What do you call an industry trade show where attendance was still down after two years of cancellations?
In this case, the answer was often: “The best show ever.”
It was a review heard up and down the aisles of the Inspired Home Show, the housewares industry event held last week in Chicago. Even as overall numbers were down as the event returned for the first time since 2019, the vendors who did make the trip reported a strong show, largely because retailers were more focused on the smaller number of exhibitors.
And those retailers came out in force. Many of the big-box national chains that are the backbone of the housewares sector have had travel restrictions for much of the past two years and were not attending shows. There was a flicker of hope that 2022 would start with a return to normalcy, but the omicron variant’s winter sweep caused many retailers to cancel planned trips to home and gift shows held in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Dallas—often at the last minute.
No such thing happened at the McCormick Place Convention Center. Though attendance was clearly down overall (no official numbers had been released by the International Housewares Association at press time), all the right people were there. Reports from the IHA and show sponsors confirmed a lineup that included Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, Costco, Sam’s, Big Lots, the TJX group of brands and even Sears (hidden behind a badge of its parent holding company, Transformco). There were also some overseas retailers, including Tesco from the U.K.
Of course, this was still not a typical housewares show, which usually fills just about every nook and cranny of the massive McCormick facility every March. Several big powerhouse suppliers, including Lifetime Brands, Groupe SEB and Cuisinart, were officially absent even as executives from some of these companies could be seen walking the aisles and surveying the competitive landscape. While the show did spread out over the North, South and Lakeside buildings of the complex, there were many wide-open spaces and empty areas that would have normally been occupied.
It was this reduced number of booths that produced the solid results for those suppliers that did exhibit. There were several off-the-record comments from this group about buyers being able to spend much more time with individual exhibitors without the need to see so many resources. At least one vendor said he booked business from a retailer who had previously bought from a brand that was not exhibiting.
Amid all the meetings were conversations about some of the topics that have been top of mind at virtually every recent buyer-seller interaction: price increases, supply-chain slowdowns and concerns that the surge in the home-products business was peaking as Americans return to the office and start booking vacations. At the IHS, the discourse was consistent with what was being said at the January and February shows this year: Prices are up, often in the 10 to 25 percent range, but that hasn’t really slowed down purchasing. The supply chain is still backed up, and realistically it’s not going to get much better anytime soon—certainly not in 2022. And while the double-digit gains of the past two years for the home business are over, most companies are still handsomely beating their 2019 pre-pandemic results and expect to have modestly continued improvements throughout this year.
Optimism reigned supreme throughout the show this year—a sentiment best illustrated by a booth in the lobby area offering hotel accommodations for the next show in March 2023.
Homepage image: The 2022 edition of the Inspired Home Show. | Courtesy of the Inspired Home Show
Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.