Thursday, January 30, 2003

Spending on home is sweet


Fix-up business booming

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] At the newly renamed Inspired Interiors by Globe store in Over-the-Rhine, Bryan Holland (left) of Holland Communications confers Wednesday with sales consultant Janet Lieberman and owner Peter Levick.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
In a suffering economy that has consumers staying home, businesses like Phil Schrimper's reap the benefits.

Schrimper's JP Flooring Systems Inc. in West Chester saw its sales shoot up 13 percent to $27 million in 2002. A year ago, he predicted that a recession and a war on terrorism meant he would be lucky to keep business level.

"People are definitely wanting to invest in their homes," he said. "That's what has really kept the economy going."

JP Flooring is not alone. All across the economy, companies that deal in home-related industries are performing better than many of their peers in manufacturing, technology and retail.

Low interest rates and a healthy housing market have helped. But others say a post-Sept. 11 trend of consumers wanting to stay close to home might continue, meaning even more growth and business for that segment of the economy.

Home shows like the Kentucky Home Products Expo, which starts today at the Northern Kentucky Regional Convention Center in Covington, and the Cincinnati Home & Garden Show starting Feb. 8 at Cincinnati's downtown convention center, are symbols of that trend.

"I think it will last," said Pat Lohse, marketing director of Clopay Building Products Inc. in Mason. "People are just taking a greater interest in their homes."

In Greater Cincinnati, with its strong marketing and advertising industry, the effect could be even bigger. Many marketing firms are establishing a clear focus on the home-related industries, hoping it will bring in more clients and create a new growth arm after a sluggish couple of years.

When consumers stay home because they don't want to spend money at stores and restaurants, they might end up spending the same money somewhere else.

At Holland Communications downtown, about one-third of the firm's $12 million in total billings comes from home-related accounts. While Holland also offers business-to-business and other services, its new home-related clients include JP Flooring and Globe Furniture Galleries, now renamed Inspired Interiors by Globe.

Globe owner Peter Levick said revenue growth has been slow, and though profits have slowed, the company still is making money. In January, sales were about 25 percent better than the same period last year, he said, and a Holland-designed campaign has created a new slogan, "Your Home, Your Way."The campaign has even spread to the company's Internet site, now www.yourhomeyourway.com.

"As far as what we're seeing, things are getting better," Levick said.

Across town at Northlich, the Tristate's biggest advertising agency, clients within the past year include Clopay, Jacuzzi hot tubs and Calphalon cookware.

"We've got critical mass in the category," said Julia Arosteguy, vice president at Northlich. "The housing marketing is stable, and post 9-11 it plays into that demographic. People are staying home."

Northlich's work with Clopay includes trying to make the company's signature garage doors as "not just a utility, but as an accent," Lohse said. Its "Reserve Collection" features accented doors, and it displayed those products at the recent national homebuilders show in Las Vegas.

Sam Presnell, owner of the Rug Gallery, which operates stores in Montgomery, Blue Ash and West Chester, said sales have been flat most of the last year. Another Holland client, it still is investing in marketing and advertising, hoping to gain market share before the economy improves.

"I think we've done OK, but now is the time you've got to be out there (advertising)," Presnell said. "If you play dead now, you might not be able to get back up for the recovery."

E-mail cpeale@enquirer.com



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