31 May 2018
Buoyant DIY Sector Sees Eccentricity Creep into US Hardware Show
With home improvement never having had a bigger role to play in the life of US consumers, the relentlessly-rising spend has encouraged the launch of several distinctly-marginal products, including home freeze-dryers and crimson grills.
Cresting the wave of a vibrant home-improvement market, this year's National Hardware Show (NHS) boasted its traditional array of home-improvement goods, as well as houseware items, outdoor-living products and a seemingly never-ending tide of DIY gadgetry. All such superabundance, of course, came courtesy of the veritable obsession with home improvement that has driven the sector over recent years, with Home Depot, the clear leader in the US DIY market, anticipating further growth of 6.5% this year.
Keen to retain the interest of both the big-box out-of-town retailers and the dwindling – but still hanging in there – independent sector, the NHS has relentlessly renewed itself over recent years. Along with its considerably expanded Outdoor Living and Pet Zones, it has also added into the mix a Smart Home Virtual Reality Experience, which gives game showgoers the opportunity to take a virtual tour of a state-of-the-art smart show home, complete with Ring door camera and locks, a Jiawei security system and GE lights. Despite such showbizzery, however, most of the attending trade buyers were far more focused on the kind of goods true moms and pops would have more of a mind to purchase.
Contemporary Meets Convenient
Still first and foremost a showcase for do-it-your-self products, the NHS once again failed to disappoint when it came to hands-on hardware all but guaranteed to turn drab to fab. Indeed, many came lured by the promise of instilling the ever-popular 'modern farmhouse' look into even the most utilitarian of abodes, complete with painted cabinets, whitewashed accents and mock natural décor.
Keen to help less-assured DIYers to make it by faking it, for instance, was Washington-based Mywoodwall, which offered a comprehensive lineup of peel-and-press wood panelling, all said make to installing "weathered wood" accent walls simplicity itself. Explaining the company's founding philosophy, Programme Director Ryan Goedhart said: "We launched with the idea of letting everyday people bring nature into their homes, allowing them to transform every room with a feature wall option that does far more than paint and wallpaper ever could.
"As well as its natural beauty and design versatility, for many customers it's also important that the wood is sustainably sourced. The key sales point, though, is undoubtedly the fact that they can update any space simply by peeling and pressing."
Extending the concept a little further was California's Prime Marketing, which promised sub-prime salvaged unloved lamps and tarnished furnishings from yesteryear could be converted into coveted assets courtesy of a décor transfer. Or maybe two. Apparently, these rub-on transfers can easily be applied to a range of surfaces, including furniture, walls and lamps, with floral patterns being the designs of choice for those looking to undilapidate their rescued household items.
Explaining what he sees as the reason for the overwhelming take-up of the company's transfers, Marketing Director Cari Fennell said: "People want to create their own designs; they want to add an individual touch to things. Nothing makes them happier than taking an outdated piece of furniture and giving it a thoroughly modern feel, while transforming it into something upscale. And it's all so easy – all it takes is a transfer, a little glitter and a touch of wax to bring out the shine."
Another unusual trend to take the US by storm of late has been the widespread enthusiasm for terrariums, glass-enclosed biospheres filled with ferns, moss and succulent plants. Looking to capitalise on the popularity of this particular pastime, Bloem – a Michigan-based plant-pot manufacturer – has introduced the Geodesic range, a line of cork-based acrylic domes.
Expanding upon their appeal, Joe Gallo, the company's Senior Vice-president for Sales, said: "While with glass you always have to be careful, these add a thoroughly modern touch to any space, with kids more than happy to fill them with rocks and plants.
"Among our other products, our black, grey and pearl-white pots continue to be hugely popular. We're also seeing growing demand for the kind of recycled plastic bags that can be used to grow vegetables in a patio area."
Outdoors is the New Indoors
According to the Virginia-headquartered Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA), which certainly sounds like it should know about this kind of thing, outdoor living spaces are ever-more frequently being used to entertain guests, and not just in the summer time. In total, some 23% of respondents to a recent survey conducted by the Association said they now grill during February's Super Bowl, with 40% happy to confirm they regularly man the grill whenever they are entertaining.
Commenting on this distinct lifestyle change, HPBA President Jack Goldman said: "Consumers are increasingly looking for indoor comfort in their outdoor living spaces, hence the growing call for outdoor kitchens, heaters and lighting – anything really that allows you to spend more time outside on an all-year-round basis."
The centrepiece of this outdoor experience, regardless of season, is of course the grill, with this year's show leaving would-be barbecuers pretty much spoilt for choice in that particular department. Among the most colourful options on offer was the latest range from Illinois' Weber-Stephens Productions. A long-established manufacturer of gas and charcoal grills, for 2018 it has added an unmissable splash of crimson, sapphire and ivory to its Spirit II gas grill lineup.
Clear as to why the company has plumped for this multi-hued approach, Sales Representative Cherie Feely said: "At the moment, consumers are willing to spend, but they like to have options. Above all, though, they want consistency and reliability, with igniters they know will work etc. Overall, the price tag seems to be less important than the quality of the experience. And boy they do like colour…"
A different and rather more rapid form of food-preparation – baking a pizza in 60 seconds flat no less – was the clear appeal of the range of portable ovens UK-based Uuni was debuting at the show. Revealing the genesis of the range, Founder Kristian Tapaninaho said: "Well, they originally came about as I loved making pizza outdoors, but didn't want to spend a fortune on a permanent alfresco installation.
"The way I see it, we're democratising pizza-making for everyone, while making outdoor wood-fire cooking far more affordable, thanks to our low prices. The US is, by far and away, our biggest market and we've been lucky enough to get into the big box retailers as well as into many of the independents."
As a sign of the clear money to be made in the outdoor furniture sector, a number of companies with traditional strengths in other categories have jumped the fence in order to try their hand. One such interloper is Quebec-based GSC Technologies, a business with a 36-year heritage in the shelving systems and storage bin sectors.
Explaining just why the company now believes the time is right for it to migrate into producing moulded plastic patio sets that could almost pass as wicker-woven, Sales Representative Sebastien Poirier said: "There was clearly a gap in the market for affordable, sturdy, UV-resistant furniture that can be boxed and drop-shipped.
"Our initial range was solely available in brown, but we soon got asked if we could produce it in a wider range of colours, while also adding-in custom pillows and cushions. As a result, we have now considerably expanded our offer."
While a move into wicker-look garden furniture may be understandable, it's somewhat harder to pin down the thinking that went into Utah-based Harvest Right suddenly deciding that a home freeze-dryer – giving everyday consumers the power to preserve apricot quarters and ice cream sandwiches for up to 25 years – was just what the market was crying out for. Nevertheless – and perhaps it's down to the whiff of apocalypse currently in the air – the company has sold more than 25,000 units since launching two years ago. At nearly $2,000 for even the smallest, entry-level dryer, that's no insignificant achievement.
Casting a little light onto the unexpected popularity of the technology, Matt Neville, the company's General Manager, said: "Freeze-dried products used to be solely the preserve of backpackers and camper, but now their appeal is far wider. You can freeze-dry pretty much anything – chicken noodle soup or even the whole of your garden. Some of our customers, for instance, freeze-dry eggs and then reconstruct them with a dash of water for an instant omelette..."
The 2018 National Hardware Show took place from 8-10 May at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas