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Tea-Related Tabletop Trends (Cont.)

Popular tabletop is embodied by contemporary lifestyle merchandise, according to Mary Binder, a buyer for Kitchen Etc. in Exeter, New Hampshire. She also agrees that mainstay traditional goods continue to hold their own in the marketplace thanks to less expensive knock-offs (i.e., sturdy glazed stoneware is just right for the budget-minded tea lover).

Consumers are changing their décor by adding or changing small accent pieces, home textiles, wall décor and other decorative items rather than large pieces of furniture, according to the International Housewares Association (IHA). Many of these are "feel-good" impulse purchases, so price point matters. While the traditional furniture industry is struggling with the new fashion focus in home, the gifts industry is benefiting greatly from this trend, according to Pam Danziger of Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing. This perception is transferable to the tea-related tabletop. For example, the use of toile -- the French all-over transfer pattern so prevalent in fabric and interior design -- is part of the offerings of Allison's Tea Belles and Doodahs of Montrose, Ala. A non-traditional line using the toile pattern is an array of teacup nightlights -- actual vintage teacups that have been cut "by hand." These teacups mingle opulent toiles and the classic appeal of English country chintz (in robin's egg blue, moss green and rose pink). Housewares retailers can easily merchandise these vintage-style reproductions alongside actual china pattern teacups.

Eiseman also forecasts the coming of more coppers and warm brown tones as well as trends in multitextural surfaces such as slick metallics combined with organic surfaces and cool and warm surfaces combined (chrome and copper, silver and gold, copper and brass). Such color predictions are positive influences and sales tools for Kavalier Glassworks of North America, Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill. The firm is known for glassware from the Czech Republic that includes a complete 11-piece classic tea service in blue for everyday use as well as for special occasions. "There is a growing trend for more color and presentation with glass. It can fit any décor," says Jim Wills, national sales manager. "The glassware is safe for use on the stovetop or in the microwave, and the heat-resistant glass is dishwasher safe."

Eiseman notes that as we looked toward a new millennium, technology and futuristic elements came into play in the world of design. "Metallic influence was also extremely strong to the consumer mindset, which we'll see continue into the future." Kavalier has been instrumental in integrating a technology invented by the space program as a coating for glass to maintain the sheen on metallic teapots. Titanium teapot colors include gold and silver. These items are not designed for microwave use.

Another color schematic for Kavalier teapots is the pastel palate - a throwback to vintage 1950 color schemes. The product is designed so the consumer can see the water boiling within. Eiseman stresses the importance of design and color themes tied to vintage, nostalgia, heritage and tradition, "Things that give a sense of connectedness. This will have an effect on consumers who are expressing a need to feel connected, who are at home more, who are entertaining at home. They want a refuge; they want to feel comforted and secure. There is that psychological connection to the past. These are important influences."

The specialty retail industry is a mature industry. If you are the designer or maker of a tea-related housewares product you intend to sell in the U.S. market, you need to study and evaluate just how significant product and related trends are to your potential success. If you are a retailer - follow the lead of other industries while seeking out products that offer consumers functionality, beauty and popular appeal.

Tea & Coffee - October/November 2002

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