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At any given moment of the day, market research companies can produce highly detailed share information for cans of pineapple. When it comes to shoe polish, however, they draw a blank.

Marketers of food and health & beauty aids have spent years cultivating mutually lucrative relationships with providers of scanner data. Now, purveyors of such household goods as lint brushes, vacuum cleaners and coffee pots are hoping to define their positions in the marketplace using sales data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

Unlike their much larger counterparts in the package-goods industry, most marketers of household goods have been unable to afford scanner data until now, said Douglas Taeckens, president of Flint, Mich.-based Helmac Products Corp. The clothing-care products marketer is one of the first to sign on with IRI.

"The benefits will be different for every member, but everybody will be able to analyze how the whole category is doing," said Thomas P. Conley, executive director and chief operating officer of the National Housewares Manufacturers Association. "Manufacturers can use this information to prevent out-of-stocks, to plan line extensions and to make sales pitches to retailers."

The new agreement benefits both parties; association members receive discounts on their scanner data, and IRI gains prominent positioning in a largely untapped market, estimated at $50.4 billion in 1992 by the trade group.

Although IRI rival Nielsen Marketing Research already tracks some household goods data, the association chose IRI to help create an industry standard for market share data.

Two years ago, Nielsen began tracking sales data for household goods marketers Corning and Ekco Housewares. In March, Nielsen signed a deal with the School & Home Office Products Association to provide scanner data to school supplies, stationery and home office equipment marketers.

Mr. Conley estimated 80% to 90% of household goods are sold by retailers with scanners. Of particular importance are mass merchandise retailers like Wal-Mart Stores, Kmart Corp. and Target Stores, who sell the vast majority of household products.

To date, Helmac, Black & Decker Corp., Mr. Coffee and Hoover Co. have signed two-year contracts with IRI for monthly or quarterly data, Mr. Conley said.

IRI will provide marketers with store-by-store data from certain retail chains and sample data from others. Sample data will be measured by estimating sales for an entire chain based on figures from a percentage of individual stores.

"What's really neat about the IRI data is they bring us closer to the package-goods world, where we can understand the reality of where our business is, instead of where we think it is," said Carol Dores, director of consumer development at Black & Decker.

The association's immediate priority is establishing 19 initial product categories. Whether IRI tracks sales of shoecare products or electric mixers depends on the input of members, and those who sign up early get first crack at creating categories.

Although the housewares industry distributes far fewer coupons than the package-goods business, Mr. Taeckens of Helmac said his company runs enough promotions to make monthly sales data analysis worthwhile.

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