Rooting For The Tabletop Business

Everyone loves an underdog, right? If true, then everyone should be rooting for the tabletop industry.

There are few businesses in the home and housewares industry that have been pressured like retail tabletop.

A business that was a consumer rite of passage for generations, a bold centerpiece of home product merchandising at department stores when department stores were still the flagships of progressive retailing, tabletop in many cases has been relegated to lower-rung, space-confined status in today’s saturated retail marketplace.

Going Casual

The reasons are many, perhaps none more impactful than the casualization of home dining and its influence on a new generation of lifestyle consumerism (led by but not exclusive to Millennials) that has prioritized the practical, utilitarian attributes in tableware over its more indulgent, style-driven qualities.

While that was a positive development on the surface for the everyday side of tabletop, the resulting decline of formal tabletop undermined an overall category nourished for decades by customs such as bridal registry, itself a business that has fled traditional presumptions.

Throw in the e-commerce surge, waves of store closings, private-label demand, open-stock preferences, trade wars and myriad other complications and one could hardly blame the retail tabletop industry for playing it safe.

That’s what makes the showing by designers and suppliers big and small at the recent New York Tabletop Market so encouraging.

Finding A Balance

Against slimming margins and a narrowing customer base, a tabletop industry that once had the leverage to tell consumers what they need continues its challenging transformation into a business trying to give consumers what they want.

A walk through the showrooms at Forty One Madison Avenue in New York City revealed an effort to balance what has been a necessary emphasis in recent years on sensible tableware function connected to key food and beverage trends with a renewed focus on topical, buoyant fashion that can reset the category as an accessible, vivid form of personal expression and lifestyle.

Staying Relevant

Suppliers at all levels also have stepped up their visual merchandising guidance. Showrooms spotlighted tablescapes meant to inspire more retailers to recreate an inspiring, relevant tableware experience on the selling floor and online.

That’s just it, though. The extra effort by suppliers could remain trapped inside tabletop showrooms if more retailers aren’t willing to take a leap and share the accountability.

Retailers ask for new, yet new doesn’t necessarily come with a spread-sheet history and guarantees. Risk, of course, needs to be managed carefully. But it often appears the move to minimize risk in tabletop has compromised the engaging dazzle that can distinguish the category and could help secure its transformation on top of all the pragmatic product, marketing and operational considerations.

So, root hard for tabletop. Everyone loves an underdog, especially one that never gives up.