clover, and ryegrass. You can sow these and let them grow right up until freezing weather, then spade or plow them under the following spring.


Don’t hesitate to cut back perennials that are lanky and overgrown. Some are weedy and seedy, so cut them before they self sow.


Fall is bulb planting time. The subject is so vast we cannot cover it here because there are both indoor (non-hardy) and outdoor bulbs. You can learn a lot from a good, well-illustrated bulb catalog about the best varieties in your area. For outdoor plants, a good rule of thumb is that bulbs should be planted twice as deep as they are round. Don’t hesitate to write us if you have any problems for the fall care of bulbs.

Protecting Your Trees

Fall Planting

Nurseries are plugging “fall planting” as a way to save a year on growth, and to achieve better results than spring planting. If you plant evergreens or non-evergreens in the fall, make sure the plants are well watered, then mulched. Any plants going into the winter with a dry soil will surely perish from the effects of wind and sun. Soak them well. It’s a good idea to use a wrap around trees to prevent winter scald.

Water Loss

Many people think summer is the only time to put on a mulch, but winter mulch is also useful. One reason evergreens experience “winterburn” or “winterkill” is strong, drying winds in winter or early spring. All evergreens lose water through their leaves from winter winds. When water lost from the leaves cannot be immediately replaced, drying out and browning of leaves takes place. Even though water is present in the soil, it may be frozen solid, and therefore unavailable to plant roots. The secret is to keep evergreens well watered right up until the snow flies.

Fall is a good time to apply a winter mulch to help retain moisture in the soil and prevent rapid temperature changes at the soil line. Put two or three inches of straw, peatmoss, cocoabean shell, buckwheat hulls, wood chips, or sawdust around the base of your shrubs. Anything you have available for a mulch will work, but you should never let evergreens go into the winter with a dry soil. Give your plants a good soaking, then apply the mulch, to trap the water in.

Another idea homeowners like is “wilt-proofing” or spraying evergreens with latex concoctions found in garden centers. These seal the pores and stop water loss. These materials are also called anti-desiccants or anti-transpirants, and are available under several trade names. Spray the top and bottom sides of leaves in late fall. Trunks of established trees can be painted with a cheap grade of latex paint, to a height of six feet. The paint reflects the sun’s rays and prevents unequal expansion, leaving cracked bark, especially on the southwest side of the trunk. This is called “Southwest injury.” Paint the bark, using the paint full strength.

Newly planted evergreens, or those in exposed windy or sunny areas can also be protected by a burlap “tent” or screen. Burlap wrapped around four posts driven into the ground does a fine job of protecting the plants from drying winds. There are new loose-weave “landscape” fabrics which may be substituted for burlap as long as they are able to withstand the rigors of stormy weather. Never wrap evergreens with plastic sheets. These trap the heat in and cook the foliage on sunny days. Even holes punched in the plastic are not enough to let the heat escape.

Evergreens next to a white house are hit twice b the sun’s rays. First, they are hit directly, then again as the sun’s rays bounce back from the white surface. Burlap or latex sprays lessen this type of injury.

Evergreens facing the west, and those next to a road, can get wind and salt damage. Salt burns cause browning, especially on the west side. This can be prevented by using burlap screens. Brown areas at the base are usually due to “dog burn.” Put a wire guard around the evergreens now to prevent dog burning. Water from leaking eaves can cause ice to form on evergreens, and the ice acts like a magnifying glass when the sun hits, scorching the foliage in cold weather. Damage shows as a bleached or strawlike color. Fix your gutters and make sure they are unplugged. Leaves can block the openings and cause water to splash over.

There’s another chore you can do in fall to prevent winter-killing. Make sure your evergreens, especially Taxus (Japanese Yews) do not catch rainwater. These evergreens are extremely sensitive to “wet feet” and will die, often within 36 hours, if water remains around the roots.

Fruit Trees

Fall is an ideal time to plant fruit trees, and to trim them. Rabbits are a real problem for young fruit trees. Protect your trees in fall by wrapping the trunk in aluminum foil or hardware “cloth” (screen). Make sure you go up two or three feet if you live where there are heavy snows and down about two inches into the soil to keep out voles (repeat, voles) and other rodents. Deer are a real problem in fall. If deer, rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, and other animals bother your plants try this repellent: 2 whole eggs (can include shells); 2 cups coarsely chopped green onion tops; 2 cloves garlic (or garlic powder), 1 tablespoon red pepper (chili or cayenne), 2 cups water. Place all in a kitchen blender. Run on high speed until everything is liquefied. Pour into 1 gallon plastic bucket with 1 shaved cake of yellow laundry soap (found in supermarkets and sometimes called “fels Naphtha”). Fill with lukewarm water and stir. Splash by hand (wear a rubber glove) over plants. Reapply after heavy rain and every week or two. Once dry, it has no smell to humans.