All the buzz about the “connected home” at CES in Las Vegas earlier this year had a familiar ring to it for anyone who has been following the housewares industry for a while.
The CES previews came 12 years after Sunbeam Corp. (now Jarden Consumer Solutions) introduced its Thalia concept of networked “smart” appliances at the International Housewares Show in Chicago.
Thalia never took root for many reasons, among them perhaps the lack at the time of a consensus technical standard for such household connectivity; and a mass consumer base not quite ready for the multi-component buy-in required to optimize the concept’s usefulness, and ultimately, its value.
Fast-forward to 2012: With wi-fi- and web-enabled mobile devices and “cloud” networking becoming household staples, the latest wave of smart-home applications would seem to have a better than fair chance at consumer traction.
The shame of it all is that Sunbeam and other small appliance companies who dabbled with the connected-home concept more than a decade earlier didn’t have the market support or the marketing muscle to pull it off. Their pioneering contribution, though, should not be forgotten.
Housewares innovation often is more evolutionary than it is revolutionary. The industry, nonetheless, still comes through with plenty of new ideas that add meaningful quality and value to home living. The trick is securing the retail support and financial cushion needed to build and sustain the marketing momentum behind such ideas.
It’s interesting how revered the consumer packaged goods industry is as a lifestyle trendsetter in the eyes of many observers. The headline of a recent article in USA Today proclaimed, “Trend Alert: 10 new products to watch for in 2012,” followed by a roundup of forthcoming entries by such consumer marketing superpowers as P&G, Kraft and Kimberly Clark.
Among the hot trends to be fueled by these products, according to the article: “Touchless cleaning,” “Hyper-personal everything,” “Simplified meals,” “Ethnic foods ‘R us,” “Healthy but fast” and “Customized snacking.”
Think of how many housewares products have been at the forefront of each of these trends. This happens often: A housewares company develops a novel solution, then after a few seasons of toiling to build the market, some MBA-infused packaged goods giant with a portfolio of high-profile brands and deep pockets swoops in and claims the idea as its own through consumable positioning, a multi-million-dollar consumer ad campaign and preordained slots on the shelves of supermarkets and discount stores across the land.
The housewares industry deserves not only credit for its game-changing ideas. It also deserves a fair chance to be a long-term stakeholder in the concepts it pioneers.
Few if any housewares companies boast the consumer advertising budgets of their packaged goods or technology counterparts. While social media is making it easier and less expensive to spread the message directly to consumers, housewares still relies on its retail partners to accept new ideas, to promote them and to sustain their full value over time.
It’s no easy trick, for sure. But never forget: Housewares has been connecting consumers and creating smarter homes long before microwave popcorn and wi-fi were ever invented.