26 July 2019
Smart Home Tech and Smart Inventors Dominate US Hardware Expo
With more gadgets than ever before now linkable into smart residential networks, this was a huge growth area at the National Hardware Show, although there was still space for the odd visionary to wow innovation-minded attendees.
From smart brushes to smart-home devices, the recent Las Vegas-hosted National Hardware Show showcased a variety of innovative products, many of which are yet to make their way into neighbourhood stores. Owned and managed by the North American Retail Hardware Association, the event brought together a wide range of retailers and manufacturers, all united in their desire to capitalise on the health of the national real estate market and the avowed DIY mindset that characterises many North Americans.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the event continued to welcome a fair number of buyers from the high street retail sector. It would seem, even in the face of the growing competition from the online world, that brick-and-mortar hardware stores are not going away anytime soon. Indeed, over the past five years, the value of the US hardware store industry has grown by 1.1%, with total revenue expected to exceed US$26 billion this year. According to IBISWorld, a Los Angeles-based market-research group, this is despite the fact that the number of businesses active in the sector has actually declined by 0.3%.
In terms of the less encouraging signs on the horizon, the number of sign-ups to the standard 30-year mortgage – one of the key driving forces of the home-improvement sector – is expected to decline this year. This, however, may be mitigated by an increased willingness to undertake do-it-yourself projects on the part of many consumers, a development that is continuing to boost demand.
Get the Look
Where, though, is any increased spend likely to be channelled? Well, kitchen and bathroom upgrades continue to be priorities. In both instances, the Modern Farmhouse style – complete with white cabinets and metal accents – remains a popular option. As an extension of this, some designers have also been embracing black matte finishes, subtle blues, greys and dark greens, as well as the occasional bright reds or cobalt blues.
There has also been a notable move towards two-tone cabinets that combine natural wood with unexpected colours, such as bright orange or yellow, with such items now often bought in preference to the more traditional single-tone cabinets. As a result, new and more colourful kitchens, in particular, are being accented by copper, reclaimed wood, multi-hued appliances and mixed metals – a trend highlighted by the ever-perspicacious staff on hand at the event's Hot Products Hub.
This growing hankering for bright splashes is one of the factors that appears to have revived the demand for wallpaper, which is now being used to accent walls as well as to line entryways and bathrooms. Among the most sought-out styles here are art-deco and craftsman-inspired patterns, as well as large florals and geometric designs.
Hand-in-hand with this move towards sleek and more sophisticated kitchen spaces seems to be a greater emphasis on more playful outdoor areas, where pool blues – from navy to aqua – continue to hold sway, frequently accented with terracotta or persimmon orange. This particular change was highlighted by Amy Bell, a Senior Sales Executive with Jordan MFG Co, an Indiana-based outdoor-furniture manufacturer. When asked which patterns she expects to trend in home and outdoor fabrics, she said: "Sliced fruit is everywhere – notably lemons, watermelons, cherries, limes and oranges. When you see that manifesting in apparel – as you are right now – you know it's going to transition into home and outdoor soon after."
As in pretty much every other developed (and even semi-developed) nation, smart-home technology is now permeating pretty much every aspect of the US residential sector. Again, as elsewhere, this is particularly true when it comes to home security as, due to the kind of technology that is widely available, consumers can now construct and implement their own home security set-ups without necessarily having to call-on external support.
California-based Ring, one of the pioneers in this particular space, first entered the market with a video doorbell. Since then, it has expanded into security cameras, lights and alarms – developments that clearly inspired Amazon to buy the business outright. At this year's expo, it had on offer its expanded lineup of Ring Smart Lights, an intelligent, Alexa-compatible outdoor illumination system that incorporates both motion sensors and voice control. While they have been designed to work specifically with the Ring Security System, they can also be used on a standalone basis via a bespoke Ring app.
Commenting on the ubiquity of this latest line, National Accounts Manager Chris Loos said: "All our smart lights now come with integrated motion sensors, allowing you to use our proprietary app to create a residential detection perimeter."
Seamless home functionality also seemed to be the thinking behind the new Blackout Buddy, an update to an old favourite jointly unveiled by the American Red Cross and Eton Corp, a Palo Alto-based manufacturer of short-wave radio systems. Essentially, this upgraded unit is a combined carbon monoxide detector, flashlight, intelligent nightlight, motion sensor and phone charger, which can also work with the more popular smart-home assistants to generate gas-leak and power-outage alerts.
Describing the unit's incorporation of smart-home compatibility as a natural progression for the device, John Smith, Eton's Chief Operating Officer, said: "In its earliest incarnation, the Blackout Buddy was basically a nightlight but, as the whole of the residential ecosystem has evolved, we can now tie into it far more directly. During any sustained power outage, though, when even the smartest home goes dumb, you can still rely on its basic functionality to get you through any emergency."
Not Just Nails
At heart, the National Hardware Show is always about innovation, frequently the kind exhibited by everyday people who suddenly see a gap in the market and who have the wherewithal to exploit it. Essentially, that's pretty much the backstory of Andy Peace, a Florida-based painter-turned-entrepreneur and the Founder of the Stinger Brush Company, a business set up solely to manufacture and distribute his multi-filament Stinger Brush concept.
Introducing the product from his stand in the expo's Inventors' Spotlight Zone, he said: "I've been envisaging this particular brush for nigh on 20 years and I believe the time has finally come to bring it to market.
"Its primary selling point is its Stinger Tip, with its extended filaments making it easier to paint trickier areas, such as corners and edging. Given the added control the tip gives you, you don't have to be professional to do a great job."
A more familiar stand at the show came courtesy of Vancouver-based Ukiah, a business that has been an exhibitor here for more than 10 years. This year, it opted to showcase one of its best-selling outdoor products – the Tailgater, a portable fire pit with a built-in sound system. Not only a speaker with fire pit on top, but its flames also pulse rhythmically in time to your choice of top tunes.
Explaining the thinking behind his novelty furnace-cum-funkbox, Company Founder Trent Farrer said: "I was originally inspired by the notion that people have a particular love of companionship, music and the great outdoors. As a result, we now have a diverse line of entertainment products, all of which can transform outdoor living spaces and allow people to experience alfresco entertainment in a whole new way."
The 2019 National Hardware Show took place from 7-9 May at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas