Predicting at the beginning of a year how that year will end is never a sure thing for the housewares business.
However, this has long been a generally reliable business that, aside from the occasional new sensation, is anchored by steadily evolving basics with fairly predictable renewal cycles. It is a core business with resilient roots that in the aggregate of its many categories typically doesn’t skyrocket in the best of years and resists plummeting in the worst of years.
Such stability may be its greatest asset.
And so it was at the beginning of 2020. The first housewares trade shows in January hummed with reports of a solid holiday sales rally, fueling confidence that the industry was well positioned again to fend off disruptions, such as lingering tariffs to escalating e-commerce requirements, to produce another solid year.
That, of course, was before a menacing virus that nobody saw coming infected the world and changed everything for everyone virtually overnight.
It would begin a roller coaster of unprecedented challenge and opportunity for the housewares business.
Growing concerns in early February about inventory shortages from Chinese factories shut down by the coronavirus soon gave way to stunned disbelief in March at the cancelation of The Inspired Home Show and then other major B2B gatherings; which gave way to profound fear for personal safety; which gave way to anxiety about an economic crisis as much of the brick-and-mortar business world shut down.
Then, in what also seemed like an instant, fortunes shifted for the housewares business. Homebound consumers, who could still shop online and in retail outlets deemed essential enough to remain open during quarantine, snatched up kitchenware, home office furnishings, cleaning tools and healthy home accessories at staggering levels heretofore unseen so early in the year.
Suddenly soaring consumer demand erected new hurdles, including a need for complex operating safety protocols, a sharper shift to e-commerce and alarming supply chain pressure that continued into the holiday season. It was a windfall, nonetheless, for housewares retailers and suppliers best prepared for increased flexibility and scale before the pandemic began and for those enterprising and nimble enough to pivot swiftly and decisively as the pandemic escalated.
So, where does that leave the housewares business at the end of an historic year that nobody could have predicted at the beginning of the year?
Expect the steep sales surges of 2020 to pull back a bit in 2021. Even so, higher-than-usual growth should continue in many housewares categories during an obstinate pandemic that might not begin to recede until the middle of next year; and as protective and comforting lifestyles born from the harsh reality of 2020 lock in for the long haul.
Sure things are hard to predict. However, a housewares business staggered by ominous uncertainty when the virus struck rose to the challenge. As it always seems to do.
Wishing all a safe and prosperous new year.