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Chilly Today, Hot Tomorrow

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

I can’t take credit for saying it, and neither can Mark Twain, who is popularly thought to have used it first, but Wikipedia says that’s, well, a damn lie.

But sometimes all we have are statistics, and whether they accurately tell a story is something to be determined by things other than math.

Appliance sales have cooled off, it says so right on the cover of this week’s print edition. What the statistics show is sales for the Top 50 major appliance retailers grew 3.7 percent last year, but the results pale in comparison to the previous two years, when sales grew 5 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

So is this the first sign of doom and gloom for a previously healthy business? Not by a long shot, according to a bunch of contributing factors that do not necessarily shine through the statistics.

First of all, we need to blame a lot of this on Sears. I hate to kick a dog when it’s down but, statistically, Sears got its clock cleaned last year — a 19 percent decline in appliance sales sucked about $1 billion dollars from the Top 50’s bottom line, as senior editor Alan Wolf points out in his analysis of the numbers. Couple that with sister chain Kmart’s 16 percent drop and it appears hedge-fund genius Eddie Lampert’s attempt to keep this company going may finally be running out of breath. After all, the thinking goes, if Sears can’t sell appliances, who the hell can?

Turns out, almost everyone else.

Fourteen companies showed double-digit growth, or more, in 2015, and only seven actually reported any kind of decline.

Of the biggest dealers, those with more than $100 million in sales, besides Sears and Kmart only hhgregg suffered a significant sales loss, and there is a plan in place there to flip the momentum. New interim CEO Robert Riesbeck, recognizing that appliances make up more than half the chain’s sales, launched a free delivery program and has his eyes set on rolling out premium appliance departments in up to 15 more stores.

Meantime, the No. 1 and No. 2 twin towers of Lowe’s and The Home Depot, after ringing up healthy growth in 2015, both reported same-store sales increases in Q1. Both have devoted more floor space to majaps and expanded the breadth of products offered.

Best Buy is also all-in. The No. 1 CE retailer saw same-store sales of appliances surge 14.3 percent in the first quarter. The company is demonstrating its faith in the category by opening 27 in-store Pacific Kitchen & Home centers this year in an effort to grab margin in the surging high end of the market.

Even a dusty chain like JCPenney is pivoting, announcing that it will roll out new appliance showrooms in 500 stores nationwide by next year.

Want more good news? The Commerce Department reported last month that sales of newly built homes increased by the quickest pace in more than eight years the previous month.

And online real-estate leader Zillow reports that home values in the U.S. have risen 4.8 percent year over year.

Despite the bottom line of our Top 50 report, all signs point to healthy days ahead for the major appliance industry. Here’s to a hot tomorrow.

Click here to obtain a copy of this year’s report.