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Licensing a Key Ingredient to Reviving Housewares Business image

Licensing a Key Ingredient to Reviving Housewares Business

By Mark Seavy

Housewares sales in the U.S. are expected to be flat in 2024, a marked improvement from the declines of a year ago. Moving forward, licensing is expected to be key ingredient in sparking renewed consumer demand.

Celebrity- and chef-inspired offerings were in the spotlight at the Inspired Home Show in Chicago this week as part of an effort to lure retailers back to the table. In addition to providing a high profile, these star-powered ranges also featured distribution strategies that focused on exclusivity.

Dolly Parton’s brand, for example, could be found on Lodge Cast Iron skillets that started shipping last week to Cracker Barrel restaurants, said Lee Riddle, VP of Sales at Lodge Cast Iron. The company will also continue with its Yellowstone-branded cookware through 2025, but with no new introductions planned for this year, Riddle said.

In the case of Paris Hilton, Epoca’s mix of water bottles, tea pots, slow cookers, and other items brought the brand into housewares for the first time with sales through Walmart as well as Ross Stores, albeit with a lower priced version, said Joseph Bluemel, Senior Director of Sales at Epoca. The celebrity spotlight is a departure for Epoca, which has previously focused on IAC Holdings’ Cooking Light, Hearst Corp.’s Country Living, and Buzzfeed’s Tasty and Goodful brands for kitchen utensils.

“I think there is a renewed interest in what a company can do beyond organic product development to create the differentiation for its business,” said Peter Giannetti, Director of Editorial, Content, and Education at the International Housewares Association. “The retailer is seeking something new and different.”

That renewed interest was especially obvious when it comes to chef brands. Mon Chateau, for example, is relaunching chef Guy Fieri’s cookware brand with more premium 12-piece ($299) and 13-piece ($349) cookware sets, a departure from the slightly lower priced strategy employed by the previous licensee, Lifetime Brands. The cookware will launch with Amazon and at Macy’s, said Corey Jacobson, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing.

Hestan Culinary is continuing with cookware under chef Thomas Keller’s brand and recently introduced the collection through Macy’s, extending a line that is also with Williams Sonoma. Keller’s brand has also been licensed to knife supplier Cangshan, which launched a collection ranging from a 3.5-inch paring knife ($99) to a 17-piece powdered steel block set ($1,999).

“Before, it seemed chefs were just slapping their labels on things, and celebrity chef brands fell off,” Jacobson said. “I hope the bad taste from that isn’t still in consumers’ mouths. Chefs are putting their names behind better quality products and a lot of companies are testing the waters. It’s about how do we bring back product that is more credible?”

That focus on trusted brands was on display at the Inspired Home Show from a number of well-known brands featuring new designs.

Made by Gather, which is partly owned by actress Drew Barrymore, is relaunching its 13-year-old Bella brand with space-saving designs, including 10-inch and 12-inch griddles that fold in half for storage. Additionally, the cookware line launched Rose-colored limited edition products through Walmart.

Uncanny Brands unveiled a new line of popcorn poppers, waffle makers, and other items featuring Disney characters that will target pop culture stores. Uncanny is aiming to expand its 20-store test of an endcap display at retailer F.Y.E that ran during the recent holiday season featuring single sandwich and mini-waffle makers, mug warmers, and other products, said Matthew Hoffman, President of Uncanny Brands.

Not every supplier is focused on celebrities, chefs, or beloved cartoons, however.

“These types of deals last two to three years at the most and it depends how difficult [the licensors] are to work with,” said Bonnie Farias, VP of Sales & Product Development at Tabletops. “We just decided we can’t do anything in that area right now.”

Tabletops Unlimited ended its licensing agreements for Dolly Parton and Frigidaire and is instead focusing on its own brands like Infuse, Mason, and Smith & Clark. Bakers Secret also discontinued its Oreos license for baking products.

Regardless of a supplier’s strategy, there were signs at the Inspired Home Show of a more “normal” retail market emerging.

“Retailers will have their challenges this year because they bought too much inventory in the past and it took them a long time to work through it,” said Sharon Rishell, National Sales Manager at cutting board supplier J.K. Adams, which licenses designs from artists. “They are being cautious, but they are looking at their collections and the trends and making buying decisions again.”

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