CHICAGO—The Inspired Home Show returned to Chicago this week after a three-year absence, a smaller and quieter version of its former self yet marked by the same dedication to innovation and serving consumer needs, which have shifted as the country begins to emerge from the pandemic .
How the show would unfold was the big question on everyone’s minds, and exhibitors said they kept expectations low. But the end result was positive for most exhibitors, who said they had meaningful conversations with retailers, along with the opportunity to show off their latest innovations.
“Everyone was looking for an excuse not to come,” said Alex Gransbury, founder of the Australian gadget company Dreamfarm, who noted that a slow return to normal was to be expected. “People are here, they’re starved for innovation and looking for newness.”
“We wanted to be here in person. We had three years of product development to show,” said Steve Greenspon, CEO of Honey-Can-Do International LLC. “This show has more than exceeded our expectations.”
Retailers who initially told exhibitors they weren’t going to attend showed up, several exhibitors said. “For me, I was surprised,” said Jhonn Valencia, spokesperson, Imusa. “I was not expecting to have such as busy day” on the first day of the show.
Anthony Howard, chief operating officer at Escali, which introduced a handful of new kitchen and bath scales and highlighted its newly acquired brand, The London Sip, said during the show “You [got] to spend more high-profile time with people. We really appreciate that. … Attendance has been different, but people here are serious [about buying].”
However, some vendors found the show slow and were frustrated. Some of the major retailers attended, said Michael Jeansson of Serene House, but if your particular buyer didn’t come, you were out of luck. Serene House attended the show because he did not want to lose its show deposit from 2020. “I wouldn’t have missed anything if I hadn’t come,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
But most of the exhibitors HFN spoke to had a better experience. “I was blown away yesterday [Saturday],” said Adam Fischer, a former Wusthof executive who is now vice president of brand at Cangshan cutlery. “I wrote more orders on a single day yesterday than ever at the housewares show.” The company introduced four new knife blades.
Bobby Djavaheri, president of Yedi Houseware, which still produces tabletop ceramics but has recently invested heavily in small electrics, said he had some “quality meets.” Buyers that originally said they were not coming to the show turned up.
“I would have regretted it if I hadn’t come,” he said, taking a stack of business cards of people he had to follow up with out of his pocket. Not coming was not an option for his company, which is on an upward trajectory with mentions in Oprah, Inc. magazine and other business publications. “We had to show.” he added.
In keynote presentations and on the show floor, industry experts and observers discussed the needs of the post-COVID consumer, who is particularly focused on health —both physical and mental —and overall wellness.
In an IHA presentation of its Market Watch report on housewares industry trends, panelists said today’s consumer is also excited about acquiring new skills —which could range from anything like cooking and baking to video editing and graphic design — and in reinventing themselves.
The post-COVID consumer is more self-reliant and hobby-oriented and has had the time and bandwidth to know what’s important in life, Andrew Rea, the person behind the massively popular Binging with Babish YouTube channel, agreed. He did a cooking demonstration in the cooking theater and met with customers in the Gibson booth, where his licensed product was displayed. When asked about his advice for retail buyers, he said they should be happy to cater to the customer looking for “something good for their heart and mind and soul.”
Consumers also yearn to be connected, with friends and family as well as strangers, which ultimately extends to products and brands, the IHA panelists said. Meanwhile, consumers who have started returning to the office — in either a full-time or hybrid manner — have a new set of practical needs, particularly in terms of food preparation and storage, that houseware manufacturers can meet.
Exhibitors demonstrated how they are addressing those needs by showingcasing what they’ve been working on the last few years —adding a good dose of quirkiness, innovation and color.
Newell addressed shifting work habits with its new Crockpot’s Lunch Crock, a portable slow cooker in fun colors that allows someone to heat up lunch at their desk, rather than use the office microwave.
Prepara used the pandemic to develop products that were fun, said founder Dean Chapman; two of the results were the Cactus Cheese Grater, which stands up and is safe for children to use, and the Avo-Cacto Avocado Cuper, which cuts the fruit into cubes.
Related story: Spotlight on small electrics
Elevated looks and price points also prevailed — a $1,500 blender from Objecto was branded from luxury car brand Bugatti. George Jensen debuted its first French press, a double-walled item made by a team of 14 silversmiths in Denmark.
A year and half after it acquired the Mirro brand, Imusa is now bringing in more upscale items — including better handles and ceramic coatings — as well as expanding its distribution, Jhonn Valencia said.