After almost four tumultuous years that included a pandemic, supply chain chaos, dramatic lifestyle shifts and strains on consumer spending, the home and housewares industry finds itself forever changed but ready to drive growth in 2024 and beyond. Amid continued pressures on consumer spending, many housewares executives have been investing heavily in ways to meet changing customer needs, collaborate with retail partners and make their operations even more flexible and efficient.
“2024 will be incredibly important to our industry as many brands focus on getting their inventory levels, supply chain and resources in the right place,” says Steve Greenspon, CEO of Honey-Can-Do International LLC.
“We’re going into a new chapter in our lives,” agrees Sal Gabbay, CEO of Gibson Homewares. “We need to be positioned to be very quick in reacting to shifts in trends.”
Simply put: “Status quo will not drive growth over the next few years,” says Rob Michelson, president & chief commercial officer of Bradshaw Home.
Last year was marked by inflation, lower income and other pressures on consumer spending. As a result, home and housewares sales were down 5% in dollars and down 7% in units in 2023 over 2022, according to Circana/Retail Tracking/12 months ending December 2023 vs prior year.
However, when those figures are compared to 2019, sales were up 24% in dollars and up 2% in units. That makes the home and housewares industry one of only two general merchandise categories that increased in terms of both dollars and units over pre-pandemic levels, according to Joe Derochowski, Circana vice president and home industry advisor.
There are also some signs of light in terms of consumer confidence. U.S. consumer sentiment increased 13% in January 2024 – to the highest level in the past two and a half years – according to a survey from the University of Michigan. Growing optimism about inflation and income prospects was reported across all age and income groups, education and geographical locations, as well as political affiliation.
Resetting for Strategic Growth
Though many companies didn’t stop adjusting their business models during the chaos of recent years, many housewares executives characterized 2023/2024 as a time for resetting and moving forward.
“We have taken the opportunity to reset our business and focus hard on the things we do well, within the categories we are experts and leaders in, so that we can do them even better,” says Scott Felsenthal, CEO of Whitmor, Inc. “Ensuring we maintain operational excellence is a key driver internally.”
“We spent 2023 resetting our five-year strategic plan,” says Michelson. “We are committed to increasing our focus on the end consumer, expanding into new channels of distribution, and driving our market leading brands.”
While resets like these may include efforts to increase efficiency, improve vendor or buyer relationships or add new programs, it can also take the form of sunsetting categories, programs or partnerships that no longer work or fit within a new strategic plan.
When it comes to retail relationships, Bill McHenry, president of Widgeteer Inc., says his company is focusing on good communication and good give-and-take partnerships.
“Relationships are everything in retail,” adds Felsenthal. “The easier we can make the jobs of the merchants, buyers and demand planning teams at the retailers we partner with, the more mutual success we will have together.”
“We are focusing on bringing the greatest value to our retail partners and ensuring we are important to them,” says Greenspon. “We are doing this through products specially designed for a retailers’ customer base, great value propositions due to lowered consumer confidence and high inflation in 2023 and improving our supply chain and technology support.”
Connecting with Consumers
On the consumer side of the equation, many housewares suppliers are updating how they connect with consumers and get to know them. They’re making digital marketing, and social media in particular, a priority for building brand awareness and gaining new customers. But those mediums are providing them with more than just an effective vehicle for telling their stories…. they’re also providing a way for them to learn more about current and potential customers.
“The data continues to improve to ensure that brands receive the highest value on their investment,” says Greenspon.
The savviest companies are also using their digital data and information from outside trend-tracking sources to refine marketing efforts. For instance, “Emphasizing product sustainability and natural ingredients has helped elevate our brand,” says Mike Otterman, president/CEO of Lodge Cast Iron.
In a tough economic climate, newness is often what inspires consumers to buy. “We continue to invest in product development and new product launches,” says Lisa Knierim, chief development officer of Creative Tops, Inc. “It is essential to long-term health and of course consumer awareness.”
Investment in new products is especially important in categories that have become heavily “commoditized,” says Felsenthal. Some companies are also taking the opportunity to create new packaging or new designs, or add new brands to their portfolio.
While less flashy or externally obvious, many housewares companies have adjusted their operations to increase efficiency and/or dexterity as they go into 2024. For some, that means investing in new technology to assist with enterprise resource planning or warehouse management. For others, it’s a matter of adding new third-party logistics providers or diversifying where products are produced.
Making the most of one’s internal team is also top of mind for many housewares executives. McHenry says his company has moved some staffers around so they can better focus on taking advantage of new opportunities. Otterman says finding good people for technical roles and IT is a priority, while Felsenthal is focused on growing employees internally.
These housewares leaders will gather with thousands of other home industry professionals from around the globe to collaborate and carve out new opportunities at The Inspired Home Show 2024, IHA’s Global Home + Housewares Market, March 17-19 at Chicago’s McCormick Place Complex. For more information about the 2024 Show and to register for a Show badge, please visit TheInspiredHomeShow.com. To search for new products that will be at the Show, visit Connect 365, the Show’s online directory.