The home, household goods & services

Recapturing the attention of the Nintendo generation

Forget Barbie dolls and toy trucks - today's children are a tech-savvy generation, on the lookout for the next new thing that can light up, download or connect to their iPod. A steady decline in the market for conventional toys is seeing toy companies struggle to keep up with competition from video game, consumer electronics and computer companies. Toy sales in traditional categories such as stuffed toys and cars fell 4% last year in the US, continuing a slump that's been going on for several years, while sales of video games rose 6%. Even sales of live pets in Britain slumped last year, partly because children are more likely to spend time with the virtual variety. And it's not just for the older children: Fisher-Price is about to release a digital camera designed specifically for three-year olds (promised to be 'drop-resistant') and makers of educational video games are now adapting their products to reach infants as young as nine months. In the face of this competition, some parts of the toy industry have tried to reinvent their products with an electronic component, which can be a gamble. While kids want their own gadgets, research has shown that they'll steer clear of anything that looks too much like a toy and head straight for the real thing.
Ref: Business Week (US), 17 July 2006, 'Tech Toys for Today's Kids', C.Palmieri. See also Richmond Times Dispatch (US), 'American trends: Forget those old toys kids want electronics', G. Robertson.
Search words: toys, children, electronics, computers

A new bottom line

Hoping to make waves in bathroom design, Portuguese company Renova has introduced a line of black toilet paper. The tissue is being tested in some of New York's more popular bars such as Frederick's Bar & Lounge and Esquina. Apparently black was an obvious choice for the company, who wished to create something avant-garde. "In a design sense, black means irreverence, maybe touching a bit on the core nature of art, which is to break down rules and set new ones." But while this may swing in the night spots of Manhattan, can black toilet paper make the transfer to the home environment? Design theorists argue that the shock of black in the bathroom may be too much for some people, most of them wishing to use the bathroom without confrontation.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 20 July 2006, 'Something for the high rollers',
P. Green.
Search words: toilet paper, paper, bathrooms, colour, black

The next big thing in wallpaper

The resurgence of home wallpapering continues, with Paris boutique The Collection announcing the launch of its online store. Promoting the work of designers across Europe, the boutique sells 'wall furnishings' which include hand-screened, embroidered and hand-coloured papers. Wallpaper fell out of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s, with many home-renovators preferring to create feature walls and effects with paint. But contemporary designers are steering clear of the mass-produced repeat patterns that were popular in the 1970s, instead creating impact with large images and creative use of non-traditional materials. Interestingly enough, it's the wallpaper that doesn't look like wallpaper that's proving most popular. It seems that the tromp l'oeil is the flavour of the day, with the biggest-selling design being that of an image of bookshelves.
Ref: Springwise (Neth), 25 July 2006, 'Wallpaper 2.0'., The Guardian (UK), 27 February 2006, 'Wallpaper is back in fashion', C. Cook.
Search words: wallpaper, paper, fashion

Pampered pets

A new global trend sees people spending more money on pets than on childcare or toys. And this spending pattern is expected to continue with the pet-centred family set to become the largest social structure in the next decade. Reports have also indicated that the majority of pet owners are women, and some of the biggest spenders are older females. With a longer life expectancy than their partners, women are facing on average around six years of widowhood, and pets are an obvious way to fill the void. Younger women too are also turning to pets as a source of companionship without the complications that come with human relationships. A closing gap between salaries for men and women, combined with the fact that women are now having children later in life, means young women now have a higher disposable income to spend on their pets. While some may baulk at the thought of splashing out on a diamond-studded dog collar, others look at the benefits that come with a having a furry companion, such as improved health and less stress. And with spending in the industry a direct reflection of the busy lives of the stressed-out Gen Xers, it's a dream come true for those set to make a profit in the market for affection.
Ref: Voyeur magazine (AUS), June 2006, 'What Price Love?', L. Deasey. (no website)
Search words: pets, families, women

Smart meters

Australian energy providers are planning to test a new 'smart' electricity meter, which will pave the way for time-of-use pricing. The meters will allow companies to send and receive information about electricity use, recording not only the amount of power consumed, but the times at which it is used. By raising prices during peak times, providers hope to shape consumer behaviour, smoothing out peaks in demand and eventually helping to reduce greenhouse emissions. On the flipside of this, customers can save money using power at off-peak times, or with the introduction of smart appliances that switch off during peak times. But could this see a rise in the market for consumer-generated power? British Gas is currently trialling a partnership with Windsave to install roof-top turbines, hoping to reduce household power bills up to GB £100 annually. And in the US, Southwest Windpower is raising money for the development of its new 1.8KW turbine. Capable of producing energy in extremely low wind, it will provide a home or small business with up to 100% of its power needs.
Ref: The Australian (Aus), 18 July 2006, 'Smart meter to jolt charges', C. Jenkins. Springwise (Neth), 03 July 2006, 'Consumer generated electricity'.
Search words: energy, wind-power, metering, meters, power