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Seeking Comfort From The Chill

Monday January 20th, 2014 - 2:53PM

Greetings from inside the polar vortex.

With much of the nation gripped in an historic deep freeze as I write this, it’s appropriate that this is a time to take the proverbial temperature of a housewares industry assessing holiday results as it rekindles expectations for a new year.

Mixed Forecast

The first-quarter trade show circuit will take us from Atlanta to Dallas to Las Vegas to New York to Frankfurt to Chicago and to points in between to provide a look at what’s in store for housewares in 2014.

It will be interesting to hear what everyone has to say about a 2013 holiday retail period that by many accounts was even chillier than moderate early forecasts.

It took deep discounts to drive a low single-digit overall retail sales gain during the last two months of the year. Even online sales, while still showing an enviable double-digit increase, came in a few points short of projections.

It all seems to fly in the face of such positive economic indicators as soaring stocks, rising home costs and shrinking unemployment. But the other side still shows stagnant middle-class wages, rising health care costs and other factors regulating discretionary spending.

Remember that new normal everyone got sick of hearing about four or five years ago? Well, it’s just normal now.

Synching retail sales prospects to stock or consumer confidence indices is hardly a given anymore. 

Housewares Primed

The fogged in reality here, however, is that overall personal consumption has risen each month for most of the past year. Consumers are spending more, just not always on traditional retail goods and not always in traditional retail outlets. Service spending on travel, movies and mobile device content is gobbling up a bigger share of pent-up demand, keeping the consumer goods purchasing pendulum stuck on the more practical side.

As we resign ourselves to lamenting that general retail mainstay goods are reliant on profit-crushing discounts to maintain even flat sales, don’t overlook the steady surge in home improvement sales, including mounting demand for bigger-ticket appliances. 

This is where the housewares industry is in a prime position to thrive. If there is more money on the consumer sideline, and all it takes is the right balance of need and value (with a pinch of indulgence) to put that money in play, housewares has all the right stuff.

Warming Trends

This is a vital advantage as the housewares industry and its retailers begin to put 2014 plans into action at trade shows across the map during the first quarter.

It’s understandable that hot spots in today’s reset retail market can be difficult to contain when the overall chill seems so overwhelming at times.

But where there are warming trends to be found inside today’s retail vortex, housewares should be among the segments providing plenty of comfort.

—peter Giannetti