We spent time with Brendan Bauer, co-president and co-founder, to hear about how Grand Fusion Housewares was established. This first-time exhibitor will premier its varied product lines at the 2018 International Home + Housewares Show in booth N8533 in Discover Design.
Brendan, tell us about how/year your company was founded.
Grand Fusion Housewares, Inc. was founded in May 2015 by Brendan Bauer, Hilton Blieden and Della Ou. The three of us worked together previously at another successful housewares company. We had a lot of fun working together and we all specialize in functional areas of the business that complement each other. I handle sales and marketing and Hilton is our operations and finance expert. Della has strong relationships in China and handles product development and logistics. We felt there were opportunities to bring innovation and design flair to some stale product categories. We started Grand Fusion Housewares to leverage that strategic vision.
Where is your company based? Is your creativity influenced by your local landscape?
Grand Fusion Housewares is based in Irvine, Calif., with a warehouse in San Diego. We started the business with a focus on products and categories we are personally passionate about. We create a family of brands under the Grand Fusion umbrella. For example, Travel Fusion™ is our brand for a new travel line. Liquid Fusion® is for hydration and entertaining. Our pet products are sold under the Fuzzy Fusion® brand, and Pure Zen® is our brand for health and beauty products. Our kitchen and storage products sell under the main Grand Fusion Housewares® brand.
When we first started the business in 2016, we traveled to a lot of international trade shows to find inspiration. We found some strong factory partners with great innovation and design capability. Many of these partners were doing substantial business in the European market but needed a partner to launch in the U.S. Those partnerships gave us our foundation for the business.
Now that we have a solid core of suppliers, we’ve started to develop relationships with several talented inventors and product designers. We work closely with them to identify specific products we want to launch. We help with functional ideas, quality and cost goals so that our items can be sold at attractive price points. Our design partners take it from there. We’ve been fortunate to find some highly creative people who are helping us launch some very exciting products.
Was there a pivotal event or product that propelled the early success of your business?
We’ve been fortunate that a few key buyers from leading retail chains have been nice enough to vet some of our initial concepts before we placed our first orders. That helped us establish a core product line that’s generating enough income for us to rapidly invest in more new products.
Our first big product success has been the Stow-N-Go Portable Luggage System®, a patented three-tiered hanging luggage organizer that makes packing and unpacking quick and easy. Stow-N-Go saves up to 30 percent of the space in your suitcase while keeping clothing secure and wrinkle-free. It fits in any standard size carry-on bag 20 inches or larger and has a zippered storage compartment at the bottom for dirty clothes. Larger and smaller versions are available too and it comes in three colors. It’s selling very well on dot.com, flash sites and catalogs. A major chain is testing it and we’re picking up more brick and mortar retail distribution at a rapid pace. We’re launching a premium version of Stow-N-Go in a new gray poly-linen fabric on QVC in January 2018.
When did you first visit our Show?
I’ve personally helped launch two other businesses at the IHA Show and have been exhibiting since 1997. It’s still the best opportunity out there for a new vendor to get in front of key industry buyers. And, you can’t beat the value IHA delivers as a trade association overall. As a new supplier; we take advantage of IHA’s freight discounts and we are also regular attendees of our local CORE group which works as a small business round table.
Where do you find inspiration when designing new products?
We focus on products that appeal to our small team (me, Della, and Hilton). We often find inspiration in completely unrelated product categories such as consumer electronics or new home design where more sophisticated suppliers are setting trends with new materials and colors.
Are there any specific designers, places or eras that influence you?
We can’t take credit for the designs. We work with some amazing factories. And, we lean heavily on one of our key design partners who we are hoping to bring into the company in a more substantial role as our company grows. He’s leading the charge on some of our most exciting new item launches for 2018.
How do you choose which idea to take to product development?
Our team has broad experience in a variety of product categories and we use that tribal knowledge to guide our new product focus. We try to identify high volume product opportunities where we think there’s an opportunity to take an existing item and make it better through design, finish, packaging or functional improvements.
How do you identify the key user audience for your products?
We start first with products that appeal to us. We then vet those ideas with a broader audience of friends, families and retail buyers before we pull the trigger on a new idea.
Is there an approach or look that joins the functionality, form or emotional appeal of your product line?
Our lead designer has a very simple and innovative design style that we really love. You’re going to see a lot of his design language in our Travel Fusion™ product line. We’re going to take some basic core travel items and make them more modern, fashionable and exciting. He’s also working on some cool projects for us in the entertainment category where you’ll see his influence carry over.
How do new technologies influence your product design?
Most of our factories are using 3-D printing to vet the fit and finish of new products before we finalize tooling. But, we’re not doing anything beyond that. We’re pretty old school in our approach to new product development and like to keep things close to the vest until we’re ready to launch.
How do you use social media?
We manage our own website, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Hilton’s daughter does a nice job with Facebook and Pinterest posts while she’s going to college. We also work with a great PR firm and we’ve had some big social media hits for Stow-N-Go from traditional media and the blogger community. Some of the highlights include Bustle, Travel Weekly, Real Simple and some television coverage in various regional markets. And, blogger support has been phenomenal.
How do you see design’s importance in our industry as it moves forward?
Innovative design is critically important if you want to build a brand that resonates with consumers.
Can you give us a preview of what you will be showing in your booth in Discover Design?
Icy Bev Kooler® – We will be debuting two different versions of this stainless-steel bottle insulator which insulates and protects most common beer bottle sizes. The product is great for the beach, pools and tailgating. The next generation version will function as both a bottle insulator and a can insulator with all the other bells and whistles of the original.
Stow-N-Go® Version 2.0 – We will preview a patent pending new version of the product. Innovative new features include a sliding hook mechanism that will work on a closet rod or the back of a door and some integrated zippered storage pouches for jewelry and personal items.
Electronic Travel Organizer – This is a hard-shell travel organizer with a wall of flexible elastic bands inside to organize cords and charging cables. It has built-in pockets for a smart phone, battery charger, mouse, credit cards and even a small tablet. And, it includes a clever design feature that allows you to turn it into a charging station.
Telescoping Squeegee – This premium quality squeegee has a stainless body, premium quality silicone blade and a telescoping handle that extends from 14” to 23.5” when fully extended. The design is very simple and elegant and it’s a functional improvement compared to bath squeegees currently on the market.
Can Spatula – This is a patented new product we developed with an inventor partner. It’s got a flexible blade that touches both sides of a soup can at the same time to cleanly remove every drop of the food inside.
Clean Hands Poop Scoop™ – This is a patented new product designed for pet owners who walk their dogs and need an easy way to clean up their mess. Its expanding silicone scoop folds flat for compact storage and easy carrying and has a waste bag dispenser built into the handle that holds standard bag refill rolls. The compact design also takes less space on a retail store shelf than other products.
Thank you. Brendan, for telling us this remarkable story of your rapid development as a new company with so many products. And thank you for your kind words about IHA’s services and operations! We look forward to your seeing your first presentation in Discover Design booth N8533.
Discover Design is the premier destination at the International Home + Housewares Show for trend spotters who make design their priority. Retailers looking for the unique will find nearly 200 design leaders at Discover Design located at the front of the North Hall.
Anchored by renowned brands such as Alessi, Cookut, Joseph Joseph and Koziol, Discover Design welcomes new exhibitors, such as Witloft Bv, Ritzenhoff and Sovaro Coolers, and introduces 11 emerging companies in the Design Debut incubator. Additional fresh offerings from veteran design-focused exhibitors such as Kikkerland, French Bull and Magisso will also inspire your choices for the coming year. Find more information on Discover Design exhibitors here.