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Technology Brings More Options to the Housewares Department

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By Chad Husted, chusted@nrha.org

A New Cook in the Kitchen

Gadgets are a fundamental piece of the hardware industry. Adults can get the same sense of wonderment as children with a new toy when they get their hands on the latest piece of technology. Kitchen tools can bring much of the same excitement as more common categories such as power tools. They can save time, increase safety in the kitchen and add great diversity to the housewares department.

One area that has more than its share of gadgets is small kitchen appliances. Kitchen appliances have become as sophisticated as the most modern power tool, and consumers are looking for these products in growing numbers. Retailers have expanded their homewares and kitchen appliances departments with a goal toward achieving a one-stop shop for the budding home cook. Making kitchen gadgets a standout area of your business can highlight how advanced a kitchen department can be.

From spiralizers to pressure cookers, kitchen accessories run the gamut of designs, purposes and price points. Hardware Retailing spoke to two retailers who have expanded their kitchen appliances department beyond pots and pans to find out what consumers are looking for and how independent home improvement retailers can make the most of this key department.

Kitchen Plus More is a 2,500-square-foot location offering hardware categories along with upscale kitchen appliances and decorative items. The Long Island City, New York, business is part of a larger retail operation that also includes grocery stores, owner Ovidiu Teja says.

Prescott True Value, located in Prescott, Arizona, built its kitchen offerings in a community that was undersupplied, manager Suzanne Springer says. The 30,000-square-foot location devotes over 4,000 square feet of its salesfloor to kitchen appliances and gadgets, incorporating these items into a broader housewares and gift area that allows for a diverse product selection.

To see how some of these kitchen items work, check out TheRedT.com/chef-chad, where Hardware Retailing editor Chad Husted demonstrates a few of his favorite cooking techniques.

Elevating the Kitchen
While small kitchen appliances and cooking tools are familiar sights in many independent hardware retail businesses, high-technology devices like electric pressure cookers toe a line that allows them to be looked at similarly to high-end power tools or innovative hardware products.

The added technology in some items, such as multicookers, which can be used to cook anything from rice to stews, can elevate mundane cooking products to technological marvels that inspire the same kind of following that turns power tool departments into destinations for enthusiasts.

Cooking shows on TV and the expansion of the culture of cooking for fun has grown the market for more advanced cooking products. For hardware retailers, stocking kitchen items, and gadgets in particular, can bring non-DIY customers or those less inclined to take on a home improvement project into a store.

At Kitchen Plus More, Teja has built his business around the concept of keeping his product selection high-end and treating his hardware and kitchen-supply business similarly to his grocery store locations. Wide aisles, bright and welcoming environments and upscale selections have helped the business become a noted destination for home cooks and party hosts looking for the next hot item.

These kinds of products include electric pressure cookers and top-flight toaster ovens capable of air frying, baking and toasting, as well as quality cookware-like pots, utensils and linens. A common advantage of newer appliances is the ability to cook multiple types of food or use multiple types of cooking in one product. For example, a toaster oven now can go from making a simple piece of toast to frying up a full meal of fish and chips, if it has the ability to air fry.

In hardware, retailers are often quick to seek out how to make a store a one-stop shop. The same attitude needs to be applied to kitchen appliances to find success in that category, Teja says.

“From preparing meals, to serving them, to cleaning up after and storing food and cookware properly, we have everything a homeowner needs,” Teja says. “Once we took the approach of stocking items that not only accomplished a goal, but looked good doing it, we were able to make ourselves known in the local cooking community.”

When deciding on what kinds of kitchen gadgets to devote money and space to, Teja looks at how technology has updated some tried-and-true kitchen tools while also offering more options than ever before. Some of the most popular products are designed to turn a tedious chore, like mincing garlic or peeling ginger, into an easy, simple and more enjoyable task.

Teja cites one popular product, a kale peeler that is specifically designed to strip the leafy parts of the popular plant while leaving the discarded stems, as a product that makes a chore more efficient. Kitchen Plus More stocks a variety of peelers and small gadgets that allow a customer to personalize their own cooking experience.

“Customers are looking for these kinds of specific items, so if you don’t have what they’re expecting from you, they’ll leave,” Teja says. “It’s no different than when you look at your hardware selection. Does every customer need three types of pliers? Probably not, but you need to be prepared for the customer to have a variety of similar products to choose from, or it will lead to poor customer satisfaction.”

Having a solid product selection isn’t the only way retailers can develop a following for home cooks. At Prescott True Value, kitchen gadgets like spiralizers and stovetop popcorn poppers show the store is well stocked in tools, which grows interest in other niche areas like gourmet foods and an expanded gift department.

“We’ve really looked at our kitchen area, and gadgets in particular, like we would other high-end hardware items, like power tools,” Springer says. “It can be a small addition, like a waffle iron shaped like a cartoon character or a soda machine that allows customers to make customized soda flavors, that can catch a customer’s interest in something they would have passed over before. Then they’re exploring the store even further, and those add-on items come into play.”

The Secret Recipe
Retailers are always seeking out industry resources to spot trends in the world of hardware, and it’s no different when focusing more closely on housewares and the next big thing in the culinary world. For Teja and Springer, the most important ways to stay on top of trends is not letting housewares items become stale, and discovering how to find unique products and new ways to display them.

Springer has always used co-op markets and other traditional hardware shows as her primary sources for updated hardware items, but attending niche markets tied to kitchen and gift products have been part of her strategy from the beginning, she says. This can include larger shows, such as the annual International Home and Housewares Show, and smaller regional trade shows can also be beneficial, she says.

“We’ve always been very proactive in choosing which markets to attend. Each one has a different focus, and by changing up your market schedule, you’re expanding your options and diversifying the products you carry,” she says. “It keeps a business from being predictable, and when you are talking gadgets and new technology, you want to be known to have some surprises.”

Another manner of staying on top of culinary trends is using online competition as a resource. Teja says he explores Amazon at least once a day to see what kinds of deals are being offered and how the company is marketing different items to its customers. This can pinpoint buying trends that can be implemented directly at Kitchen Plus More, he says.

Teja is looking to expand the online shopping availability at Kitchen Plus More, as well as offer free delivery to the area, but utilizing online portals is not just about mimicking their business methods.

“One area that stood out in our research was a trend toward green cleaning products,” Teja says. “We’d see those items being heavily marketed on online deal sites, with an emphasis on companies producing items that saved on waste or used fewer chemicals. We developed our own strategy to emphasize those kinds of products. We see sites like Amazon as a resource, not an enemy.”

Given the proliferation of cooking shows and the overall growth of home improvement entertainment, finding inspiration in entertainment also helps. Teja points to YouTube videos and online reviews that can inform him on what kinds of gadgets are being used in home kitchens and how he can best market these items to customers.

However a retailer finds the next big gadget, expanding the kitchen goods sold and improving the technology level of kitchen appliances are options for independent retailers to explore.

“Expanding kitchen goods in a housewares department doesn’t just increase your abilities to offer fun gadgets; it also allows for greater creativity in your store,” Springer says. “Customers can expect different things from a store. You’ve created an expectation for diverse products. You’ll have customers coming in just to see what new item you’ve found for them.”


About Chad Husted

Chad is an assistant editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A Purdue University graduate, Chad has covered sports and news at the high school, college and Olympic levels as a sports writer, editor and designer for multiple newspapers. Prior to joining the NRHA, he was the sports editor for the Herald Journal in Monticello, Indiana, and a designer and copy editor for the AIM Media Indiana group in Columbus, Indiana. When not cultivating his beard, he enjoys backpacking, cooking, traveling and watching too much sports and Netflix.

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