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.