How the Housewares Industry Can Finally Give Retailers Want They Want“So, how big is the air cleaner market?” That was one of my first questions when I started my new job as Marketing Manager for air cleaners at what was then known as Norelco Consumer Products. (It’s now called Philips Consumer Products). I was shocked that the answer I got was “we don’t know.” 

When I worked at General Mills and RJR/Nabisco, we – and our retail customers — not only knew the size of our product category and how much it was growing, we also knew what our brand’s share of the market was — down to the tenth of a share point — and whether we were gaining or losing share.

I could not believe that similar data was not available for housewares product categories.

Fast forward to today and … nothing has changed. We still don’t know how big the air cleaner category really is … or the size of kitchen tools and gadgets, or cookware, or coffee makers, or any of the hundreds of housewares product categories.

And that is inexcusable. Without a single definitive source of market size data, housewares manufacturers and retailers are not singing off the same song sheet. When retailers ask their vendors for market size data, they get wildly varying estimates. The retailers have to sort through the data provided by their vendors and figure out for themselves what they think the size of the market is.

Some market data is available but has drawbacks and limitations

Yes, there is some market size data available. But none of these data sources gives us market size and share data for all housewares categories and all channels of distribution.

Retail store sales tracking data from the NPD Group, Symphony/IRI, and Nielsen is only available for a limited number of categories and does not track Bed, Bath & Beyond or national kitchen retailers like Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table. HFN and HomeWorld Business report market size for a limited number of product categories.

The fact is, there is no single source of market size and share data for all housewares categories and all channels of distribution.

There have been attempts over the years to address this issue. Back in 2007-2008, the International Housewares Association (IHA) hired me to collect data from manufacturers and use that data to calculate market size. The initiative was championed by Jeffrey Siegel, chief executive and chairman of Lifetime Brands, who was serving as Chairman of the IHA Board at that time. IHA’s goal was to create the industry’s definitive source for annual retail dollar sales data.

We started with the cutlery and bakeware categories with plans to expand the program over time until IHA had data for all of the major housewares product categories. We soon learned that manufacturer-reported data was not going to give us reliable accurate market data. Even manufacturers who did business in a product category didn’t have a really good handle on the size of that product category. For example, bakeware manufacturers were asked to provide their best estimate of the U.S. retail sales for each of the major bakeware manufacturers. When each manufacturers’ estimates were added together, total market size estimates ranged from $182 billion to $620 billion.

There is a way to estimate market size for all housewares categories and all channels of distribution

There is a methodology that would give us fairly accurate comprehensive market size and share data – for all housewares categories and all channels of distribution.

Instead of being based on manufacturer-reported estimates or extrapolated retail store sales tracking data, this method of estimating market data would be based on consumer data. A large number of U.S. households would be surveyed quarterly about the housewares products they purchased in the past quarter – what they bought, what brand they picked, how much they paid, and where they purchased the item.

Sure, this methodology is not perfect. The fact is, there is no perfect methodology. Every method of gathering data and calculating market size has its drawbacks and limitations. Retail store sales tracking data extrapolates data from a portion of the market to arrive at an estimate of total market size. This consumer-based methodology assumes that consumers can remember not only what housewares products they purchased in the past quarter but the details of those purchases such as price, brand, and store where purchased. (Based on my initial testing of the methodology, I believe that a good portion of consumers can in fact recall the housewares items they purchased in the past three months.)

But it seems to me that it is better than what we have now. Retailers would no longer have to wade through dozens of wildly varying market size estimates provided by their vendors to figure out market size. Manufacturers would know where they stand relative to their key competitors. We would finally know how much business Bed, Bath & Beyond does in each product category.

The housewares industry needs a single definitive source of market data so the entire industry, manufacturers and retailers alike, are singing off the same sheet. That’s why I’m excited about this consumer-based methodology and the possibility that we now have a way to get market size and share data for all housewares categories and all channels of distribution. I’m excited that we might be able to finally achieve IHA’s goal of a single definitive source of market data.

Housewares Market Tracker, the single definitive source of market dataThat’s why I am launching Housewares Market Tracker. I am starting with the kitchen tool and gadget, cutlery, cookware, and bakeware categories. With the support of the housewares industry, I hope to expand the program over time until market data is available for all of the major housewares product categories. Market Tracker category-specific reports will be published quarterly and will include much more than just market size. In addition to total category volume in units and retail dollars, the reports will include purchase incidence, volume by product category (units and retail dollars), pricing, brand share, and channels of distribution.

This initiative stands no chance of succeeding without the support, help, and cooperation of the housewares industry. So, if you agree that the industry needs a single definitive source of market data, please help me get this initiative off the ground.