I received an invitation this week from an industry supplier inviting me to take part in its “newness webinar.”
I must admit, I’ve never been one to use the term “newness.” In its overuse, to me, the term had evolved into arbitrarily vague marketing-speak. I can’t tell you how many times during my three-plus decades covering this industry, when asking retailers what they were looking for at a trade show, their first word was… “Newness.”
I often wondered what makes a product genuinely worthy of newness status. Does a nuanced change in the shade of its color qualify? Or are we talking more substantial advances in style, technology and utility?
That’s a debate that might never be settled. And perhaps such a wide range of interpretation within the trade is fine because it means more opportunity for a broader range of “new” products to catch the attention of retail buyers. After all, the consumer is the ultimate judge of what’s new and, more importantly, whether what’s new really matters.
I must admit, though, I’m starting to warm up to the term. All it took was a life- and business-changing pandemic for me to realize just how much newness, in its slightest and most comprehensive applications, really matters after a period dominated by… oldness.
By now, we all know how the incentive for new housewares development investment was muffled — initially, by surging homebound demand that mitigated the need for updated product to drive sales, then by overstuffed supply chains that threatened to block new products from getting into homes; and then, by sinking demand, excessive retail inventories and inflation that chilled the marketplace and balance sheets.
That brings us to the precipice of a holiday season that, by many accounts, should be fairly productive for the housewares business even if wary retailers curbed their appetite for new inventory amid continuing economic uneasiness.
The housewares business can always fall back to the fact that it historically has been one of the most reliable and steady retail producers, prone neither to steep declines in soft economies nor steep inclines during the most prosperous conditions. The caveat to that, of course, is a previously unthinkable life- and business-changing pandemic that sent the business on a wild ride the past three years.
Could 2024 actually be the year when the business finds its new baseline, finally removed from the highest highs and the lowest lows of recent years and primed to reassert its place as one of the most reliable and steady retail producers?
Perhaps. And I’m thinking the prize will be significant for… dare I say it… newness. Some expect the retail market will start to reboot in early 2024, moving past overcaution and primed to reward renewed investment in well-informed new product and new marketing innovation (newness is not limited to product development). What initially might be the most effective way for marketers and retailers to win share could become the catalyst for industry growth for years to come.
The home and housewares industry saw a hopeful rededication to new product introductions by suppliers earlier this year during an active winter/spring trade show circuit highlighted by a productive Inspired Home Show. While retailers seemed very receptive to the introductions, lingering marketplace caution might have mitigated some of new product potential as the year progressed. Genuine enthusiasm about what such new product could mean moving into next year has not been doused.
I asked a retail buyer during the recent New York Tabletop Show what she was looking for. Her first word was…you guessed it… “Newness.”
I must admit, my appreciation of the term has been renewed. It really matters more to this business now than it has in a long time.
And I can’t think of a better time for a “newness webinar.”