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Monday, November 2, 2009


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NEW YORK-A hot summer over most of the nation melted much of the inventory glut afflicting seasonal comfort appliances. But there's also evidence that sell-through could have been better than it was.

Air conditioners generally moved better than fans. Dehumidifiers also performed well. Broadly speaking, the results were mixed.

Typically, after a cool or wet summer generates a high carryover of product -- which happened in 2003 and 2004 -- the best that can be expected is a good season that enables retailers to sell down their inventories and give vendors a chance to start from a neutral position the following year.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers disseminates limited data for home environment. AHAM's latest statistics showed shipments in air treatment declined over seven months this year. That's because these numbers cover air cleaners, heaters and humidifiers, but not fans.

The total through July was 2,255,953 units, down 15 percent. After three months of increases, putting the accumulation through April up fractionally, May through July registered significant double-digit declines. And those were against uninspiring numbers: The year-to-date figure in July 2004 was off 28.1 percent, and calendar 2004 fell 42 percent to 8,662,215 units.

Opening price points for comfort appliances are under unrelenting pressure, even if they do not contribute to profits. However, the demand for added features remains strong.

Tower fans and heaters from Hunter, Lasko, WindChaser and others show no sign of lessened popularity. They're sleek and stylish in metallic or woodgrain finishes. Remote controls and digital readouts are demanded conveniences.

De'Longhi, a pioneer in bringing retro designs to market, has increased its SKUs in home comfort. Hunter developed a collection of old-fashioned table fans.

Vornado celebrated its 60th anniversary by reintroducing its original VornadoFan, complete with 1940s packaging concepts. Taking a different approach, Wachsmuth & Krogmann put the Crane brand on six humidifiers shaped like animals.

Consolidation has been as much a fact of life in this industry as any. Recent years have seen Kaz buy the Honeywell operation, Royal Appliance pick up Medisana and Essick Air acquire the Bemis division.

This year's events were notable. Jarden took over American Household and then added Holmes. That increased corporate sales more than $1 billion and moved Sunbeam, First Alert, Holmes, Bionaire and Patton into the Jarden stable.

Applica dropped out voluntarily. After four years in heaters and three in fans, the troubled company said it would phase out comfort appliances to focus on core kitchen appliances.

There were additions as well. Salton jumped into the home environment category at the International Home & Housewares Show with humidifiers, high-speed air cleaners, fans and heaters.Tiger America showed an ionizing air purifier, and Lakewood continued to promote its humidifiers.

Health concerns are always leading influences in home environment. Consumer Reports, which had given The Sharper Image's Ionic Breeze air cleaner a failing grade in print, won the retailer's libel suit (and $525,000 in court costs). Then CR published more test results, which it said showed Ionic Breeze and four other models of air purifiers performed poorly and emitted too much ozone.

The magazine also revealed that some seals of approval on air cleaners came from foundations that got funding from the manufacturers.

AHAM sponsors independent tests to rate machines' Clean Air Delivery Rates (see Blueair consistently produces the highest numbers for clearing dust, tobacco smoke and pollen. The ratings have grown to 30 brands submitted for testing, but a few manufacturers elected not to participate, claiming the testing protocols favor certain methods of air purification.

The association also introduced a Web site this summer ( for consumers to calculate proper sizes of room air conditioners.

Energy Star continues to grow in importance as the joint conservation program of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency accelerates in the public's consciousness. Among 40-plus categories with certified products are portable fans, dehumidifiers, room air conditioners and ceiling fans. Presently four other categories not in home comfort are being evaluated for inclusion.

Water filtration probably will get a boost from the flooding caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Even before this devastation and pollution, consumers expressed increased concern over the quality of drinking water. News coverage of municipal water supplies scoring poorly in tests, plastic leaching in water bottles, and instances of contaminated water on airplanes stirred greater interest in home filtration.

Leading suppliers such as Brita, Culligan and especially PUR have been effective in telling shoppers that a filter sells for a fraction of bottled water's cost.

Water coolers too have claimed retail floor space in the past few years. The office dispenser has become a sleek item for floors and tabletops alike, often with digital readouts and storage space.

TOTAL HOME ENVIRONMENT* Channels of Distribution

2004; 2003

Department stores: 11%; 10%

Mass merchants: 42%; 42%

Home improvement centers: 26%; 28%

Catalogs: 6%; 6%

Specialty stores: 4%; 4%

Supermarkets/drugstores: 7%; 6%

Other: 4%; 4%

Retail Sales (in millions)

2004: $1,091

2003: $1,077

% Change: 1.2%

*Humidifiers, air cleaners, heaters

Source: HFN. Percentages based on unrounded data.

AIR CLEANERS Channels of Distribution

2004; 2003

Department stores: 15%; 15%

Mass merchants & clubs: 43%; 43%

Supermarkets/drugstores: 3%; 3%

Specialty stores: 10%; 10%

Home improvement centers: 18%; 18%

Catalogs: 5%; 5%

Other: 6%; 6%

Retail Sales (in millions)

2004: $429

2003: $410

% Change: 4.7%

HUMIDIFIERS Channels of Distribution

2004; 2003

Department stores: 10%; 10%

Mass merchants: 41%; 41%

Supermarkets/drugstores: 16%; 13%

Home improvement centers: 25%; 28%

Catalogs: 6%; 6%

Other: 2%; 2%

Retail Sales (in millions)

2004: $399

2003: $410

% Change: -2.7%

HEATERS Channels of Distribution

2004; 2003

Department stores: 4%; 3%

Mass merchants: 43%; 44%

Home improvement centers: 41%; 42%

Catalogs: 7%; 7%

Other: 5%; 4%

Retail Sales (in millions)

2004: $262

2003: $257

% Change: 2%

Caption(s): Lasko's Wind Curve fan combines the popularity of towers and the return to woodgrain. / WindChaser's diverse offerings include the HaloSphere heater. / Wachsmuth & Krogmann has nine Crane-brand humidifiers looking like animals, fruit and soccer balls.

Source Citation
Beatty, Gerry. "WEATHER OR NAUGHT ; COMFORT APPLIANCE MAKERS TOOK SOME ADVANTAGE OF THE HOT TEMPERATURES AND HIGH HUMIDITY." HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network 17 Oct. 2005: 136. General OneFile. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. .

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