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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Multitasking appliances built for multitasking minds.(Appliances:HOUSEWARES).

When Kim Flynn wanted to purchase a new dryer for her Columbus, Ohio, condominium, she did a little research, a little footwork and a little negotiating until she landed on a suburban Sears store. Her choice, Kenmore, was not too cheap, not too expensive.

"I'm a salesperson, and I knew they were selling to me, but it was a competitive price, and he was pretty upfront. It was the third place I went, and I just don't have a lot of time to spend, so that was part of it too," Flynn explained.

Like many busy professionals, Flynn is a multitasker--not satisfied with one goal at a time, she wants features and value, style and an easy sales transaction. And when it comes to the future, Flynn said she has set her sights higher.

"I'm hoping to buy a home, and in that case, I would consider the stainless steel [refrigerator]," she said. Aesthetics, an ice machine and storage areas for large food items are all a consideration. She'd like to have a mudroom, potentially a more stylish washer and dryer; she'd like to entertain more, fit more at-home cooking into her schedule and buy appliances commensurate with those goals. "Yeah, having the ice maker would be nice," she said. She's not alone.

The market for major household appliances, which now accounts for nearly 11 percent of all consumer home improvement purchases, is expected to shoot up to $29.1 billion by 2010, compared with $22.9 billion in 2005, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI).

In the category of washers and dryers, consumer purchases have increased since 2003 one full percentage point, according to HIRI. Women make more purchases of major appliances, commanding 60 percent of the marketplace.

Appliances, large and small alike, are often aspirational items. That's not only because of what the purchase represents--a new home, a long-awaited kitchen renovation--but because of what lifestyle it promotes. Someone who wants to do a lot of entertaining might aspire to purchase a refrigerator with extra capacity for appetizers and champagne. Someone who expects to have the nicest clothes might aspire to purchase a washer that can clean silk and satin. Big dreams equal big purchases.

Consumers often take an air of seriousness when it comes to their major appliance purchases--purchases appear to be waning at retail outlets that might not be considered "experts" in the area of home improvement, while they concurrently appear to be gaining strength in the DIY retail sector.

Case in point: Best Buy, a 1,200-store retail chain with a core sales base of electronics and home entertainment products, has seen declining sales of appliances. In the company's most recent earnings filing, same-store sales dropped 2.7 percent in appliances, while overall same-store sales rose 7 percent. By contrast, in Lowe's 1,300 stores, appliance sales outperformed the company average for the fourth quarter, with increases in overall dollar share in the category.

"We had another great year in major appliances," said Larry Stone, Lowe's president and COO, at a recent earnings conference. Stone outlined the brands that have been factors in the company's increased appliance sales. "Certainly, Samsung has been a home run for us in terms of high efficiency laundry products, and high efficiency laundry is still one of the major drivers in our appliance business. We feel well positioned with that category and certainly with Maytag and Whirlpool [because of] some of the new product lines they're coming out with, as well as products from Bosch and several other leading suppliers that we have."

Major appliance manufacturers have indeed stepped up their product selections to include more stylish looks, a greater variety of functions and a greater breadth of product offerings.

"What is multitasking? It's the ability to do many different things at once, and it's something that we hope to offer as well," said Warren Mann, vp-sales of major appliances for Haier America. This spring, Haier launched a fourth-door refrigerator--a multi-function machine that offers one large drawer that can double as a refrigerator or freezer and is marketed as a device for the avid entertainer.

In the same vein, in March Whirlpool launched the Duet washing machine that doubles as a steam cleaner for expensive and delicate fabrics.

Even smaller appliances are getting into the multitasking mix. At this year's International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago, held in March, several manufacturers displayed items that took on multiple duties in one. Hamilton Beach displayed an electric cooker with three different interchangeable bowl sizes, and several coffeemaker manufacturers launched multi-function espresso/cappuccino/coffeemakers. Haier launched a dual-zone wine cellar that can chill red wine on one adjustable temperature level, and white wine on another--or champagne, or riesling, or grape juice, for that matter.

At a Home Depot in New York, a newly constructed kitchen vignette featured a Kohler sink paired closely with a combination steam cooker/food warmer. The highest-end, highest-fashion laundry items were displayed prominently, alongside information about financing a home renovation.

Such an aspirational sales directive is well-timed--though new home sales are lagging, existing-home sales appear to be resurging, and with them undoubtedly aspirations of renovations and remodeling. According to the most recently released data from the National Association of Realtors, pending home sales rose 0.7 percent in February compared with January, an uptick that would have been higher if not for adverse weather, the trade association said. More sales of older homes means more people with kitchens, baths and laundry rooms to redo.

The bottom line is that people are unlikely to give up their Blackberries and hefty commutes anytime soon--they are even less likely to give up their big dreams and aspirations for the good life.

Entertaining, taking care of expensive clothes, having a perfect bottle of wine or an aesthetically pleasing home all fit into that--consumers already do it all, and they want their appliance purchases to follow suit.

Source Citation
Fazzini, Kate. "Multitasking appliances built for multitasking minds." Home Channel News 33.5 (2007): 61+. InfoTrac Small Business eCollection. Web. 10 Jan. 2010. .

Gale Document Number:A162787682

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