Post-Sept. 11 focus on home boosts housewares industry

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

CHICAGO -- Flags aren't the only hot-selling item since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Americans' renewed focus on home, family and friends also is providing a lift for some familiar old products in the $69.5 billion-a-year housewares business, retail and housewares industry experts say.

The homeward shift in priorities reportedly has increased demand for simple, traditional products such as candles and picture frames that provide consumers with comfort or remind them of happier times.

Coupled with better-than-expected holiday sales, the trend has boosted industry expectations for increased home goods spending in 2002.

"Products that are not so much Americana but appeal to the American sensibilities seem to be doing well," says Warren Shoulberg, editor of Home Furnishings News, a trade publication. "It's not products with American flags stuck on them, it's some old favorites, retro looks and comfy things."

Slow cookers for preparing casseroles, soups and other family-style dishes are likely to be popular sellers, he suggests, as consumers retreat to their homes as a refuge from uncertain and economically challenging times. So are cookware and bakeware.

A 'cocooning' trend

No one knows the extent of the increases. Housewares manufacturers haven't yet had a chance to document the rise in demand or get new products to the market to take advantage of it.

But companies displaying their wares at the world's largest trade fair for housewares last week in Chicago testified to the change in consumer attitude. Decreasing spending on luxury goods and travel is clearly translating to more interest in housewares items, they said.

"We've seen evidence of a real trend of back to basics, cocooning and back to the family," says Nancy Siler, who showed products at the International Housewares Show for Woodridge, Ill.-based Wilton Industries. "We're seeing a heavy interest in our bakeware in the last few months, just because people are doing more cooking at home."

While innovative new gadgets were still big attention-grabbers, the old-fashioned comforts of home appeared to be a priority with buyers, experts and companies said.

"It's too soon to measure the overall effect, but there's definitely a trend toward nesting, accentuating the family and things like that," says Wayne Dubord of Columbia Frame Inc., a Montreal-based mirror and photo frame manufacturer. "We saw a positive interest at the show from retailers we hadn't dealt with in the past."

John Hauptman, vice president of Willard Bishop Consulting in Barrington, Ill., says Americans may be willing to invest more now in "traditional housewares that they might have found at Grandma's house."

U.S. manufacturers also could benefit from a new interest in buying American-made housewares as part of the more patriotic environment, he suggested.

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