guest commentary by Jason Long
Editor’s note: Jason Long is the owner of St. Louis-based Shift Marketing Group, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sales of hardware related products look to be a sweet spot for retailers and suppliers in the months and years ahead. The recent announcement that U.S. regulators are backing off of tight mortgage rules coupled with the already improving housing market is a double-dose of good news for the channel. For brick & mortar stores, hardware products are often more immune to e-commerce competitors due to product weight and project immediacy.
Against this backdrop, the 69th Annual National Hardware Show was recently held in Las Vegas (May 6-8). The event featured more than 2,500 exhibitors, 250,000 products and more than 600 new companies. The show was billed as “15 Shows in 1” and traditional categories such as lawn and garden were augmented with new and expanded categories including: Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery, Pet Products, Farm & Ranch and Building Products.
The shows were full of supplier booths clamoring for the attention of retailers. There continues to be an omnichannel push in the broader retail sector but there was no new “aha” announcements on the technology front during this event.
LAWN & GARDEN
Going directly after home improvement retailers, Walmart’s recent Spring Black Friday event was a signal that they’re serious about the lawn and garden category. This year’s hardware show featured a huge lawn and garden category, an indication this sector is not willing to cede these sales.
In March, Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of the home category for Walmart U.S., issued a Request for Proposal seeking suppliers who make or assemble patio furniture in the United States. She said bulky items like furniture are costly to ship and adds to the retailer’s carbon footprint overtime.
“Making things closer to the point of purchase and shortening the shipping distance will lead to cost savings and environmental benefits, and it will help us solve the business problem,” Gloeckler said.
Walmart is not the only retailer looking for “U.S. Made” products. It was one of the three main highlights in this year’s hardware show in addition to emergency preparedness and new product innovation.
'MADE IN THE USA'
The theme of day two was “Made in the USA.” The day kicked off with a patriotic start that included a local high school band and cannons with red, white and blue confetti. Products were featured from more than 150 exhibitors in the “Made in the USA” display in Central Hall.
“I think it’s great that more people are getting interested in Made in USA products,” said Harold Warp, president and owner of Warp’s. “We’ve had a lot of buyers come by – we’ve seen old friends, new friends, loyal friends. My dad started the business in 1924, so we’re celebrating our 90th anniversary this year. Not only are all our products made in the USA, but we’re veteran-owned — I think these are both things people like.”
INNOVATION AND PREPAREDNESS
The Innovation Station included New Product World and Inventor’s Spotlight. It was packed with exhibitors showing off their newest products and attendees eager to get glimpse into future items.
“We’re seeing good traffic and getting the word out about our product,” said Julie Skirvin, owner of The Candle Scoop, which makes a scoop that scoops wax out of a candle and puts it in a burner so it can be burned without an open flame. “We’re looking forward to making new contacts here at the show.”
The Game Ball Awards included Spin Chill with Best Innovation, and BeachTuff with Best New Product. Spin Chill is a portable beverage chiller that spins cans and bottles in ice to get your drink cold in one minute. BeachTuff is a 3-in-1 beach chair that easily transports 100 pounds and includes a cart, table and chair that reclines.
The National Hardware Show Gold Award was given to Twist & Seal Mini. Twist & Seal is a plastic cover and seal for outdoor cord connections and solves the problem of water seeping into extension cords and losing power.
Upper Desk took home the Gold award in the Homewares Show Innovation Category. The product is a portable cabinet and desk mount that holds electronic tablets sized four inches to 14 inches. It’s adjustable and solves the problem of where to put your tablet when you’re in the kitchen or elsewhere.
The Silver award went to mylight, a product that illuminates a path of light on the floor when you place your feet on the floor in the middle of the night.
The interest in emergency preparedness & disaster recovery products has moved beyond ‘preppers’ and into mainstream households. Popular products included the Energizer Power Series Generators designed for basic household emergency backup, survival kits from Adventure Medical Kits, and Moldex mold remover spray.
Attendees and exhibitors alike were impressed with the strong turnout and enthusiasm at this year’s show.
“It’s our first year at the show, and it’s much bigger than we expected,” said Nikki Salek, chief operating officer of Simply Soothing. “But it’s been good. It’s been busy. We’re hoping to get more retailers interested in our products. We’re based in the Midwest and looking to branch out into other areas as well.”
Northwest Hardware owner, T.J. Comstock, said the show was much busier than he remembers in recent years.
“It seems like there’s a larger independent retailer presence, and vendors seem to be responding well to those independent retailers.”
This year’s National Hardware Show felt like a can’t miss event which signals a solid future for the hardware channel as a whole.