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NEW YORK-Until a handful of tabletop companies actually entered people's homes and watched how and where families ate and how they related to each other, industry executives thought they knew everything they needed to know about their consumers.

They were wrong. During the National Tabletop & Giftware Association 1998 Fall Executive Conference, to be held in New York this week, representatives from eight tabletop companies will discuss what they learned from traveling across America and learning how people really live.

This is the first time such research has been done in the tabletop industry, although the technique is widely used in the food and auto industries, said Marsha Everton, vice president of stores and direct marketing for the Pfaltzgraff Co., and leader of the in-house consumer research team. Kimberly-Clark developed a $500 million diaper market using this type of consumer research.

"We consider this research to be a breakthrough in the industry," Everton continued.

The two cultural anthropologists who guided the team's research were fascinated that eight competitors could work together on future opportunities in the industry, Everton said. The team included members from Lenox, Libbey, Noritake, Oneida, Reed & Barton, Rosenthal and Royal Doulton, as well as Pfaltzgraff.

The research is also considered revolutionary, according to Everton, because it explores consumers' wants and needs that consumers themselves may not even realize they have.

Researchers received funds from Bridal Guide, Crystal Clear, Arc International, Elegant Bride, Modern Bride, Food & Wine and Mikasa.

The researchers, assisted by cultural anthropologists Barbara Perry and Karen Anne Zien, were looking for key themes that would change the way tabletop companies view their customers. Everton declined to discuss the specific themes.

Dr. Perry has worked with Fortune 500 companies in strategic planning. Zien has 25 years of experience working with international corportations. In 1996 she co-founded the Creativity & Innovation Lab in Cambridge, Mass.

"In some way, tabletop products are the artifacts," Everton said. "What we're trying to do is study the context in which the artifacts are used." She said the method the team used was a "hot technique" in the world of research and would supplement statistical data.

The team spent three months this summer visiting families in the United States from a variety of geographical, racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. "We were looking for stories -- how people eat at home, what their rituals are like," said Everton.

Results of the study will be presented during the second day of the conference, to help the tabletop industry increase sales and improve customer satisfaction.

The overriding theme of the conference, which will be held Sept. 16 and 17 at the Millennium Hotel in New York City, is brand impact. "The whole world of brands is shifting dramatically, and lifestyles are shifting dramatically," said Everton, chairwoman of the conference. The conference will address where these two issues intersect and what that means to the tabletop industry.
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Author:Zisko, Allison
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Sep 14, 1998

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