August 2005 - Keeping House

What are the hot houseware items that will keep consumers coming back for more? Products that offer convenience at one’;s fingertips and gadgets that require little effort and a lot of appeal.

By David Lustig

The term housewares is usually defined as items used in the kitchen, but for many of us, things anywhere in and around the house. However, housewares generally go without mention-except when inventors, marketers and media outlets such as television, radio, newspapers, flyers or even door-to-door salespeople bring them to our attention.

The category contains a great number of creative and useful items, usually overshadowed by those items that stand out and become almost generic names in our vocabulary. Such as?

Ginsu® knives. This innovative DRTV product, originally made famous by Ed Valenti and Barry Becher, has become a brand name in its respective category. Yet, like the term “Lookie Loos,” which originally was the creation of one specific realty company, it has become such a popular phrase about the only place you can’;t find reference to them are dictionaries. Sort of like the word irregardless.

While many of us tend to take a phrase like “houseware trends” as something confined to fancier can openers and wild unconventional gadgets, it is these very trends that have morphed today’;s personal living environment and elevated it to a higher level than our ancestors could have ever imagined.

Think not? The next time you are flipping through channels on the television, stop for a moment at a 1940s, ‘;50s or ‘;60s movie or television show that uses a kitchen or a bathroom scene long enough for you to look around the set at the accoutrements as the actors are talking. Unless it’;s a western or something depicting King Arthur’;s court, you should be able to spot almost everything consumers use, or have seen, in today’;s household. But, and it’;s a big but, it will be in a much more basic, antiquated, and sometimes almost crude, form. Which is why inventors, followed closely by marketers, have picked up the ball and pushed newer, better, brighter, easier designs in front of us.

“Many inventors who I have met over the years have created something because of a need or a problem,” explains Jennifer Lawlor of InventHelp and the show director for the annual INPEX (Invention/New Product Exhibition) tradeshow in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Scunci Steamer has been a sweeping success in the housewares market. It ranked among the top 50 infomercials in 2004, according to IMS.

“Every year at INPEX, we see inventions in all product categories, many of which fall into the housewares category. One invention I saw this year was an improved smoke detector design developed by an emergency medical technician for the Fire Department of New York. Another was a device for parents alerting them via cell phone when their children are having inappropriate communications on the Internet -and cutting them off from a remote location. Another, simpler idea is the Footie, which attaches to a sliding door and lets you open and close it with your foot, leaving your hands free. Then there was the Easy Dump Trash Can that allows the user to empty it without having to pull up on the bag without inadvertently bringing the can along with it.”

Andy Khubani, president and CEO of Ideavillage Products Corp. of Fairfield, N.J., adds that his firm has had success with its Titanium Turbo electric shaver and the Pet Groom Pro ionic pet brush.

“But this season’;s big winner has been Merchant Media’;s ‘Smart Spin’; 49-piece food storage system with the spinning carousel,” Khubani says. “Another big winner is Ontel Product’;s Swivel Sweeper.”

Dr. Richard Pavelle, president of Invent Resources Inc. of Lexington, Mass., is even more generic when asked what has been on the hot-item list, answering simply, “The one-cup coffee brewer.”

New is not a requirement for current success, Khubani adds, citing strong comebacks from Telebrands’; One Sweep and a number of the OxiClean brand of products.

Ideavillage Products has had great success with its Titanium Turbo electric shaver.

Okay then, if the trend is towards making home life easier, cleaner and potentially more attractive, who is the biggest consumer of houseware trends? It is certainly not a taxi driver in Los Angeles or a stevedore at a loading dock in New Jersey.

“It’;s usually people who have more free time on their hands,” says Steve Jeon, a marketing manager at Hearthware Home Products Inc. of Gurnee, Ill. “People such as housewives and retirees and anyone else who stays at home.”

Jeon makes a point. If home base, forgive the pun, is home, many people have the television or radio playing while they go through their daily routine. In many cases, the chair or sofa sitting in front of the television is the first place homebound people gravitate to when taking a break. And Dr. Pavelle’;s comment supports that assumption; if you’;re home alone and want a single cup of coffee, what makes more sense than a coffee brewer that makes a single cup of coffee at a time? No fuss, no wasted stale coffee to throw out later, just a little cleanup.

And people who don’;t want to waste their hard earned family dollars are just the type to want to make one cup of coffee at a time. People, the demographics tend to show, according to Khubani’;s research, tend to be women age 35 and older.

“You can capture some younger consumers,” says Khubani, “but that demographic still holds.

“Our customers have always been predominately women, and older women at that,” he says. “If anything has changed, it is that this key demographic has continued to age, which makes sense because baby boomers are the largest buying group.”

So if baby boomers, women, and those who stay predominately at home are strong buyers of new trends in housewares, long-form television infomercials (30-minute shows) are a natural to offer almost anything while someone is taking a break rather than a short-form (30 seconds to two minutes) spot, right?

No, says Jeon, suggesting a combination of both is the way to go.

“Many people don’;t have the time to watch a long-form infomercial,” Jeon explains, while adding that shorter infomercials mixed with longer ones can capture those prospective buyers who are watching the television for just a moment.

Inventors Never Stop Surprising Us
By David Lustig

While most new trends in housewares include the staples of living; better ways to brush a carpet, novel approaches to cleaning the floor or a new way to organize a spice rack, there are also those delightfully wonderful and unique items that at first make us wonder, but then, many times, make us pause and reflect, “Why didn’;t I think of that?”

Jennifer Lawlor, INPEX show director, sometimes thinks she can’;t be surprised anymore. And she says she’;s always wrong.

Room trash cans, she points out, used to be white, or beige, plastic or metal, but lately, she has seen them decked out in kiwi green and electric orange. But that is still mild compared to toilet inventions.
“Every show has new toilet inventions,” says Lawlor, who says inventors and the ideas they bring to fruition never cease to amaze her.

“People are always trying to improve on the basic toilet concept.” Items that come to mind include toilet seat lifters, different style bowl covers, environmentally friendly toilets and something she calls “smell sucker-outers.”

One she remembers in particular is a liquid product marketed by an Indiana firm ( Before going to the bathroom, a few drops are added to the toilet bowl before commencing action. The result, the company says, is no odor. Does it work?

“My father swears by it,” Lawlor says, adding that is not the most unusual new product she has seen.

“There was a trade show in Germany where a Thai company was introducing what looked like regular men’;s underwear, but with a twist,” she says. “On the side was a small pocket to hold the owner’;s cigarettes.” Or maybe to hold those drops that neutralize bodily function smells. Who know? If it works, it just may find its own niche in the market.

Then there is also the attraction of being on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) or QVC.

“Two housewares products that I know are doing well are the Portable Towel Holder and Easy Crown Molding, both of which are being handled by Karen Hyman, president of Live Shop TV,” says Lawlor.

“The Portable Towel Holder first aired on QVC in 2004,” she continues. “It didn’;t do well on its initial showing, but Karen Hyman said ‘we weren’;t giving up until they proved to us it wouldn’;t sell.’;” The second airing, Lawlor says, resulted in a sell out and the invention had sales exceeding a million on QVC, which is only the beginning. According to Hyman, the projected campaign will garner at least $50 million in sales.

At the INPEX show, attendees can view a myriad of products such as this advanced smoke detector developed by an emergency medical technician.

Lawlor says that the Easy Crown Molding was another device Hyman discovered at the INPEX show. Presented to QVC, they picked it up and ran it a number of times. Currently it is the subject of its own infomercial.

Barrie Stefel, president of Scunci Home Products Intl. in Hatboro, Pa., stresses that if you are an inventor, don’;t try to become a marketing guru. He explains that experienced DRTV companies will evaluate a product based on price point, acceptable margins, ability to produce a quality product and the ability to produce it in enough volume to ship in a timely basis.

Problems, he adds, include those items that do not demonstrate well, do not tell a compelling story, do not have large audience appeal or are too confusing for the viewer to understand.

“Stay with what you know,” says Stefel. “Let those companies that specialize in DRTV and retail sales do what they do best. Just be careful of the sharks out there, do your homework and make the best deal you can.”

But will a product that shows quality, usability and value sell at any price? Be careful, say the experts.

“In my experience, lower prices always win the day says IdeaVillage’;s Khubani. “I’;ve had a 15-year relationship with Wal-Mart, and I’;ve long been a student of their way of doing business. Wal-Mart is proof that ‘low prices’; is a powerful positioning-regardless of the category.”

The Pool Caddy product helps consumers to be organized when it comes to pool maintenance.

Jeon agrees that when you have a lower priced product, it’;s easier to sell. When asked about the infomercial cliché of “Act now and the first 100 callers will get a second one free…” Jeon felt that while it might be over used, viewers are almost expecting it, making a potentially good deal a better one.

“If you don’;t get it [the buy one get a second one free angle], it might not be considered a bargain anymore,” he says. “If you don’;t supply that, people are not as prone to buy it because they’;re not getting the bargain they’;re used to seeing.”
Dr. Pavelle adds that there is never a substitute for quality.

“When we are involved in a project for which there are existing products on the market, our goal is to make ours twice as good at half the cost.”

So far, we’;ve proven that there is no set-in-concrete formula for guaranteeing the success of a new housewares product, whether it follows the path of a proven trend, or not. What then, should inventors focus on?

“Trying to get a new product idea to the market is a long and difficult one and sometimes chances of success are pretty small,” explains Lawlor.

“So often I speak with inventors who have spent so much money developing their idea, getting the patent, having a prototype made, getting a small run manufactured, yet they never thought about the marketing that is needed, and the costs involved,on the backend,” she says.

“Inventing can be expensive and a would-be inventors need to be sure they have the emotional and financial wherewithal to pursue their idea. [Inventors] need to think long term beyond getting their product idea made. You’;ve got to be realistic. Just because you have what you think is a great idea doesn’;t mean the world is going to beat a path to your door should you be lucky enough to find someone who’;s interested. Do your homework. Be realistic.”

Are housewares going to the dogs? Pet Groom Pro helps keep canines looking their best.

For some inventors, Lawlor suggests participating in invention trade shows as a way to get started.

“You have the opportunity to display your idea with other inventors. Your booth and product idea won’;t get lost like they might at a big industry trade show and the companies who attend the show are there because they are interested in finding new products.”

Marketing practices such as these are products of sound business acumen. Are their criteria for evaluating a houseware product to see if there is a future in it?

“I start by thinking about the place the product will occupy in the marketplace,” says Khubani. “What I’;m looking for is a void-a ‘white space’;-if you will.

“We review lots of products [that] are ‘better than’; solutions or ‘me, too’; items. These kinds of products will seldom be successful. But if you can discover a consumer need that has not been fulfilled, and they meet that need with a value-priced solution, you are practically guaranteed success.”

“A good check list to analyze and evaluate the potential of proposed technology or a patent to become a commercial success,” says Dr. Pavelle, is; does it work? Is it protectable? Is there a demonstrated predecessor need? Is it sufficiently better than alternatives? Are there potentially better future competitive alternatives?”

Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Pavelle adds, “Will it be used?”

Rubbermaid’s Paint Buddy Earns Its Spot Time

Atomic Direct, an advertising agency based in Portland, Ore., has created a DRTV spot campaign for Rubbermaid’;s new paint touch-up tool, the Paint Buddy. The campaign includes two spots (:60s and :30s) and a point-of-purchase (POP) video for retail stores. The product was recently introduced at retail and the spots began airing in early May.

The Paint Buddy is designed to make touching-up paint easy, quick and mess-free. Each Paint Buddy holds up to nine ounces of paint. Stored with its cleaning supplies, the device lets homeowners freshen their paint at any time. The Paint Buddy is also well suited for kids, crafts and stenciling.

“These spots are an excellent example of the power of the ‘atomic way’;-sharing features of traditional advertising while taking advantage of DRTV’;s power to provide consumers with information,” says Doug Garnett, president of Atomic Direct.

The 60- and 30-second spots both open more like traditional TV spots. Then they deliver the information consumers desperately want, but can’;t get from traditional spots or at the retail store. The result? The spot garnered favorable response.

Atomic Direct used music, animation and colorful graphics to give these spots a light, upbeat mood to draw viewers in. “This spot destroys even more myths about DRTV. It’;s a retail product supported with creatively developed DRTV. And, the spot will air primarily during the daytime,” says Garnett. “Yet, another indication that DRTV’;s future lies with traditional companies and retail products.”

Rubbermaid branded painting-related products are made by Shur-Line, a designer and manufacturer of paint application products. A Newell Rubbermaid company, Shur-Line markets a full line of innovative paint application and paint-related products for do-it-yourself consumers and professional contractors under the
Rubbermaid and Shur-Line brands.

For more information, visit

David Lustig is a contributing writer to Electronic Retailer magazine. To submit comments, point your browser to

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