feature story

the
  simple
life

The latest trends in gifts and home décor show that consumers continue to seek ways to escape the daily stresses in their lives.

by Chris Gigley


When it comes to the latest giftware and decorative accessories, fresh, clean and natural are in. Consider a few of the latest color trends hitting the gift and home décor markets. Quinn Halford, editor-in-chief of Gifts and Decorative Accessories magazine, says brighter versions of color are coming into vogue.
According to a survey of product manufacturers and retailers that his magazine conducted late last year, 67 percent of respondents thought the popularity of bright colors would increase in 2005. “Green, especially springlike light greens, leads in our survey of colors for 2005,” says Mr. Halford.
The same is true for blue. Becky Boswell Smith, editor-in-chief of Home Accents Today, says the latest version of blue that designers are clamoring for is a “spa” blue or “robin’s-egg” blue. “Blue continues to be America’s favorite color,” she says. “But it’s the brightness and clarity of [robin’s-egg blue] that make it popular.”
At the same time, earth tones are coming back into play with product and interior designers. Ms. Smith says a deep chocolate brown is becoming the newest neutral in home décor. It’s especially popular paired with the robin’s-egg blue.
Ms. Smith and Mr. Halford cite a third color that is on trend—coral. Again, there is a tie to nature. Ms. Smith says the latest versions of coral to hit the gift and décor markets are toned-down hues more closely resembling actual coral.

outdoor décor
All these natural colors make sense given consumers are spending more of their leisure time outdoors. The ongoing cocooning trend cited nearly a decade ago has spurred an outdoor living trend.
“Outdoor entertaining is very big,” says Mr. Halford. “More consumers are melding indoor/outdoor décor and activities into one.”
This trend is best reflected by the growing popularity of outdoor rooms, which are indoorlike room settings created on a patio, deck or porch. An increasing number of fashionable lamps, rugs, furniture, wall hangings and other items are reaching the market to meet the demand. These items look worthy of being placed indoors but are durable enough to withstand the weather.
Ms. Smith adds that more consumers are building outdoor shelters, gazebos and other structures in their yards. More consumers also are buying garden statuary. “Part of the reason statues are becoming big is they give a backyard or patio a distinctive personality,” she says.
In the garden, Ms. Smith says bird-related products, from birdbaths to birdhouses, continue to be strong. And Mr. Halford adds that more consumers are opting for garden décor that exhibits a simple elegance.
“No more over the top,” he says. “Less is more. Consumers are trying to get away from clutter even in the garden.”

collectibles
The resistance to clutter is, perhaps, the main reason the collectibles market continues to wane. The “Home Report 2004,” the results of a survey of 1,000 home furnishings buyers conducted by Unity Marketing, a marketing consulting firm in Stevens, Pa., revealed that the collectibles market has declined by 45 percent since its high of $7.1 billion in retail sales in 2000 to just $3.9 billion in 2003.
“Younger consumers aren’t into collecting in the way their mothers did,” says Mr. Halford. “They’ve moved to simplified, uncluttered lives that leave no room for ‘dustables.’ The classics, such as Lladro, Royal Doulton and Herend, however, still vie for attention.” Enesco Group and Boyd’s Collections also still have presences in the market, but they, like the market itself, have been greatly reduced.

the baby-boomer effect
Like collectibles, the Red Hat Society license is another part of the gift market of which florists should be careful. Neither Ms. Smith nor Mr. Halford give it much credence as a sales driver.
“It’s very niche and regional oriented,” says Mr. Halford. “And there’s not very exciting product on the market.”
Not that the market isn’t full of it. But what is more significant is why the license blipped on the trend radar at all, Ms. Smith questions. “What it’s reflective of is that even as they age, baby boomers are still the most influential group we have in the country,” she says.
As more baby boomers continue to hit retirement age, the gift market has responded with an array of nostalgia themes and designs that have debuted at the wholesale gift markets during the past five to eight years. What is new is the collision of traditional, nostalgic themes with contemporary looks.
Ms. Smith, in fact, calls the type of contemporary design that is currently popular “a warm and friendly, more comfortable kind of contemporary.” In fact, it is simply a fusion of traditional and contemporary. “I believe we’ll see a lot of new classics, with designers taking traditional looks and lines and cleaning them up,” explains Ms. Smith.

candles and home fragrances
What is driving the “comfortable contemporary” trend is the same force leading more consumers into their gardens and compelling more of them to set up outdoor rooms and shun collecting: Consumers want simpler lives, and they want to be soothed.
This desire is why candles remain one of the biggest categories in gifts and home décor. It is now part of a broader category called “home fragrance,” which encompasses room sprays and other air fresheners such as plug-ins, diffusers, scent disks, bed linen sprays, car and closet fresheners, essential oils, potpourris and incense.
“While scented candles continue to be the first choice for home fragrance, it’s the expanding range of other products that is growing the overall market,” explains Pamela Danziger, president of Unity Marketing. “The candle market has leveled at a market penetration of two-thirds of American households, with retail sales of nearly $3 billion. Overall, however, the home fragrance products market, including candles, reached $8.3 billion in 2004, an increase of nearly 14 percent over 2003 sales of $7.3 billion,” she concludes.
The dynamic growth in the home fragrance market is fueled by 80 percent of American adults (that’s four out of five) who purchase products, including scented candles, to make their homes smell good. “The most profound shift that has occurred is that having a pleasant-smelling home is not just for special occasions anymore,” Ms. Danziger says. “People want their homes to be nicely fragranced everyday and throughout the house. Buying and using home fragrance products, which used to be an occasional luxury, is becoming an everyday necessity for more Americans.”
Although the candle market has plateaued for now, candle manufacturers are not sitting idly by, and innovation is coming fast and furious, most notably soy candles, as we reported last year; wax “lanterns”; large and decorative candles; and beautifully packaged candles. “Indoors, candles are becoming décor pieces in themselves,” says Mr. Halford, “and we’re also seeing a lot of indoor/outdoor tea lights, floating candles and lanterns.”
Ms. Smith adds that she’s not seeing a lot of jar candles coming onto the market today and that candle companies have become more sophisticated with their packaging. “Some are spending as much energy on packaging as they are on the candles themselves,” she says.
Despite the static nature of recent candle sales, the exciting growth in the overall home fragrances market seems destined to be sustained, according to a survey of 954 home fragrance customers conducted last February by Unity Marketing. Here are the key findings:
Women aged 25 to 34 years are the prime market for home fragrance. While the typical consumer spends $266 per year on all home fragrance products, women 25 to 34 years of age spend an average of $340 per year, almost 28 percent more. They are active shoppers in all areas of home fragrance products, including candles and candle accessories.
Candles and home fragrances are luxuries for the masses. Spending on candles and other home fragrance products cuts equally across all income segments. Even the lowest income households participate actively in the home fragrance market.
Trends for growth in 2005 and 2006 are especially strong for home fragrance products. While candles will continue to be consumers’ first choice for home fragrance, the category of other home fragrance products is expected to post the strongest growth over the next two years. Twenty percent of all consumers and a higher percentage of the high-spending 25-to-34-year-old females expect to spend more on home fragrance products in the coming year.

Chris Gigley is an author, speaker and freelance writer who has covered the gift and stationery market for nine years as an industry editor-in-chief. He lives in Greensboro, N.C., with his wife and two daughters.



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