COLOR SELLS

CHICAGO -- It should come as no surprise to nonfood buyers that color is a powerful stimulator in the purchasing decision.Stated simply, "color sells if you select the right one," said Lee Eiseman, a color expert, who spoke here during the International Housewares Show this year. "Otherwise, it's called inventory."Few people are better qualified to talk about the influence of color in selling products

CHICAGO -- It should come as no surprise to nonfood buyers that color is a powerful stimulator in the purchasing decision.

Stated simply, "color sells if you select the right one," said Lee Eiseman, a color expert, who spoke here during the International Housewares Show this year. "Otherwise, it's called inventory."

Few people are better qualified to talk about the influence of color in selling products and its affect on the consumer buy than Eiseman. She is director of the Eiseman Center for Color Information & Training, and the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, Carlstadt, N.J., a nonprofit research and information center that tracks and predicts trends. Her latest book, one of several on the influence of color, "Colors for Your Every Mood," achieved Book of the Month status.

Eiseman has consulted for manufacturers, retailers, and designers on color choices for their new products, logos, interior and exterior designs. Traveling extensively, from Paris runways to interior-home fashion shows such as Heimtextil, she believes it's important to stay ahead of the color curve.

Studies show that more than 60% of buying decisions are based on color. "From the moment we encounter a space, our senses are inundated with the color we see. It's the final message that you take away when you leave," noted Eiseman.

Citing the iMac as an example, Eiseman said today's consumers expect a choice of color and style at every product level even in previously standardized products, such as computers, radiators and trash cans.

Many credit color -- strawberry, lime, blueberry, tangerine and grape -- for iMac's turnaround in sales last year. At the time, Steve Jobs, Apple's founder, said, "For most consumers, color is much more important than the megahertz and gigabytes associated with buying a typical PC."

Even food trends can influence color. The first wave of Latino cuisine that began 10 years ago resulted in salsa red, said Eiseman.

Demographics are also an important consideration when choosing color. An example, avocado, which pervaded every home in the '70s, today is the hot color with teens. "They think it's cool, especially since their parents hate it," said Eiseman.

What is the hot color of the millennium? Last year the Pantone Color Institute announced it was cerulean blue - the color of the sky on a crystal clear day. Blue in various tones has replaced the wildly popular hunter green of the '90s. American Express introduced a blue card, automakers, kitchenware and home textiles manufacturers are emphasizing blue in their product offering.

Of all the color families, blue remains firmly entrenched as the top U.S. color choice, with 35% of the population choosing it as their favorite color. "In the last four years, blue is coming up on top in Europe and Asian markets as well," said Eiseman. "If you manufacture any goods in color, you almost can't go wrong if there is something blue, but particularly now as we transition into the new century," she added.

And for next year, Eiseman predicts turquoise as the hot color.

"I'm often asked where color trends start," she continued. "There is a natural pecking order, and the conventional trickle-down begins with women's fashion first, then men's fashion, then home furnishings, then into products like paper goods and other consumables, eventually into automotive, and finally into all manner of plastics." However, with the Internet and the proliferation of information about color so widespread, this order is changing, said Eiseman. She told manufacturers if they monitor the fashion runways they'll be ahead.

Besides color, choice of material also affects a consumer's product selection. Continuing strong is gold and what was previously called lucite, noted Eiseman. Aged copper is coming on strong, especially for 2001, as is pewter. Brushed chrome and/or stainless, especially in layering of multi-metals, is a hot trend straight out of fashion jewelry design. Pearlescence isn't going away.

"If you're a retailer, it's great to use some pearlescence at point of purchase," Eiseman advises, "because the human eye can't avoid looking at anything with a pearlescent finish. It's a great way to attract attention." Yellow works the same way at retail, she noted, recommending yellow signage to draw the eye to a product display.

Translucence continues as a heavy influence. As for fabrics, sheer treatments are extremely important. Glass is either reminiscent of Depression-ware, or it's sleek and sophisticated -- one extreme or the other. "There's some marvelously interesting and involved glass design out there today," she says. Even more mundane materials are being used in more glamorous applications, such as a freestanding terra-cotta sink bowl.

Eiseman mentioned some societal trends that could impact the direction of color.

Life expectancy has increased 20 to 30 years since the last turn of the century and more people are living active, longer and healthier lives. This has spawned products at every price level, said Eiseman.

During the past two years, 10,000 Americans turned 50 every day. This year, 30% of the population will be age 50 or older. The 50 plus segment is not only growing the fastest in numbers, but in purchasing power as well. As a result, they are simultaneously "excited for the future, yet nostalgic for the past," Eiseman said.

Therefore, interest in revivals will continue. "This is not going away," she noted. "They are watching old movies on AMC, drinking martinis, buying vintage-looking cars. More relevant to the housewares industry, they are using pressure cookers again, mixers and fondue makers. They are even choosing retro plumbing fixtures. Retailers like Restoration Hardware are reinterpreting styles of the past for all generations and at every age level they're loving it."

But these same consumers are also plugging into technologies of the future -- as evidenced by such products as a knit "sweater" for a cellular phone, designed by French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, said Eiseman.

The American Association of Homebuilders says that the most popular look in architecture, even today, is still the Victorian style with wraparound porches and gingerbread trim -- but "they are wired with a full complement of the latest technological conveniences and luxuries." According to Eiseman, home buyers want the best of the past and the present, while the interior decor might be of any period. This aesthetic of new mixed with old is being called "cool fusion."

Interestingly, Eiseman said that 69% of the population agree that our rapid pace of change is good for the future, yet 55% say that the good old days were better than the present. "Fusion is a key word of the future because we're fusing different design periods and want the best of both worlds," Eiseman stated.

And while on-line shopping has increased, many experts feel it will never completely replace the touch-me-feel-me experience of bricks and mortar. "There is peaceful co-existence out there," said Eiseman. "Many people shop to feel good, and others still shop to feel the goods. And still others see shopping as a form of entertainment."

"The two buzzwords for today are 'personalized' and 'customized,"' Eiseman noted. "You can't be myopic - look beyond your own industry to truly see where these influences are coming from." One example is the pocketed influence from Europe, where pockets on curtains can be used to display leaves, flowers, photos and other personalized memorabilia.