The World’s Leading Home + Housewares Show

March 2–4, 2025 | McCormick Place | Chicago, IL

The World’s Leading Home + Housewares Show
March 2—4 | McCormick Place | Chicago, IL

IHA chatted with trend experts Michelle Lamb and Leigh Ann Schwarzkopf of The Trend Curve, based in Rancho Mission Viejo, Calif., to learn about how they study consumers and markets to understand the trends they will discuss at the 2020 Show. The Inspired Home Show’s Innovation Theater will feature 21 presentations over four days. Topics will include successful retail practices, consumer research findings, digital commerce, sustainability and global market trends.


Lamb is co-founder and chairwoman of Marketing Directions, Inc., publishers of The Trend Curve series of trend publications. She serves as the editorial director for The Trend Curve’s color-and-trend forecasts and European trend reports, as well as for retail reconnaissance reports developed in conjunction with Project Partners Network. Her latest collaboration is with Springboard Futures, a new trend analytics group, where she serves as senior contributor.

Lamb began her career at Target in inventory management and buying positions for a broad range of categories. Acknowledging her keen eye for color and trend, Target named her the company’s first hard lines trend merchant. Lamb also served as Room & Board’s merchandise and operations manager.


Schwarzkopf is a founder for Project Partners Network, a licensing and marketing consultancy, and Lookout Marketing, a trend and new product development consultancy. With a start on the manufacturing side and then in the CPG world, she has been working in best practices, strategy and the practical side of trend watching.


Michelle and Leigh Ann, tell us a bit about your work.


Michelle: For more than 30 years, The Trend Curve has been considered one of the industry’s most-trusted sources of home interiors trend information and forecasts. The company produces trend publications and articles, seasonal color-and-trend forecasts, targeted trend seminars, retail reconnaissance webinars and trend consulting for a worldwide audience of industry professionals.

Leigh Ann: After many years in the apparel business, working for a mid-sized company, I transitioned to the CPG world. Both experiences have given me an appreciation for the way business can be done. When I started Lookout Marketing and then Project Partners Network almost 20 years ago, I wanted to take the best of what I learned and offer it to others in a way that was not readily available. Consultancies providing a true menu of options, tailored to client needs was something I felt could be useful and the rest is history.


Michelle Lamb

Michelle, what is the most exciting or rewarding part of your work?  


Seeing future potentials for color and design really gets me excited. Understanding how to translate those trends into sellable products puts me in something close to an altered state. But revealing those details to the industry through articles, color-and-trend forecasts, seminars, webinars and workshops, and making my advice actionable in ways that positively impact my client’s bottom line, is definitely the most rewarding part of my work. I thrive on my clients’ successes.


How about for you, Leigh Ann?


Watching product go from concept to consumer is what inspires me.  When you see something you’ve worked on make it from the sample room, to the order pad, to the retail shelves and into customers’ hands, you walk taller and smile more.  It’s a great feeling.

Leigh Ann Schwarzkopf

Can you name a pivotal event or project that impacted your career or company?


Michelle: Marketing Directions began as a pure consultancy, and I still consult for a short list of clients each year. At about the two-year mark in my business, a client let me know that their banker wanted to visit them on the same day I was scheduled to present a trend overview. They asked me to write my forecast instead. After I finished their report, I decided to create another version that could be used for any home-interiors category, not just my client’s picture frame business. I showed it to an independent manufacturer’s rep I knew in the Twin Cities. He sent it to 20 companies he represented—and 16 of them subscribed! That’s how The Trend Curve newsletter was born. It quickly became our cornerstone product.


Leigh Ann: The textbook I used when teaching a university class on non-traditional retail was pivotal for me.  A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink talks about the importance of balancing the right and left brain.  I’ve always viewed them as equally important, but the vocabulary and science he outlined made me think about it differently and raised my appreciate level ten times.  My work with Michelle is illustrative of that.  We balance each other with art and science and both have a healthy appreciation of both sides.


In the past few years, what has changed most in your business? How has your company met these challenges in the way you do your work?


Michelle: Among the biggest changes to trend forecasting has been the accelerating lifecycle of a trend. When I began my career, the life of a trend had just dropped from seven years to five. Compression has continued to exert itself, and today trends last somewhere in the neighborhood of two-and-a-half years. That makes maximizing sales—and reducing inventory correctly—trickier. We have responded by developing tools that help our clients decide not only when the time is right for their business to engage with a trend, but also the right time to exit.


Leigh Ann: I agree with Michelle, the idea of “speed is life” has really changed the way business is done. No longer can you afford 18-24 month lead times. Creating strategies for faster turnaround and balancing proactive/reactive and critical for growth. My biggest challenge on that front is often convincing my clients to take calculated risks. The other thing that is interesting to see is that with the advent of more digital working and employee turnover, there is no longer institutional memory. I see clients investing in projects and making mistakes that could have been avoided if there was a way to build on history instead of repeating it.


How do you de-stress and find balance in the demanding 24/7 workplace?  Any tips for how to carve out personal time and declutter mindspace and desktop?


Michelle: Because clients and companies make multi-million-dollar decisions based on my advice, I take trend seriously. Understanding the responsibility keeps me on my toes. My de-stressing time is often in an airplane. Even though I meditate each night, there is something about meditating at 30,000 feet that helps me clear my head, relax and revive before my feet hit the ground again. Just five minutes of focus on my breathing with my eyes closed provides an amazing re-set.


Leigh Ann: De-stress? What’s that? The 24/7 workplace is a struggle for an independent contractor. You’re at the whim of clients, the marketplace and deadlines. Sometimes you’re filling in gaps on evenings or weekends and trying to help a client in off hours. A quick walk, reading a few pages of a book or a conversation with friends are helpful to me.  My home office overlooks a tranquil back yard and a lake.  Both provide some visual respite and awe in the world around.  It’s relaxing to look up and see a family of ducks sashaying across the window on the way to the water – a reminder that there’s a big world out there!


Tell us what you will be speaking about and how this topic is important for Show audiences.


Michelle: Along with Leigh Ann, I’ll focus on the opportunities found in seasonal assortments—think Halloween/Harvest or Winter/Christmas. These categories are now among the most significant factors in the home and housewares business. We will quantify the size and growth of these seasons and reveal the top trends for 2020-21. Finally, we will explore how merchandising, modern messaging and clever packaging can help retailers enhance the purchasing experience.


What do you see as consumers’ biggest concerns regarding housewares products or how to shop for them?


Michelle: There are so many innovative housewares products out there, but most kitchens don’t have the space for all of them. The first challenge for consumers is to find multifunctional items that suit both the available space and their needs. The next challenge is to find those products in updated materials and a fresh assortment of trend colors that consumers now insist on for every room of their home.


Leigh Ann: Building on what Michelle says, not only don’t kitchens have space, but retailers don’t have space to show all the great products that are available. I think consumers absolutely are more concerned with space saving than ever before, but I also think they’re hungry to see new things and aren’t seeing them.


What are some of today’s trends or issues that new product development professionals and/or retailers face in the housewares market? 


Michelle: Instagram has changed the housewares landscape, making color and style more important than ever for prep, baking, bar and serving pieces. That means even basic utility items now require a trend sensibility. This has resulted in a different approach to product and assortment development in recent years. In 2020 and 2021, the insistence on Insta-worthy items will only intensify.


Leigh Ann: The disposable economy creates its own issues. Consumers want value, but they are also frustrated with products that don’t perform as expected. They want to balance being on-trend with creating unnecessary waste. Sustainability issues are only going to become more important.



Thank you, Michelle and Leigh Ann, for sharing a bit about your studies and interpretations of what’s happening in consumer lifestyles today.  Your unique focus will give Theater audiences plenty to think about as they plan their product development strategies. We look forward to hearing more at your presentation on Sunday, March 15 at 12:30 – 1:20 p.m. in the Innovation Theater.


The Limitless Opportunity of Seasonal Trends

Sunday, March 15, 12:30 –1:20 p.m.

Lakeside Center  – Innovation Theater – Room E350


Be sure to attend the free executive-level educational sessions at the Innovation Theater to hear about successful retail practices as well as the latest research and analysis of home trends and forecasts for products in the smart home, kitchen and health care categories.  These programs will give you a fresh perspective as you walk the Show and will inspire, inform and improve your business. All programs will be audio-recorded and will be available at The Inspired Home Show after the Show.