Chicago — Last month’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) at McCormick Place, here, marked the first public appearance of Whirlpool and Maytag as a couple.
From an exhibitor perspective, the debut was less than auspicious. The $2.6 billion merger closed only three weeks before the event, giving the company’s trade-show teams little time to coordinate joint presentations. As a result, Maytag’s Jenn-Air and Jade locations were far afield on the show floor, and Maytag itself was represented solely by its new Ice-2-O French door refrigerator, which symbolically sat side-by-side with Whirlpool’s signature Duet washer within the Whirlpool booth.
From a trade partner perspective, however, the timing of K/BIS couldn’t be better, affording Whirlpool management the opportunity to meet with most of its current and newly inherited retail customers. Its message, as conveyed to TWICE by David Swift, the recently named president of Whirlpool North America, was one of rapid integration.
"We’re working feverishly to integrate the businesses and get the best efficiencies out of both," he said during the show. "In anticipation of the merger, we developed a new project management office last year — which included my being named president — because we wanted to be able to hit the ground running."
While key details have yet to be announced, including Whirlpool’s plans for the Hoover floor-care division; the future of Maytag’s industrial infrastructure in Newton, Iowa; or the naming of VP/general managers to head the various Maytag brands, Swift is making good on his promise to move "quickly and decisively" to make the companies whole.
"We closed on a Friday and by that Tuesday I was in Newton addressing Town Hall, and all 17,000 employees there had new I.D. badges and a letter from their functional leader," Swift said, in an effort to help allay the "incredible uncertainty" that surrounded the acquisition. More specifics, ranging from plans for individual employees to strategies for the expanded brand portfolio, are expected to follow within the next 60 days.
"We have an opportunity to reinvigorate Maytag in a positive way," he continued. "We love the Maytag’s brands. They have a lot of equity with consumers, but they’ve been underserved. We think we can use our innovation pipeline to get to the marketplace faster and bring differentiation to the portfolio."
Swift believes that Maytag’s troubles stemmed partly from floor care, which was a drag on earnings and a distraction for management. "Maytag felt pain in the Hoover business and pulled back from investment in major appliances, which is something that Whirlpool would never do," he said. As for Hoover’s future with the company, "We’re keeping an open mind on floor care."