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Confessions of a new product junkie

BY Brae Canlen

I know that some of you out there have been attending the National Hardware Show for decades, maybe as far back as the ’70s, when it was held in New York. So my 10-year milestone this year won’t sound very impressive. But what I’m most proud of is this: Every year I get a rush when I walk into the New Product World section and see what the inventors have been up to during the last 12 months. Like Madonna says: It’s like the very first time.

I hear from these irrepressible guys (and gals) throughout the year, but unless their new and innovative product is already selling through a retail channel, there’s not much I can offer them except encouragement. And frankly, even that is a stretch sometimes. Take, for example, the inventor of the Mopsie Flopsie, who should have made it clear from the beginning that the white terrycloth booties she sent me were not meant to be used in place of a kitchen mop — i.e., don’t put them on and then submerge your feet in a bucket of hot soapy water. You only wear them to clean up spills, she later explained.

The Mopsie Flopsie falls into the category I call, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I find several suitable candidates each year at the Hardware Show, and this year was no exception. But as the Romans liked to say, De gustibus non est disputandum . I’ll bet there’s plenty of people out there who find nothing objectionable about painting dead grass with green dye ( easygreenlawnpaint.com ) or drinking coffee out of a cup shaped like a toilet bowl ( bigmouthtoys.com ).

My Favorite Brownie Pan (styleasia.net) also seemed a little over the top to me. It features removable dividers that allow you to bake three different types of brownies in the same pan. Isn’t life complicated enough already? But for some reason, the product that really got under my skin was the Last Drop Bottle Stop (lastdropbottlestop.com), a simple wooden stand that can hold a ketchup or shampoo bottle upside down until every last drop drains out. It’s frugality run amok, in my opinion. Great impulse purchase for the pennywise, pound-foolish consumer.

But these are the exceptions, for many products fall into the category I call, “Of course!” This means that someone should have thought of it years ago, but didn’t. Here’s one: the screw-on toilet bolt cap (ventelplastics.com). Those are the little white oval covers for the bolts that anchor your toilet to the bathroom floor. Do you know how many times a week I have to bend down and replace those things?

Kwik-Covers (kwikcovers.com) have come up with a product that just about every family in America needs. Disposable tablecloth covers that snugly fit those six-foot folding banquet tables everybody uses at picnics and outdoor parties. These covers have elastic sewn into the edges. No more scissors, tape and flapping edges.

The heated outdoor safety treads (heattrak.com), which plug into a 120V outlet and melt the snow on your steps, were pretty interesting. Pricey, though, unless you only have three steps leading to your door.

I predict that the Grill Daddy (grilldaddy.com) is going to be a big seller. It’s a man-sized stainless steel brush that steam cleans barbecue grills. Daddy may be the one who wields it, but I’ll bet Mommy will be putting it in the shopping cart.

The last product I’d like to mention is not new — in fact, it’s 305 years old. The Gadsden flag, used by the first U.S. Navy and later by the young state of South Carolina, is the familiar coiled rattlesnake set against a bright yellow background. It bears the message: “Don’t tread on me.”

I saw a number of the Gadsden flags on display in the Chapin International booth (chapinmfg.com), alongside Old Glory. I’m not a regular watcher of Fox News, but I know a Tea Party when I see one. So I asked Chuck Mattes, Chapin’s director of sales, whether the Gadsden was a big seller. Not especially, he said.

But wait a minute, I said. You’ve got six of them on display, and one is on top of a really tall flagpole.

I was starting to feel like Bill O’Reilly.

“After the election, for some reason, the interest in that flag did peak,” Mattes admitted.

I decided to stop badgering poor Chuck and add the Gadsden flag to my list of “Cool items every retailer should sell,” my last and final category. Regardless of your political persuasion, there are consumers out there who would love to get their hands on that flag. And that’s the business we’re in, bringing the best new — and newly discovered — products into people’s homes. Maybe I’ll bump into you next year at New Product World.

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Lawn and garden trends and opportunities

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Today’s economic conditions have completely redirected trends in the lawn and garden industry, and have created emerging markets that did not exist before and brand new opportunities to go with them. Many of today’s opportunities we have in the lawn and garden industry were actually created by the downturn.

Though business models that have worked for the past 25 years are now obsolete and don’t work in today’s economy, new opportunities have created new business models that DO WORK and create exciting times if you pay attention.

Many retailers that have sold lawn and garden products as an accessory category in the past are looking to the lawn and garden category as a "safe haven" from the downward spiral of other categories such as home improvement and hardware. Sales of lawn and garden products are now representing as much as 27% of some retailers’ selling space and generating comparable profits.

By using facts and not fear to manage your lawn and garden business, you’re better armed and can thrive in any economic climate.

Today’s hot trends in the lawn and garden industry that are showing substantial increases in consumer sales and support are:

• Food gardening is in … big time!

The faltering economy makes growing vegetables and herbs attractive to every pocketbook-conscious and green-thumbed consumer — which includes most of us. Veggie seed sales are up double digits at the nation’s biggest seed sellers this year, with some seed producers reporting their sales were up about 46%, and others could double their sales if they could find product.

• Staycations became a buzz word last year when gasoline prices soared to more than $4 a gallon, and instead of receding with gas prices, staycations have mushroomed to a much stronger trend this year. Staycation simply means an individual or family stays at home and relaxes at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions. Common activities of staycations include use of the backyard pool, hosting barbeque events in the yard and buying products to make Staycations more enjoyable.

• Being "green" is still a growing trend.

The market for green products was estimated at $209 billion in 2008 and is actually still growing in 2009. According to the findings in "Sustainability: CPG (consumer packaged goods) Marketing in a Green World."

More middle-of-the-road consumers, known in the report as "respectful stewards" and "proud traditionalists," increased their spending on green products by 15.5% and 8.4%, respectively.

• Web site sales of lawn and garden products are up substantially.

Retailers such as Lowe’s sprouted a 24% increase in Web site traffic last year, growing their Web site sales while the store sales and traffic was down. Home Depot, not to be outdone by their competitor Lowe’s, had 11.2 million visitors to their Web site in January 2009 alone.

Whether you are a retailer or a supplier, recognizing the importance of your Web site to your gross sales and profits will give you an edge and opportunity in this economy. Consumers are spending more and more of their time shopping on Web sites. The economy does not seem to have altered this trend but enhanced it. Your opportunity is to focus some of your marketing and sales effort on this area of your business.

• Coupons are hot, clipping is not.

In the past four months coupon usage surged 10% according to Inmar, a coupon processing service, and coupon redemption rates also surged. However, consumers’ use of online coupons surged 140% last year, with a redemption rate of more than 13%, which is much higher than the average redemption rate of newspaper or insert coupons. More than 40 million people currently print online coupons, up 20% from last year, according to Simmons Market Research Bureau.

In the same time period, the number of people who only print coupons from the Internet and never use newspaper coupons has risen a dramatic 46%, while 61% of consumers who took a recent poll indicated they are now using more coupons than at any other time in their lives.

• Conspicuous frugality is in, conspicuous consumption is out.

The average consumer has switched from asset-based spending (meaning spending based on their credit limits) to income based spending (meaning the consumer is trying to spend only what they earn). Paying full price for almost anything is out. Today, everybody feels guilty about paying full price for anything. "Today, it’s cool to be frugal."

• Everything is being re-negotiated.

Price increases that were initiated last fall due to tremendous increases in transportation, gas and raw materials are being renegotiated every day. Costs associated with those increases have shrunk since then. Up until this year, if you sent out price changes in May for orders being shipped the following January or later, that was the time of negotiations. Now retailers and suppliers are re-negotiating after their orders have been placed and sometimes even after orders have been shipped. Retailers, who begrudgingly went along when suppliers pushed up prices to recoup record-high raw material costs, are flexing their muscles and demanding price cuts to match the recent steep retreat in costs of commodity materials such as plastics, NPK that goes into fertilizer, fuel surcharges and other related costs.

Rick Pontz is founder of The Lawn & Garden Performance Group
www.LGPG.com

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Suspect foiled by wrong receipt

BY HBSDEALER Staff

A suspected thief who took a $299 backpack blower from a Florida Lowe’s and then tried to return it for cash was arrested on June 14 when he presented the wrong store receipt.

According to a story in the St. Petersburg Times, Aaron Phillip Piquette walked out of the garden center of a Lowe’s store in New Port Richey, Fla., with the blower and later returned seeking a refund. But the receipt he gave the store clerk was from Walmart. When Piquette tried to leave the store, he was detained by a loss prevention officer.

Police later found three oxycodone pills in the suspect’s wallet. Piquette told deputies he didn’t know how the pills got there.

Piquette was charged with retail theft and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.

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