CHICAGO -With so many plastic storage carts, the International Housewares Show looked more like a giant walk-in closet than an exhibit hall. You can push them, you can pull them - and it all pointed to what consumers want: carts with drawers or wheels that make home organization simple.
Market forecasters predict this year will be fruitful for sales of home organization products, as people seek more balance in their lives. Yes, it did have something to do with Sept. 11, but that was just a catalyst for a trend that began well before that fateful day, said A.J. Riedel, a housewares market consultant in Phoenix.
``It's about having things that enable people to connect with their families, live in more fulfillment and find balance,'' Riedel said in her address to attendees at the show, held Jan. 13-15 at Chicago's McCormick Place.
Some of the biggest players showed off their wares during the three-day fair and talked about the growth they expect in that category. If the trend holds true, it could mean record growth for some manufacturers, especially for a recession year.
``Part of that is getting control of clutter,'' Riedel said in a Jan. 24 telephone interview. ``You have lots of possessions, but you want to have order. It's a practical purchase.''
And, she said, plastic manufacturers jumping on the color bandwagon will help stimulate impulse purchases. StyleMaster Inc., for instance, introduced a children's line of storage units and desks in bright red, green and yellow.
``Up until now, it was a sea of white,'' she said.
Martha Williams, chief executive officer of Chicago-based StyleMaster Inc., said consumers are recognizing the benefits of using durable and affordable plastic storage containers for an ever-increasing number of functions.
The injection molder expects 10-15 percent bottom-line sales growth from the cart program introduced at the show. Both the children's line and the cart system are produced at Stylemaster's facility in Chicago, which opened last year to accommodate 32 injection presses.
Iris USA Inc. showcased a three-drawer rolling cart fitted with a wood top.
``With [an economic] recovery, year-on-year sales could be up more than 10 percent,'' said Jay Johnson, marketing director with the Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based firm.
Iris will open a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Texas by September that is expandable to 400,000 square feet. Late last year, the company added 10 presses to facilities in Pleasant Prairie and Stockton, Calif.
``The opening of the Dallas factory, plus those 10 machines, gives us a lot of capacity,'' Johnson said. ``I don't expect that the growth we'd have this year would push us beyond our capacity limitations with the third factory.''
The firm does have a fourth facility planned, depending on business growth.
``We're considering a number of sites in the Southeast, possibly the Atlanta area,'' Johnson said.
Home Products International Inc. also expects 10-15 percent growth, said James Tennant, president of the Chicago-based manufacturer. However, the company does not anticipate adding machinery.
``That's always been a high-growth area for us,'' he said in a Jan. 23 telephone interview. ``We have adequate capacity right now for growth in the cart area.''
Riedel said that 2002 is sure to be better than 2001 for housewares, which are basic and stable, maintaining an annual 6 percent growth rate.
``If you look at history, housewares tends to be recessionary-resistant,'' Riedel said. ``It's pretty stable. Housewares doesn't experience as many highs, but it won't experience as many lows, either.''