The Next Not Thing

March 10, 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when everyone walks around at shows and says there’s nothing really new this season.

At the housewares show this week in Chicago (and later in the month at textiles in New York) you will no doubt hear reasonably sane and semi-smart people lamenting the lack of big new product trends.

To which I gladly respond: Is this your first rodeo?

How many shows have we all been to where we said nothing was new, only for the latest, greatest thing to show up on retail shelves six months later and set the market on fire?

Do you remember back a decade ago to the introduction of single-serve coffee makers? All of the big guns in the small appliance business jumped into this category with a vengeance and at that year’s show in Chicago you couldn’t swing a dead pod without hitting a new machine somewhere.

It was all everyone talked about … and yet virtually every single one of those first wave of products went on to be a colossal flop at retail. It was only a few seasons later when the Keurig machine started to get broad retail distribution that it emerged as the leading successful product in the category. Another wave of machines came along with moderate success, but anyone walking around that first show who was sizing up the introductions would never have guessed how it would all turn out a decade later.

A number of years before was there anybody who happened upon the Salton booth and saw a small, slanted electric grill being sold under the name of a semi-washed-up ex-boxer who could have pegged that a big winner? Who knew the George Foreman Grill would go on to become the single most successful kitchen appliance of all time? Anyone who says they did is mean, lean and lying.

The point is that walking around a place like McCormick and trying to take in thousands of booths and tens of thousands of products is an inexact process at best. Nobody could possibly see even a fraction of all those new products — and predicting which one would go on to be next season’s hot seller is just an exercise in futility … not to mention sheer guesswork.

The housewares business is famous — some might say infamous — for coming up with new variations on the same theme every year. How do you make a toaster different – much less better? How do you find new metals that haven’t been employed in cookware before? What can you do to a mop to make it special? Yet, every March in Chicago there are new toasters, frying pans and stick goods nobody has seen before. And who knows what’s being developed exclusively for individual customers or being shown only in the double-secret back rooms? So, when you’re walking around the show, don’t do a knee-jerk and say there’s nothing new. There most certainly is. You just don’t know about it yet.

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