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Majap Makers Press On With Product Enhancements

Atlanta — The crowds were lighter and exhibitors fewer at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), held this past weekend at the Georgia World Congress Center, but that didn’t stop those in attendance from debuting and reviewing a bumper crop of major appliance introductions.

Product enhancements ranged from cosmetic (a Black Stainless finish from Kenmore Elite) to functional (GE

Profile’s single-double wall oven that fits two ovens into the space of one) to slightly indulgent (LG’s auto-touch freezer compartment, which opens like the tray of a DVD player). But all of the innovations were designed to rekindle consumer demand and position vendors for the eventual revival of the housing and majap markets.

Exactly when that renewal begins was the billion-dollar question at K/BIS. Doug Moore, president of Sears’ home appliance business, noted that housing starts — a lagging indicator but nonetheless critical to white goods’ success — remain “way down,” and that “the industry will continue to struggle in 2009.”

“We’re not immune to the downturn,” he acknowledged, “but we’re buoyed by the replacement cycle.”

Indeed, Sears has enjoyed four consecutive quarters of majap growth amid multiple initiatives to reassert itself as the industry’s white goods leader, and has kept the pressure on with aggressive 10 percent to 20 percent-off promotions.  “The best thing we can do is do the best we can week by week, month by month and quarter by quarter,” Moore said.

Similarly, Michael Ahn, president/CEO of LG Electronics North America, said his company is spending about $1.5 billion in research and development this year, investing in factories — including a new range plant in Mexico — and is launching an $80 million ad campaign that encompasses LG majaps, electronics and mobile products, all “to remain competitive during the recession.”

Clearly, the global economic slowdown has affected most majap manufacturers, as reflected in the show-floor absence of such market leaders as Whirlpool, Viking and Sub-Zero/Wolf. Others, including Electrolux, Bosch and Samsung, limited their exposure to mini-booths within a larger Sears display.

Attendance was also down, with dealers sending smaller K/BIS contingents or staying home altogether, although traffic appeared heavier than anticipated based on low turnouts at earlier home-related shows this year.

Among the highlights, LG showed the aforementioned auto-touch freezer on its enhanced four-door fridge, which now features more interior space — 28 cubic feet — within the same 36-inch width. Marketing VP John Weinstock also showed the company’s first slide-in electric range, featuring dual convection fans and 5.4 cubic feet of capacity, which will be available in the fourth quarter at a suggested retail of $2,600.

LG also added a steam-cleaning feature to its dishwasher line and enhanced its laundry platform with the addition of Graphite Steel and Riviera Blue finishes, the use of four separate motion patterns by the washer drum, and an anti-vibration system that was dramatically demonstrated by supporting a fully cycling washer on nothing but four wine glasses.

Elsewhere, Haier Group launched a new top-load laundry line called Encore that includes a fully automatic washer,  a super-capacity pulsator washer and agitator washer, and electric and gas dryers in a wide range of options and prices. The Energy Star-rated automatic washer features a 4.1-cubic-foot stainless-steel, non-agitator tub and a brushed-silver display that’s angled at 24 degrees for easier viewing.

Haier also showed a competitively priced 20.6-cubic-foot counter-depth four-door refrigerator in stainless, smooth black and smooth white, and a new two-model line of tall tub, built-in dishwashers with dual-pump, triple-filtration technology and stainless-steel interiors that ships this summer. The units feature a sanitize rinse designed to eliminate 99 percent of food soil bacteria, an auto-wash cycle that uses soil-sensing technology to determine the optimal cycle time, and “SteamRite” technology to help loosen baked-on soils.

The booth was operated by Haier Group, the U.S. arm of China’s largest majap maker, which is now responsible for the brand’s merchandising and design domestically. Senior VP Bob Cunningham heads the appliance team, which includes three general managers: Troy Mann for cooking and dishwasher products, Charles Bryant for refrigeration and Pankaj Paleja for laundry.

Haier Group continues to work with Haier America, the sales and marketing affiliate led by CEO Michael Jemal. Warren Mann remains sales senior VP, heading up the Amana division for Haier America, and Bernie Tymkiw is now sales senior VP for major appliances.

K/BIS coverage will continue in the June 1 issue of TWICE.