Flush with trends: The show returns to Vegas

SHOW AND TELL In Las Vegas, preliminary attendance figures pointed to a 14 percent gain over last year’s show in Orlando.

LAS, VEGAS —The best and the brightest new ideas in home and garden products went on display May 6 to 8 at the 63rd National Hardware Show, proving once again that there’s always room on the shelf for innovative items. The green movement has stretched its tendrils into almost every product category, from electrical to paint to housewares. And in lawn and garden, the original green category, manufacturers are taking their cues from customers who want products to be good for the environment and easy to use.

Even hardware and tools got the green treatment at the show, which took over all three halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. New York City-based General Tools & Instruments, which took first place for number of new product releases, exhibited a line of specialty instruments that measure energy loss, hidden pockets of moisture, escaping microwaves, flammable gas and ultraviolet exposure. Designed for the consumer market, the “Seeker Series” taps into the growing health and safety market that also includes emergency auto escape tools (General had one of those, too) and generators. Both Northshore Power Systems and Cummins Onan displayed home generators designed to provide standby power during emergencies and peace of mind the rest of the time.

At the Northshore Power Systems booth, CEO Dorrance Noonan said the launch of the Milwaukee-based company’s Honeywell-branded home generators was partly designed to instill confidence at the point of sale and ease of use at home. “Generators are better today in all kinds of ways,” Noonan said. “They are more compact, more reliable. They are certainly more consumer friendly. Remember, this category was initially not designed for consumers at all.”

Consumers who want an affordable home security system can turn to Jasco, which holds the GE license for a wireless alarm device. A Jasco spokesperson explained how the system can simply watch over an outdoor shed or garage, if that’s all the homeowner desires. The Jasco booth also displayed a number of GE-licensed LED products, everything from night lights to votives to moveable light bars.

LED lighting showed up in lanterns, desk lamps, dog collars and task lighting (dip-on lamps for laptops and barbecues). In the New Products World, there was even a strip of LEDs for the brim of baseball caps.

Solar power was also on the upswing, as manufacturers have figured out ways to harness the sun’s natural energy to light up tiki torches, Christmas lights, citronella dispersers and rotating barbecue spits. Other trends at the show included:

In to the Wild. Rapid Tools introduced The Shark, a utility knife/wire stripper that did look a bit menacing. Ali Industries brought out the Zip sander under its Gator line, a palmshaped tool that resembled a computer mouse. Crane Inc. introduced a whole menagerie of animals that double as cool mist humidifiers for children’s rooms.

Back to Basics. Several booths exhibited traditional manual push mowers—no gas or electricity needed. And one vendor resurrected the classic clothesline, a galvanized steel cable and pulley that comes in two finishes, including antique bronze. The Planetary Edger uses rotary cutting blades to trim grass and edge lawns with out exhaust and noise. At the outer reaches of the green category was EcoZone, inventor of the staple-less stapler: the device crimps sheets of paper together with tiny perforations. “You wouldn’t want to use it on more than three sheets,” explained a company spokesperson.

Recycled or “eco-friendly” materials. Consumers are becoming savvier about sourcing. At Fruehauf’s, the largest patio furniture retailer in Colorado, salespeople are frequently queried about exotic looking wood. “People are asking who never would have asked in the past,” said Mary Fruehauf. “They’re asking because they know they should be asking.” Environmental stewardship has now become a marketing tool. NatureCast introduced a line of vases and planters made from dry leaves, dead twigs and bark. Magid gloves launched a line made from 100 percent bamboo fabric. Great American Marketing’s newest pro paintbrush has a wood handle made from bamboo.

Fashion-forward safety wear. Forget those dowdy orange and yellow fluorescent vests. Manufacturers like Ironclad and Dickies showed “high visibility” T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, pants and coveralls that fulfilled ANSI requirements while keeping workers dry, warm or cool, depending on the season. Choosing between hearing protection and your iPod is no longer necessary, thanks to MP3 compatible headphones and ear buds from Stanley and AOSafety. Both devices have AM/FM settings and filter out noise. MSA Safety introduced AM/FM ear muffs that adjust to the size of left and right ears. “Both ears are not the same,” explained John Quinn, retail segment manager.

Be kind to animals. Glue traps and rat poisons are being replaced with more humane “catch and release” pest control devices. One trap used a plastic water or soda bottle—recycled, of course—to relocate mice. Another wand-like instrument caught spiders without harming them. One Chinese inventor exhibited a dog collar that uses air pressure—instead of an electric shock—as a pet training and containment device.

Say no to solvents. Vendors in both the cleaning products and the paint categories came up with numerous alternatives to traditional paint removers, drain clearers, toilet, tub and tile cleaners, and other harsh chemicals. Some were as simple as the “Yellow Submarine,” a battery-operated mini drill with a long, flexible brush to unclog drains. Morton Salt unveiled “EcoSafe” ice melt and Ground Works displayed an ice melt made of potash that also acts as a fertilizer. UGL, a manufacturer of oil-based wood refinishing products, came to the show with a line of green paint removers, strippers, brush cleaners, deglossers and stains.

Personal pest control. Those big backyard mosquito-killing machines have become portable. Amcor’s “Bug Away” diffuser clips to your belt and repels insects with the help of a small fan and non-toxic geraniol (geranium oil) pellets. BugBand is a wristband that also uses geraniol vapors to create a protective shield. Bugband also makes one-application moist towelettes. Also, garden clog-maker Sloggers debuted a line of insect repellant hats and apparel that can stand up to 70 washings, it said.

Gardening made easy. Time-starved consumers found plenty of shortcuts to a beautiful backyard, including light meters, battery-powered sprayers, release-on-demand fertilizers and plant-watering mats. Two companies offered readymade vegetable gardens, and one vendor sold a “grow your own tree” kit (elm, apple, gingko, pine) that came in a biodegradable coconut coir pot. DuPont introduced an invisible tree anchoring fabric that replaces traditional collars and wires. Garden Groom introduced a new electric trimmer and hedger that suck up the clippings, like little outdoor vacuum cleaners.

Scott Peterson, a buyer for Sloat Garden Center in Northern California, said he was shopping for two types of customers: the “serious” gardeners and the ones who were usually in a hurry. “Less time is the key to today’s younger gardener,” he said. But he thought both groups would like the Audubon birdhouse—“they seem to have nailed the style people like, and it’s made of recycled materials”—and PotHoles drainage discs. “You put these down instead of a layer of stones, which creates a reservoir of water,” Peters on explained. “That’s not what you want in a potted plant.”

A group of British gardening manufacturers banded together to form the U.K pavilion in the south building, which was completely devoted to lawn and garden. The Central Hall hosted hardware & tools, paint & home decor, and housewares. The Global Hardware Expo settled into the North Hall. The World wide DIY Council organized a big-box tour of Las Vegas for a busload of executives from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. They visited Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco and Wal-Mart.

“They were very impressed with Costco,” said Bob Vereen, a Worldwide DIY Council representative who accompanied them on the tour. But overall, the foreign executives observed that most merchandise presentations they saw “lacked flair,” according to Vereen.

Preliminary attendance figures for the show indicate a 14 percent increase in the number of buyers over last year’s show, according to show sponsor Reed Exhibitions, which estimated the number at 14,057. Vendors filled a total of 3,500 booths.

Retailers holding “Open to Buy Days” this year included Kmart, Sears, Do it Best, True Value, Westlake Ace Hardware, Handy Hardware, and Northern Tool&Equipment. The President’s Council also arranged 15-minute meetings with buyers from Dixieline and Lumbermens (two divisions of Pro Build Holdings), True Value, Orgill, Do it Best, German retailer OBI, U.K.-based Homebase, the Andersons hardware chain in Ohio and Marvin’s home centers in Alabama. Proceeds benefitted City of Hope.

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