By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Maytag plans to nearly double the size of its 2-year-old Maytag Store appliance chain to at least 49 units next year.
The retail stores, which carry Maytag Corp.'s full brand spectrum of kitchen, laundry and floor care products, are independently owned and operated and are located in metropolitan markets nationwide.
Speaking at a recent analyst conference here, Maytag Appliance president Bill Beer told attendees that "A minimum of 20 stores are coming next year, 11 of which are already in the process of being equipped and fixtured."
The Maytag-only stores are an outgrowth of the company's 35-year-old Home Appliance Centers — 1,000-to- 2,000-square-foot shops run by service technicians in predominantly rural and secondary markets. The protected channel outlets, which are unique to Maytag, boast a high attachment rate and number "well in excess of 500 stores," Beer said.
By contrast, the 29 current Maytag Stores are retail rather than service based, are operated by "more sophisticated retailers," and can compete against big box majap merchants, Beer explained.
The stores also differ from the service centers in that they are aimed squarely at women. To that end, Maytag is selecting real estate within destination shopping centers where adjacencies include such home-oriented retailers as Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.
Inside, the 4,000-to-7,000-square-foot stores boast a boutique-style format with soft-colored walls, wide aisles and children's activity areas. The largest units can display as many as 200 models, and feature working kitchens and live products for demonstrations and consumer tryouts.
"The concept of the Maytag Store really is about providing customers the ultimate shopping experience," said Ken Mehls, director of Maytag Store development, in a prepared statement. "Its mission is not to intimidate shoppers but rather make them feel comfortable."
Beer said the stores are a work in progress, and that Maytag, which helps owners with set up and signage, is "in the process of reinventing them."
Under questioning by analysts, Beer said the company is sensitive to the stores' proximity to other Maytag dealers but described their impact as negligible. "The number of stores is pretty small. The 20 new stores would be a blip on the radar screen," he said, compared to the rapid expansion of the home improvement chains, one of which is building 150 locations next year.
"They're meaningful to us and less meaningful to [retail] customers," he said. Beer also invited independent dealers and other retailers to open their own Maytag Stores.
Owners, he said, are typically "savvy entrepreneurs with pretty good capital backing," many of whom have opened multiple stores within the same market in order to enjoy greater efficiencies in advertising, service and deliveries.
Looking ahead, Beer added: "We will continue to roll them out as long as we find willing, capable owners and good locations to put them in."
Retailers were relatively unperturbed by the news. Warren Mann, executive director of the MARTA Cooperative of America, which represents more than 100 independent dealers, said that Maytag appears to be choosing markets where its brand penetration is weak.
"If the present dealers don't sell the line, or give minimal support to any brand, the manufacturer should have the right to take action of some sort," he argued. "If that means paying for fixturing, personnel and advertising in an effort to boost sales, why would a non-supportive dealer object?"
Mann added that giving MARTA members an opportunity to run a Maytag Store "is far more benign than opening up alongside a dealer who has been supporting Maytag brands for years." If that were the case, he noted, the dealer would throw his sales and service support behind a competitive brand, which is something that Maytag wouldn't likely risk.
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