The US$150 billion US home improvement industry descended on Las Vegas, and global traders – particularly featuring a large Chinese mainland contingent – aimed to buy and sell and learn of new trends, of which “green” and “mobile” were prominent.
According to data compiled by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA), China hosted over 500 exhibitors this year in the largest national pavilion.
Unlike other industries experiencing competition from online retailers, home improvement has remained relatively insulated.
“Show-rooming”, the phenomenon in which consumers test products in-store but purchase online, has grown only 2% so far this year.
|Gilbert says housewares and appliances affected by “show-rooming”.|
Show-rooming mostly affects housewares and kitchen appliances, said NPD GroupDirector of Home Improvement, Kevin Gilbert. NPD Group tracks retail trends across a wide span of industries.
The home improvement industry’s biggest hurdle has been the stagnant US housing economy, the European debt crisis and national unemployment.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released data that indicated that remodelling activity remained relatively flat in the first quarter of 2012. NAHB experts also predict Americans will start DIY projects to reduce costs rather than hire contractors.
Zillow, an online real estate database, reported that 19 of the 30 largest US housing markets will bottom out this year. Although prices are expected to decline by as much as 4.1% this year, experts believe the market is in recovery with national home values seeing their greatest comparative gains in six years.
“There were not as many people as we expected,” said Terence So, Manager for International Sales at Hong Kong’s OTL Storage Equipment Co. “But, the response we did get has been quite good. Generally, visitors that we do have are quite serious buyers.”
OTL Storage manufactures its light-weight LS3000 Easy Rack steel shelving (wholesaling at US$45) on the Chinese mainland. Like many US and international companies sourcing in China, So and his colleagues foresee sourcing on the Chinese mainland for at least two more years.
|So reflects on good response.||Iron work from Xing Hua Industrial (China).|
Edward Li, Director at Hong Kong’s Xing Hua Industrial (China) – which sells wrought iron pedestals, stands and wall-mounted home décor (wholesaling at between US$5 and US$10) – also expects more business.
“It’s not too bad. We haven’t seen any instant orders,” Li said. “Here we feel things are just usual, but [the market] is really not very good in Europe.”
George Dawson, a buyer and Director of Category Management at Wayfair LLC, a US online home furnishing retailer, said his company had seen flat sales with slight increases, but still sought to increase inventory.
Other buyers like Craig Haven, National Accounts Manager at Jensen Distribution Services, reported similar experiences.
“We are starting to see some movement,” Haven said. “We’re more willing to do prospective buying now.”
More optimism in the outlook
The optimistic outlook that permeated the show was likely bolstered by promising growth last year, with home improvement market sales forecast at 3.8% and projections for 2012 set at 5.1%, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI).
Increasingly, employment rates have begun to influence home improvement sales; with unemployed or underemployed Americans less likely to make home improvement decisions with reduced fiscal liquidity.
HIRI predicted stronger hardware sales up to 2014, as employment and housing continue to improve, albeit at a slow pace. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-farm payroll employment rose by just 115,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate remained steady at 8.1%.
The National Hardware Show focused most of its seminars, awards and information sessions on independent retailers and hardware stores rather than larger big box chains.
Independent retailers and exhibitors filled seminar spaces to learn about selling and merchandising techniques and gain an edge on the popular big box chains that now dominate the market.
Medical mobiles and energy efficiency
|Rollator from Medline.|
US home medical device manufacturer, Medline, has seen success selling mobility devices, latex gloves, polypropylene coveralls and grab bars.
Medline‘s lightweight durable aluminium Rollators are its most popular item in the sector. Similar to a walker, the Rollator includes 5-inch wheels, break locks, a foldable seat and a Mylar back cushion (wholesaling at US$45).
Rich Derks, President of Medline‘s Durable Medical Equipment Division headlined the NHS Lunch and Learn Session: Health Product Niche Opportunities in the Home Improvement Industry.
According to Derks, the ageing post-war US baby boomers are opting to fit their homes with health safety devices and mobility equipment in lieu of assisted living facilities.
|Derks on health safety.|
Data from the Pew Research Center now indicates that every year 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65 over the next 20 years.
Energy efficiency was another trend. “At first, Energy Star certification was a distinguishing feature for a product,” said Steve Dudden, a speaker at the National Hardware Seminar on the subject. “Now more and more people are going to want it [a product] or not want it based on whether you have Energy Star standards.”
Dudden is a Senior Manager of Business Co-ordination for Solar and Energy Efficiency at Canada-based CSA Group, a full service worldwide business certification firm.
According to Dudden, there are currently nine new US Department of Energy (DOE)/Energy Star specifications in development and 23 specifications slated for update.
US firm Eco-heater manufactures a 400 watt, wall-mounted convection heater (retailing at between US$45 and US$120) which can heat a 10 x 12 ft. room. The company produces what it says is the only ceramic convection heater with a built-in thermostat and proprietary non-conductive material to control surface temperatures.
|Ceramic heater.||Henkel banks on heater.|
“You can operate almost four [eco heaters] for the same energy output as a typical 1500 watt space heater,” saidEco-heater President, Chuck Henkel, who did not release wholesale pricing.
|Hsu with Solar e Power Cube.|
Also popular was the Solar e Power Cube 1500 (wholesaling at US$699) by US company Wagan Tech, a 1,500 watt portable solar-powered energy generator with collapsible mono-crystalline solar panels.
The Cube is water-resistant, measuring 53 x 53 x 37 cm and weighs only 38.2 kg, with a maximum inverter efficiency of 90%.
The Cube has two outlets each for AC and DC power respectively, two USB ports, AC/DC charging adapters and a 16-hour peak sunlight charge time. In contrast to other solar powered generators, Wagan‘s model requires no assembly.
“There is nothing on the market like this,” claimed Alex Hsu, Vice President of Sales at Wagan.
The National Hardware Show ran from 1 to 3 May.
from special correspondent Lela Winston, Las Vegas
Steve Dudden, Senior Manager of Business Coordination for Solar and Energy Efficiency
|Tel: (1) 505-998-0300, (1) 505-998-0309
Chuck Henkel, President
|Tel: (1) 703-350-3800
|Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI)||Tel: (1) 813-627-6750
|Jensen Distribution Services
Craig Haven, National Accounts Manager
|Fax: (1) 509-838-2432
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Rich Derks, President of Durable Medical Equipment Division
|Fax: (1) 847-643-4471
|National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)||Tel: (1) 202-266-8200
Fax: (1) 202-266-8400
|North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA)||Tel: (1) 317-290-0338
Fax: (1) 317-328-4354
|NPD Group||Tel: (1) 516-625-0700
Fax: (1) 516-625-2347
|OTL Storage Equipment Co Ltd
Terence So, International Sales Manager
|Tel: (86) 511-8558-1298
Fax: (86) 511-8888-3008
|Pew Research Center||Tel: (1) 202-419-4300
Fax: (1) 202-419-4349
Alex Hsu, Vice President of Sales
|Tel: (1) 510-471-9221
Fax: (1) 510-489-3451
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
|Wayfair LLC||Tel: (1) 617-532-6100
|Xing Hua Industrial (China) Limited
Edward Li, Director
|Tel: (852) 2563-2856
Fax: (852) 2563-5708
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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