Panel: Wrap It Up – Big Takeaways

by Debbie Teschke

Connect SPRING, IHA’s first-ever virtual event that brought the home + housewares industry together around education, inspiration and product discovery, concluded today with “Wrap it Up: Big Takeaways from Connect SPRING,” recapping industry insights from the nine-day event. Connect SPRING was created by IHA in partnership with The NPD Group and Springboard Futures.

Discussing their takeaways from the event were Joe Derochowski, vice president and home industry advisor for The NPD Group; Tom Mirabile, founder and principal of Springboard Futures and consumer trend advisor for IHA; and Leana Salamah, vice president, marketing, at IHA. Peter Giannetti of IHA moderated the session.

One over-arching theme running through the 27 sessions of Connect SPRING was the shift by the home + housewares business to a more encompassing consumer-centric approach; and how to focus on a consumer that has been transformed by the pandemic. A consumer-centric perspective, panelists agreed, is now pervasive throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing, retailing and sales to material supply and product development and design.

Understanding the consumer — how they live and their pain points — and thinking beyond the transaction to empathize with them will offer retailers and suppliers a platform on which to create new experiences that can drive growth beyond their pre-pandemic business cores, panelists said.

Salamah noted the pandemic contributed to a breakdown of traditional retail channel silos. She pointed to how increasing housewares purchases at supermarkets during the pandemic created a new profit center for such retailers.

New safety considerations changed consumer mindsets about how they shopped, where they shopped and how many places they wanted to go, Salamah added.

 

The pandemic also shifted the want-vs.-need consumer equation. Eighteen months ago consumers were in a “want economy” of trend-based, aspirational shopping. During the pandemic, behavior shifted in many cases to what consumers need. And now, many expect, the opportunity returning for home and housewares to serve a gradual shift back to aspirational choices.

 

Mirabile tied this shift to the pandemic being a shared experience, and he said it created a mandate for treating others as one wants to be treated. “The pandemic is a universal experience that we all are experiencing at the same time…our kids, our neighbors,” he said.

Empathy — which begins with listening to the consumer — can spark innovation, said Derochowski. Everyone in the industry is a consumer and thinking differently about how to solve consumer problems will open opportunities, he said.

Housewares is an interpandemic business serving a consumer and marketplace in constant flux, Mirabile said. “Normal” can change in a week, and retailers and suppliers have to remain sharply tuned to such change. Target, for example, is forecasting three months out, not three years, he said.

The difference between selling to and connecting with consumers leans into empathy, Derochowski noted. He noted how before the pandemic, consumers lived in a selfie world marked by showing off. Now selfies are a way to reengage and reconnect with family and friends, he explained.

How we mark and celebrate occasions (if they were celebrated at all) has changed over the course of the pandemic, creating an opportunity for the home product business to help create new occasions, Mirabile said. “People are committed to making good memories. There is no history to the pandemic, but it is the perfect environment or reimagination,” he said. “We will be part of history. We will make memories out of our pandemic experiences.”

Mirabile emphasized the increasing value of the “currency of emotion.”

The panelists noted how a home + housewares business at the forefront of consumer needs during the pandemic now confronts how to sustain the urgency of such demand. Derochowski said he was encouraged by the potential of the industry to innovate across the board — from supply chain and operations to product development and marketing — to engage the consumer as other experiences once again begin to vie for a share of the wallet.

“Our industry is at that table,” Mirabile echoed.

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