A Happy Days Rerun For The DIY Market

The National Hardware Show is set to celebrate its 70th anniversary this week in Las Vegas, and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic.

OK, so I wasn’t there to witness the ribbon cutting in 1945. But I was reminded of the popular 1970s sitcom “Happy Days” set in the 1950s.

Convenient Selections

Many will recall the show’s patriarch, Howard Cunningham, owned a hardware store in Milwaukee. In one episode, he talked about attending “the big hardware convention in Chicago,” perhaps the Hardware Show (which actually didn’t move from New York to Chicago until 1975).

You also might recall the shelves behind the cash register inside Cunningham’s Hardware Store displaying a toaster, a coffeemaker, pots and pans.

The neighborhood hardware store of that era often was also the neighborhood housewares store. That hasn’t changed altogether. 

Despite the corporatization of home improvement retailing, independent hardware store operators still thrive with the support of the big cooperatives. And many continue to serve their communities with convenient selections of housewares.

Big-box DIY centers also have seized the drawing and impulse power of robust housewares offerings. The HomeWorld Business Top 100 Housewares Retailers ranking registered Home Depot as the country’s seventh largest housewares retailer in 2013 with $2.58 billion in housewares sales, while Lowe’s ranked 13th with $1.46 billion.

Closely Aligned

A diverse mix of housewares categories has been featured at National Hardware Show through the decades. The Homewares division of the show’s current presentation at the Las Vegas Convention Center features concentrations in such housewares categories as home environment, storage and cleaning that are closely aligned to home improvement merchandising. A walk through the Homewares aisles (newly situated in the Central Hall of LVCC as part of the show’s reorganized exhibit floor plan, see story page 13, April 27 issue) will also turn up discoveries in kitchenware, As Seen On TV, home décor and other housewares categories angling for space on hardware store and home center shelves.

Signs indicate this could be prime time for housewares in the DIY retail space. A recent Harris Poll for SunTrust found 57% of homeowners plan a home improvement project this year, with more than a third planning to spend $5,000-plus on bigger touchups. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University forecasts home remodeling activity this year to approach $300 billion, the highest level since 2008.

Encouraging Conditions

Volatility remains the operative word in today’s retail economy, so nothing is certain. And no one predicts a rerun of the boom times of the post-war 1950s that set the backdrop for TV’s fictional Cunningham’s Hardware Store.

But there is no harm in pausing for a bit of nostalgia at this year’s 70th anniversary National Hardware Show before refocusing on how to capitalize on encouraging home improvement conditions.

It might bring more happy days in the months to come.