It almost felt like old home week as Gizmo Guy made a mad dash to Chicago last Saturday for the International Home + Housewares Show. Several Philly-regional vendors were in the thick of things, showing new wares at Chicago's giant McCormick Center.
Keeping the edge on. Dan Friel Jr. himself gave me the grand tour of the Chef's Choice booth. "Small electrics" - aka appliances - are in his blood, as dad Dan Friel Sr. founded CC's parent company Edgecraft Corp. in Avondale, Pa. in 1985. "And we still make a lot of our products there," the VP of operations explained.
Chef's Choice easy-to-use knife sharpeners (electric and manual) remain the company's claim to fame, often winning "best of breed" from foodie mags.
"Now we're raising the bar again with the Chef's Choice Ceramic + Steel Diamond Hone Knife Sharpener" ($179.99), Friel touted. "It's the first of its kind to deploy advanced diamond abrasive technology on ceramic as well as metal knives. Until now, you literally had to ship your high-grade Kyocera ceramic knives back to Japan to get them sharpened properly."
Chef's Choice also is responding to "a growing interest among young people in food slicers and meat grinders," which Friel sees as "part of the fresh food movement, like blending your own fruit- and vegetable-based drinks."
His pro-grade slicers are "already huge" with hunters who bring home dinner in mass quantities. Boasting an 81/2-inch blade, CC's new 665 Electric Food Slicer ($199) can handle it all, from deli style cold cuts to slabs of wild elk. (Not the fraternal kind who wear funny hats.)
Electric tea kettles are a big Housewares 2016 trend. Chef's Choice isn't going full-service beverage maker, just yet, but its Smart Kettle quickly heats water, then holds the temp at precisely the right degree for steeping your gourmet tea leaves of choice. Blooming in spring at $99.99.
Flower power. Aaron Krause is a TV pitchman almost as famous as his handy-dandy Scrub Daddy sponges. And the Folcroft-based entrepreneur was beaming like a new papa as he held court and showed off new variations in a show booth and hall zone devoted to "As seen on Shark Tank" and all backed by Lori Greiner.
Take, please, Krause's recently launched Scrub Mommy. Likewise round and smiley faced, but a split personality with temperature-sensitive "thermochromic polyurethane" (like Scrub Daddy) on one side and softer foam on the other, which produces prodigious amounts of suds.
"On our recent, first day of sales, we sold in excess of two million units on QVC," Krauss shared. Later it came out that this multiplicity of Mommys were boxed in quantities of twenty. So the sales bonanza represented 100,000 orders. Still, at $27.50 a set, nothing to sneeze about.
Not incidentally, Krause credits a 2011 Inquirer Business section profile by Diane Mastrull with getting him onto QVC, then Shark Tank. And recently he starred on the premiere episode of Beyond the Shark Tank, where the inventor and his round sponge pal were touted as the biggest-ever ST success.
So "for the Inquirer," the inventor felt compelled to pull out a 3D printer-made prototype to preview "the biggest game changer in cleaning since Scrub Daddy."
Coming soon, it's Scrub Daisy, a flower-shaped and smiley-faced thermochromic sponge at the business end of a long, hollow handle/dispenser you fill with liquid soap. When not swabbing out bottles and such, Scrub Daisy will decoratively sit sink-side in a matching vase secured at the bottom with a suction cup. Also due in Sunflower and Hyacinth (my favorite) shaped heads, devotees will pay $19.95. Just for one.
Be fruitful and multiply. A year ago, Princeton-based Sondpex Electronics had just one notable product to tout at the housewares show: KoolMax. It's a 40-quart-capacity beverage and food cooler on steroids (and wheels), with an integrated Bluetooth PA sound system and power station, now selling for $279 at Amazon. Loud and proud, beach- or pool-side ready, the thing has an on-board radio tuner, MP3 player, even a jack for plugging in a microphone or guitar.
Sondpex has been fruitful and multiplying, though. At this year's trade show, vice president Chuck Chen and national sales director Tony Baselice also showed me the SoundLamp, an LED Light Bulb with built-in Bluetooth speaker you can wirelessly link in groups of up to six bulbs, all playing the same music stream. It puts out the same illumination as a 60 watt incandescent bulb while consuming just 7 watts, and is good for 10,000 hours use. A box of four SoundLamps can take your high hat fixtures higher for about $100.
Jumping on another looming craze, Chen also previewed a prototype of Fold & Zip, a foldable electric scooter akin to the crop that turned heads at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
The thing packs down tight enough to stash in a coat closet. (Does that make it housewares show appropriate?)
When opened, the ride is still squat but beefy, holding up to 400 pounds of humanity and running 40 miles a charge at speeds up to 20 miles an hour.
While boasting a rare night light and Bluetooth speaker, too, the big diff is the price. Other, made-in-U.S. scooters are selling for $1,500 and up. This Far East export will retail "between $500 and $600, depending on where we source the battery pack," said Chen. His "instinct" is to opt for "a pricey, more reliable" Samsung battery.