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Offering an edge

DEAN RUSSO, group vp, Reed Exhibitions

This year’s National Hardware Show will feature a new emphasis on the housewares sector, the independent dealer channel, the global hardware market and the race for the newest products.

Home Channel News spoke with Dean Russo, group vp for Reed Exhibitions, who will head the National Hardware Show this year. In his new role, Russo has had the opportunity to gain some perspective on these new programs, on how vendors and retailers are sourcing new products and on the all-important role of the rocky housing market in the home channel business.

“For retail overall, it’s no secret that things are tough right now. Consumers are obviously cost-conscious. They’re looking to do more with less,” Russo said. “This offers challenges, but it also offers new opportunities. Right now is the time to gain a competitive advantage—when things are tough, you have to be focused on investing in your business for the long term. That’s how we look at it.”

Expected attendance for this year’s show is up 7 percent to 10 percent over last year, Russo noted. He highlighted some trends, such as outdoor living, that are continuing to grow, as well as some new trends that are just emerging.

Participation is up in categories such as outdoor lighting, organizational items and home decor products, he said. The housewares segment is seeing higher participation because of additions by the hardware show, as well as increasing consumer interest in items that can help homeowners, as he said, “do more with less.”

The ever-growing category of “green” will return bigger and better in 2008, he said, with new additions and a first of its kind “Green Products World” showcasing merchandise that offers environmental friendliness or energy efficiency, or both. (See story on page 38.)

Russo broke down some of the newest features of this year’s show and how those features are relevant in the present home improvement market.

Housewares

Last year, the National Hardware Show introduced the Homewares Show, which added an expanded mix of small appliances and home enhancement items to the convention hall floor. This year, the NHS has capitalized on the popularity of that category.

“We’re obviously doing a lot more to focus on the housewares category,” Russo said. “You’re seeing consumers go to more non-traditional outlets for these products, like Home Depot. It really all comes down to what’s being driven by the consumer, which is the trend of further enhancing the inside of your house.”

Expanding on the Homewares Show, this year the NHS will hold its first Homewares Show Awards, offering recognition for the most innovative products on the market.

Judges for the awards come from major retailers, small retailers and Internet purveyors. The judging panel includes representatives from Home Depot, Ace Hardware, JCPenney, Amazon.com, Organize.com, Shopco and specialty online retailer Kitchen Kapers.

“So it’s a really nice list and a diverse list,” Russo said. “We expect about 50 to 60 vendors will enter products for the contest.”

Independents

Russo characterized this year’s additions for the independent channel as “one thing we are most excited about.”

“We were really looking forward to customizing the event this year to our independent retailers,” he said.

New features include a dedicated lounge for independent dealers and designated “VIP” status for those representing independents. Special sessions include “Retail Top Guns,” with representatives from top-performing independent retailers.

“There is a much more concerted effort on the vendor side to really look at the landscape of independent retailers,” Russo said. “Doing business with the big boxes is obviously still important, but the independent channel is also important. It’s different than in the ’90s—it’s become increasingly clear that there are different things you can achieve in this channel as opposed to others.”

Global

This year, the National Hardware Show’s international marketplace—the Global Hardware Expo—has seen participation rise 10 percent compared with last year, a testament to an increasingly global manufacturing base in the home improvement market.

In its second year under the Global Hardware Expo name, the special section features more than 600 vendors. Those vendors are vetted through the Hardware Show’s network of international sales organizations, Russo explained, to ensure quality participants from around the world.

“We’ve always had the international participation, but five, seven, eight years ago, you saw a much different attitude towards the international vendors,” he said. “It was seen as ‘they’re there to take business away from domestic vendors.’ But now, we see [domestic vendors] are sourcing from them. So it’s both retailers and vendors that are interested in this part of the show.”

With more vendors and retailers traveling overseas, the Hardware Show is positioning the Global Hardware Expo as a way to save costs and time spent to source products in other countries.

“We’re really marketing our global expo as a way to bring those [international] vendors to their backyard,” he said. “A lot of the vendors and retailers—they’re all spending a lot of time overseas to source new products, to source OEM products. Here we’re saying, ‘we are giving you an Asian and international sourcing opportunity, and saving that time, expense and effort.’”

Inventors

The National Hardware Show last year added the Inventors’ Showcase, a move that attracted just over 50 makers of patented or patent-pending new items. This year, attendance has increased more than three-fold, as of this writing, to 153 inventors of new products. Again the NHS will widen its focus on the minds behind new products.

The inventor personalities are always colorful, Russo said, and range from “the guy who came up with a handy new item in his garage” to established companies offering up new prototypes fresh out of research and development.

Retailers, particularly the big boxes, occupy an increasingly more competitive landscape, where exclusive new products are key in gaining an edge, he said, which makes it more important to show products when they’re right out of the gate. The showcase also offers vendors the opportunity to stake out new products to add to their assortments.

“It’s a turnkey display opportunity,” Russo explained, “and these are products that are really brand new.”

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