Friday, March 16, 2018

International Home + Housewares show: ‘You put it online; if it sells, it sells’

Andy Berger
     The show is so vast, it can go so many ways. For a while, walking around, I thought I had nothing, just a bunch of random images and interviews. Then I decided to focus on dog devices. I only decided to bookend two interviews with 67-year-olds with very different views of the market after I sat down and started working. One funny aspect that I couldn't fit into the story had to do with Andy Berger's company, which I first heard, understandably enough, as "Max's International." After he corrected my error, I asked him if it was named for the Axis powers the United States fought in World War II. No, he said, he never thought of that—he thought his products were the hub the world turned on. He didn't consider the Germany, Japan, Italy definition until after the company was up and running and a lawyer pointed it out to him.

     The baby lay motionless on a green mat. I paused.
     "Brand new," said Andy Berger, owner of Axis International in Des Plaines, hurrying over. "It's remote control."
     The baby was a doll; the mat, designed to soothe fussy infants to sleep, though when Berger tried to demonstrate how it works, it didn't.
     "Might be out of batteries," he said. "A heartbeat sound, and it whooshes."
     Graco this was not. The International Home + Housewares Show at McCormick Place offers everything from huge corporations displaying products known the world over, to plucky entrepreneurs ballyhooing items that might not even be on the market yet.

    While I too scope out the latest — KitchenAid's "Color of the Year" is "Bird of Paradise," the love child of coral and peach — I prefer to excavate the deeper substrata of commerce.
     "I've been doing this 35 years," said Berger, 67. "My biggest hit is that tank-top hanger. Sell 'em by the thousands every week."
     The show, which ended Tuesday, lacked a certain hum.
     "The older I get the slower it seems to get," Berger agreed. "The whole market changed. There's less and less brick and mortars. It's all internet. We do so much business with companies like Amazon, Zulu. You don't even have to talk to them. You put it online; if it sells, it sells. If it doesn't, they don't care. I hardly have to travel anymore."
     That isn't good?
     "You lose that interpersonal touch," he said. "It's all automated. You try to deal with Amazon, they don't talk to anybody."

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  1. Couldn't figure out what tank-top hangers were -- picture that came up in my mind was a toilet tank festooned with doilies. Nor who Graco is? Looked them up, however, and now I know and can kind of understand the popularity of the hangers.


  2. A stellar review of this annual extravaganza. I appreciated the "Bird of Paradise" display photo as well as your description and photo of Jimmie Sit's "impressive pompadour".



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