CHICAGO – The $268 billion global housewares industry played up the comforts of home this week with a host of cooking and cleaning aids, personal massagers and a clock that chimes with sounds from the open road and the forest.
With travel-weary Americans said to be attending to their "nesting" instincts, the home products industry's largest annual convention in Chicago offered entrepreneurs such as Lisa Scott and her parents the perfect venue for their invention.
"We all cook and we like to barbecue, and got tired of getting burned and having oven mitts catch on fire," Scott said, explaining the origins of her "Heat Stopper" oven mitt.
The Scott family scoured companies around the globe and finally located just the right metallic material -- a trade secret that is "used by astronauts," they said -- that can withstand direct exposure to flame. Eventually, the Decatur, Alabama, family hoped to expand from oven mitts, which retail from $30 to $50 each, to fireproof suits and protective gear for fire fighters.
In the category of baby safety, Joan Greenberg and husband Peter Listro have tapped the minds of several inventors, including a nurse, to create products for baby that range from a $50 birthing kit if mom doesn't make it to the hospital to their $100 "Movement and Sound Monitor." The latter has a sensing board that fits under baby's mattress and sounds an alarm if it detects no movement for 20 seconds.
Greenberg said they have received scores of grateful letters and e-mails from buyers who claim the product was a life-saver.
"One woman said her alarm went off six or seven times a night but the doctor couldn't find anything wrong. Finally, the baby was diagnosed with sleep apnea," Greenberg said. A nervous New York policeman with triplets bought three, she said.
Many of the 1,750 exhibitors at the convention showcased products that featured slight twists on old ideas and reinvented timeworn products ranging from shower heads to massagers, clocks, and even the common rag.
The "Alky" from Brozzi SRL of Mantova, Italy, is a "very high-tech" piece of micro-fiber cloth that a quick demonstration showed required just a little water to clean greasy handprints off a glass table.
"It's the fineness of the strands themselves that accounts for its absorbency," said Tim Myer, when asked to explain why consumers might want to pay $8 to $11 for what amounts to a fancy rag. The Alky is machine washable.
Mark Feldstein, a tinkerer and inventor with his own multimillion-dollar company selling clocks, toys and radios, began with a bird clock that chimes different bird calls -- each one pictured on the face -- on the hour.
"We look and see if something is missing from a product," then target a mid-range price with Feldstein's version, said Rick Osgood while his boss entertained buyers from a major midwestern department store chain.
For the bird clock that retails for about $50, the recorded calls came from Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology. A "Harley-Davidson" clock featured the distinctive roars from the motorcycle recorded on an Ohio highway. The firm's latest wall clock can be outfitted with personal photographs with five-second recorded messages to match.
Amid an explosion of home massage products, Frank Reich of Custom Calculations Inc. of North Miami, Florida, said he believed he had a vibrating device for every consumer. A vibrating black glove -- which offered a powerful jolt -- sold for $60, and one that slid onto a single finger sold for $20.
"These will provide deep happiness, deep pleasure," Reich said with a smile.
Representatives for Panasonic, a unit of Japan's Matsushita Electric Industry Co., said they offered the best in massage chairs, the $350 Body FX, which translates the rhythmic beat from your compact disc into a massage.
For those wanting to get back on their feet and into the kitchen, French-based Demarle Inc. offered a line of bakeware that is completely flexible.
Inventor-engineer Guy Demarle began with a special non-stick tray designed for France's bread bakers who were forbidden from adding fat to their famed loaves.
Made from fiberglass with a silicone layer bonded to it, the non-stick, non-greasy baking trays can be used in the oven or the freezer, with the collapsible material allowing your creation to be easily popped free for eating, or tossed out.