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NPD Group names Top 10 holiday gifts

BY Brae Canlen

Consumers are looking to give small appliances, home textiles and housewares as holiday presents again this year, but their budgets have stretched to include premium products and luxury brands, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm.

“The appeal of the deal is as strong as ever,” said Debra Mednick, who heads NPD’s home division. “The difference coming into the 2012 holiday season is that, despite a still struggling economy, Black Friday ads are showcasing as much of a focus on the $300 vacuum as on the $10 slow cooker. Many of the categories we will see as the winners of the 2012 season are the same as what we’ve seen in recent years, but the average price spent will be greater.”

Consumers are also seeking “long-term value or a little luxury,” Mednick said. As a reminder, she added: “After all, less than one-third of home product purchases at holiday time are purchased as a gift.”

Listed below are The NPD Group’s Top 10 picks for the 2012 holiday gift season:

• Single-Serve Brewing Systems – One of the hottest trends in kitchen electrics, this category remains energized and perky with new ideas and designs.

• Specialty Kitchen Electrics – Popcorn makers and novelty baking appliances are inexpensive ways to have fun with something a little out of the ordinary right at home.

• Home Soda Makers – Customization, convenience and cost-savings all in one.

• Slow Cookers – Convenience, a connotation of comfort food, entertaining versatility with multiple unit configurations for meals and/or dips, and portability all make this an attractive item for the holiday shopping list.

• Fine Barware – A refined nod to a seemingly simpler time, aided by Mad Men on TV, and ice cubes made of stone to cool your spirits, this is a versatile gift suitable for either gender, and just about any beverage.

• Men’s Facial Trimmers – If you haven’t yet noticed, more men are sporting facial hair, including a variety of mustache looks.

• Blankets & Comfort Bedding – Whether the focus is on making holiday guests comfortable, staying warm at home or finding a gift for the person who has everything. After all, who doesn’t like a cozy blanket or something to make their mattress feel a little more luxurious?

• Extreme and Versatile Blenders and Food Processors – These products are now more likely to be hybrids, delivering more versatility than ever before. Most popular today are the small, but powerful blender/mixer/chopper systems and the high-end super-power pulverizing machines, some of which claim to ‘cook’ soup.

• Cookware Sets – ‘Tis the season for cooking. Celebrity-licensed selections and premium brands are most popularly featured.

• Premium Vacuums – More likely a gift for themselves, consumers will take advantage of deeper promotions on something that is more affordable than a cleaning service. And, as we all know, Americans become more obsessed with taking care of their homes during the holiday season.

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Ogden, Utah, leads rise in housing affordability

BY Brae Canlen

Although home prices are starting to inch up in metro areas around the country, lower interest rates continue to make homes more affordable to median-income families, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI).

Nationwide, 74.1% of all homes sold in the third quarter 2012 were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $65,000, the HOI calculated. This was up slightly from the 73.8% of homes sold that were affordable to median-income earners in the second quarter. 

"The latest housing affordability data is good news on two fronts, because it shows that the share of homes affordable to median-income earners has risen even as home prices have continued to gradually recover from their recession lows," said NAHB chairman Barry Rutenberg, a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. "This is primarily due to the fact that mortgage rates are now lower than we’ve seen them since the HOI was initiated more than a decade ago. That said, given today’s overly tight lending conditions, we know that it remains very difficult for potential buyers to qualify for and obtain those great rates." 

NAHB chief economist David Crowe noted that the median price of all new and existing homes sold in the third quarter was $189,000, up from $176,000 in last year’s third quarter. “[It’s] the strongest number we’ve seen since the final three months of 2008," Crowe said. "But at the same time, mortgage rates were at their lowest levels in decades, which kept homes quite affordable. Clearly, for families who qualify for a mortgage at such favorable terms, the outlook is brightening — but being able to afford a home and getting approved for a mortgage are still two different things in the current marketplace." 

Topping the affordability list for the first time in the HOI’s history, Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, was named the most affordable major housing market in the country in the third quarter. Between July and September of this year, 93.2% of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the area’s median household income of $71,500.

Also ranking among the most affordable major housing markets, in respective order, were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa; Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind.; Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Among smaller housing markets, Fairbanks, Alaska, retained its standing at the top of the affordability chart with 99.4% of all homes sold there in the third quarter being affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $92,900. Other smaller housing markets at the top of the index included Mansfield and Lima, Ohio; Wheeling, W.Va.-Ohio; and Kokomo, Ind.

Meanwhile, New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J. retained the title of the least affordable major housing market in the country for an 18th consecutive quarter, with just 28.5% of homes sold there being affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $68,300.

Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart included perennial entrants San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif., as well as Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., in that order.

The least affordable small housing market in the third quarter was Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif., with just 44.4% of homes sold being within reach of families earning the median income of $87,000. Other small metros at the bottom of the list included Ocean City, N.J.; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.; Laredo, Texas; and Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, Calif., respectively.

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Distribution America, PRO Group hold joint conference

BY Brae Canlen

Distribution America and the PRO Group met for their Executive Planning Conference Nov. 12 to 14 in Tucson, Ariz., to discuss new product lines, program launches and business opportunities. More than 400 distributors and manufacturers were in attendance, and almost 2,800 scheduled meetings were held between buyers and sellers.

Among the participants were Todd Hermon, national accounts manager for Waukegan, Ill.-based Coleman Cable, who focused on potential growth opportunities for his consumer electrical product company. "We are seeing a bit of a rebound especially in regard to contractor-related business,” Hermon said. “We talk about ways to grow the business, whether we can add new items and how we can help each other."

Doyle Wallace, president & CEO for Morristown, Tenn.-based Wallace Hardware Co., said: "It is more important today than ever before that distributors do hands-on planning each year with our major vendors. More than discussing the basics, like history and promotions, we talk about how we are going to grow our business. We are also looking to partner with new vendors that complement our marketing strategy in our territory." 

The National Hardware Show sponsored a special reception to promote the farm and ranch category, which will be prominent at the May 2013 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. Sonya Ruff Jarvis, VP attendee programs for Reed Exhibitions, said there will be a dedicated area at the National Hardware Show for farm and ranch manufacturers. “This entry into showcasing a new product category on the show floor reflects what we’re hearing out in the marketplace from retailers and distributors that this category is a growing segment that they are turning to for growth,” Ruff Jarvis said. 

Steve Draeger, president of Plymouth, Minn.-based United Hardware Distributing Co., said the conference provides an opportunity to identify vendors who truly want to work with the wholesalers and grow their business profitably for the long term. “These are manufacturers who will work to make it happen rather than sit back and hope it happens,” Draeger said. He added that a benefit of the conference is interacting with top-level representatives from manufacturer companies. “Our team’s task is rather simple: They are to grow our business and relationship with vendors who are interested in a three-way win: retailer, wholesaler and vendor.”

Don Hasson, CEO of Knoxville, Tenn.-based House-Hasson Hardware Co., said the conference is one of the only events in the industry where manufacturer executives and distributor executives can network with each other. "Our attitude regarding the hardware industry is always positive, regardless of the economy," he said. "It is important to us to have a person-to-person relationship with our key vendors.”

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