The New York Tabletop Market is a welcome sign of spring after a relentless winter that iced retail sales all over the map.
But as much as the New York market blooms each year with the optimism of renewed fashion, the tabletop industry still finds itself among the most challenged segments in home goods to declare an all-out renewal.
If a cautious economy curbing discretionary spending hasn’t been tough enough on the overall tabletop business, a new generation of home-starters less influenced by traditional tabletop purchasing customs is serving notice that marketers and retailers ill-prepared to adapt will miss out as the industry regains momentum.
Formal china, crystal and silverware were the sacrosanct entitlements of bridal registries for generations. Why? They just were, no questions asked.
Today’s consumer demands justification and isn’t swayed as much by yesterday’s formalities. So it should come as no surprise that, according to The Knot 2012 registry survey, 39% of couples registered for crystal stemware in 2012, compared to 48% in 2008; and just 28% registered for fine china compared to 36% in 2008.
The tabletop industry has two options in the face of such trends: try to persuade consumers to revert to traditional buying patterns; or give them more of what they want.
The casualization of the tabletop business was well underway before the economic and lifestyle shifts of the past few years further dented the formal ware segment. Upscale players are under more pressure to attract consumers looking to optimize the practical, everyday value of their home furnishings.
This has elevated the downstairs segment of the tabletop business while prompting the upstairs segment to consider coming down a few steps. What’s most important, though, is that the tabletop business at all levels is in sync with what consumers expect to encounter as they climb the stairs.
Casualization doesn’t have to mean a cheapening of the category. It’s a repositioning that redirects spending to products more likely to be used more often, which, in theory, should generate more sales. Increased accessibility does not have to come at the expense of luxury and elegance.
Look around the Tabletop Market next week. Everyday tabletop and high-end tabletop companies alike are embracing informal dining and entertaining preferences with fashion-forward products designed to stimulate spontaneity and personal expression while promoting utility and versatility.
The distance between downstairs and upstairs tabletop merchandising continues to narrow. Suppliers at all levels share the challenge and the opportunity to inspire the tabletop industry’s renewal by meeting today’s consumers somewhere in the middle.
Price doesn’t define that middle ground. Today’s casual lifestyles do. Giving consumers more of what they want at every step should help cultivate the tabletop bloom so eagerly awaited.