Monday March 7th, 2011 - 1:30PM
CHICAGO— With Ambiente occurring just three weeks before the International Home + Housewares Show this year, it’s safe to expect the tone and activity in Chicago to closely follow what everyone experienced in Frankfurt.
The Best Defense
Phrases like “good buzz,” “quality discussions” and “cautiously optimistic” tend to get tossed around without specifics at times when the specifics can be too troubling to reiterate. The past couple of Ambiente fairs played under such clouds of uncertainty that vague business clichés might have seemed like the best defense, but that was not the case last month.
There was no need to sugarcoat Ambiente this year. Nor was there a need to boast about what a great show it was. When a trade show does what it’s supposed to do, exaggerated superlatives shouldn’t be required to validate the experience.
Ambiente was back to what it was before the recession put everyone on the defensive. It was a vital global housewares showcase, bringing together buyers and sellers to preview a wide vista of new products and to begin planning for the year to come. It was nothing remarkably more than that, yet it was no less productive and triumphant.
American buyers were prevalent at Frankfurt. They encountered vendors from the U.S. and around the world ready with fresh takes on basics and just enough invention that retail shelves could be in for an appealing reset this year.
If you need a cliche, it was business as usual in Frankfurt. Or, at the very least, Ambiente set a sturdy stage for what will become business as usual in a regenerating marketplace as suppliers and retailers collaborate to inflate, presumably with more caution this time, the next retail bubble.
Expect a repeat performance in Chicago.
Expect more new products for people that have a greater appreciation for the comfort, convenience, fun and economy of staying home.
Expect more new products that encourage people to make, effortlessly and eco-responsibly, foods and beverages once considered much easier to buy pre-made with little regard for added expense and waste.
Expect more new products that provide shortcuts to daily living without sacrificing the quality of daily life.
The discussions at Ambiente centered on new products with the potential to stoke steady retail sales growth in the coming months. Sure, price increases, inventory restrictions and other cautionary tales made the rounds in Frankfurt, as they will in Chicago. But whereas such operational limitations were invoked frequently the past couple of years to reduce merchandising risk, by now they should be more familiar variables to be factored creatively into new strategies that drive progress rather than idle it.
It will be interesting, for example, to see which retailers are among the first to accept the challenge of converting inevitable price increases into differentiated presentations abundant with new products and concepts that could shatter magic-pricepoint ceilings by making a dollar or two or three extra look like a bargain for so much extra value. As soon as one major retailer does it, several others surely will rush to follow.
Ambiente confirmed the housewares market has restored its forward-moving attitude as it arrives in Chicago this week. The industry once again is in a place that requires neither overstatement nor ambiguity to defend its status. What it requires now is action.
It’s back where it belongs.