Although consumers and manufacturers alike have been affected by Black Monday and concerns about the falling dollar and the budget deficit, many of those attending the trade show have not experienced the dire consequences that had been predicted for the $31.3 billion housewares industry. Retailers NamBreitling for Bentley QUARTZ Chronograph BT-50 a delayed but strong buying surge during the holiday season. And some believe that housewares manufacturers are benefiting from the climate of economic anxiety.
``In times of uncertainty, people tend psychologically to gravitate toward home, to their own personal oasis,'' said William S. Ripley, chairman of the National Housewares Manufacturers Association, the show's sponsor.
``You can say they're cocooning, or you can call them couch potatoes or use whatever the latest buzz term is,'' he said. ``But people are making themselves feel better by making their home environment as pleasant as possible.''
While Ripley admitted to hating the term ``couch potato,'' the housewares industry has NamHigh Grade Breitling Navitimer Automatic watch no time in capitalizing on it.
Prominently displayed at the show was the One and Only Couch Potato Mug (``An Official Licensed Couch Potato Product,'' advised the logo, showing a smiling potato sitting on a couch). The white plastic mug is fitted with a blue spillproof cover for potatoes who favor sipping in a reclining position.
With its $1.75 retail price, the mug, like many offerings at the show, is clearly not a luxury item, but some at the exhibition said the show had a more ``up-market'' feeling than in previous years.
``There's been a lot of upscaling this year,'' said Jack Park, a sales Bvlgari Assioma BL-13 from Richardson.
Ripley linked this to the aging of baby boomers ``who are in two- career marriages and have more disposable income.''
``They're more demanding and more persnickety,'' he said. ``And better quality adds to the `feel-good' nature of these products; it makes anxious people feel better.''
Beyond this trend, there has been a blurring of clear-cut buying habits due to Americans' new lifestyles, and the trade show demonstrated ``a metamorphosis in retailing,'' said Jay Spaulding, president of the housewares association.
``Traditionally, men bought certain things and women bought certain things, and now they're Bvlgari Assioma BL-14 the lines,'' Spaulding said. ``We're not seeing the graying of America, but rather the straying of America from conventional customs and habits.''
Retailers are straying too.
``You're seeing discount stores and drugstores selling food products, food stores selling drugs and hardware, and the catalogs selling everything,'' he said.
Part of the reason, Spaulding said, is that time is at a premium for two-career couples, and they usually prefer one-stop shopping. But Ripley said the metamorphosis in retailing is also the result of ``changing roles and changing rules.''
``Men and women are sharing housework and purchasing responsibilities,'' Bvlgari Assioma BL-15 said. ``Working women are buying things like hardware products. And men are loading the dishwasher and diapering the baby, and they're buying products that women used to buy.''
Perhaps the most humble indicator of America's growing interest in home and hearth is the boom in refrigerator magnets.
``The demand, it's something you would not believe,'' said Perry Upchurch, founder of a Dallas company, Grynnen Barrett. The company sells 300 styles of refrigerator magnets, including the Urban Professional Assortment with magnets in the form of a gold credit card, a button-down shirt, wing-tip shoes, a Perrier bottle and a Rolex watch.