CHICAGO -- Attendees at last month's International Housewares Expo at McCormick Place here were treated to a rich array of business technology.
Centerpiece of the message was the National Housewares Manufacturers Association's Technology Pavilion, a multifaceted exhibit that show organizers created for the approximately 57,000 visitors to the four-day expo, Jan. 14 to 17.
"Technology is critical to doing business in the 1990s," said Chris Marti, director of finance and administration for NHMA, Rosemont, Ill. Some goals of the services demonstrated at the exhibit, he said, were to "bridge the retailer-manufacturer communications gap, take costs out of the distribution chain and better serve customers."
The NHMA Pavilion showcased three technology-based services being introduced this year by the association: a value-added network, an electronic bulletin board and assistance with electronic data interchange.
NHMA has targeted all three as critical skill sets that companies in the $54.4 billion housewares industry must adopt in order to maintain parity with other manufacturing communities serving the mass retailing channels. At many retailers, participation in activities such as EDI may be the price of continued admission to the game, it was said.
The NHMA Technology Council spearheaded the formation of the association's VAN last August. The network, operated under contract by General Electric Information Systems, is designed to ease EDI communications between member manufacturers and retailers by lowering entry costs and providing technical assistance.
Retailers' EDI demands came as somewhat of a shock to many housewares manufacturers, said Sandy Geiselman, vice president of logistics for Pfaltzgraff Co. and a member of the Technology Council. "We were dragged into EDI sooner than we would have liked," she said. "One day a major customer told us that they would no longer do business with any vendor that was not EDI-capable. In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened to us."
Similar pressures have motivated some 270 NHMA companies to sign up with the VAN, spending an aggregate of $75,000 per month in fees for the service, according to NHMA. At these volume levels, the companies obtain a 15% discount on VAN costs, a discount the association anticipates will swell to 25% by year-end 1996, based on a projected monthly volume of $100,000-plus.
NHMA also introduced a new computer bulletin board service at the Technology Pavilion. According to Thomas Conley, executive director, BBS will charge member companies a $199 per month subscription fee, with access through the CompuServe online service.
Live demonstrations of BBS, called Marketplace @ccess, ran hourly throughout the Pavilion during the Housewares Show. It is designed to allow manufacturers to post product information that retail buyers can then access. Other features include world wide e-mail, access to Internet sources of market data and NHMA and trade show information.
NHMA's investment in BBS is relatively modest, Conley said, so it should break even at about 400 subscribers.
At the show, the association also provided more details on its planned syndicated point-of-sale data program, which it announced last summer. Being developed jointly with A.C. Nielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., its goal is "to move the housewares industry to the forefront of information-based sales and marketing," NHMA said.
The program would use Nielsen's ScanTrack POS scanner data captured from the food, drug and mass channels to provide housewares manufacturers with an information tool that should compare with what is now available to brand marketers in the food business.
The POS program would use retail scanning information to provide data on monthly consumer takeaway of products at the Universal Product Code level. Applications would allow users to analyze the data relative to competition, measure response to in-store promotions, and assess trends across a broad array of housewares categories and retail channels.
The NHMA Technology Council, which also provides a mentor program to help EDI newcomers, ran a series of roundtable discussions on electronic commerce during the show.