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At K/BIS, Smaller Vendors Share Spotlight In Absence Of Top Two

The 2007 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), held here earlier this month at the Las Vegas Convention Center, was nearly as notable for who wasn’t there as it was for the dazzling new products that were.

Absent from the majap industry’s foremost trade event were the world’s two largest appliance manufacturers, Whirlpool and Electrolux.

The latter, while maintaining an off-site presence, said the timing of the show was at odds with its product introduction calendar. According to a spokesperson, Electrolux had passed on K/BIS in the past, and this year’s no-show was not indicative of any change in exhibition strategy.

And while several Whirlpool products appeared on the show floor within other exhibitors’ vignettes, the manufacturer eschewed a booth of its own this year in favor of “regional and market-specific activities,” a spokesperson explained. The decision doesn’t reflect a change in commitment toward K/BIS, she noted, although Whirlpool hasn’t yet determined if it will return in 2008.

Although No. 3 majap maker GE did make the show, division head Jim Campbell didn’t (he was attending a different trade show for another category, lightbulbs, he also manages). GE also had a smaller booth compared to past shows, and its presentation was largely limited to its premium Monogram line.

Attendees interpreted the diminished presence of the Big Three as a cost-savings measure and, in the case of Whirlpool, a timeout until its integration issues with Maytag are settled. Observers also wondered if the moves would reduce future majap attendance at K/BIS, and its standing as the CES of white goods.

Regardless of how it shakes out, this year’s power vacuum gave center stage to secondary and tertiary players. Many reported larger crowds in the absence of Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Electrolux, Frigidaire or GE Profile, and vendors rewarded their visitors with glossy arrays of fashion-colored laundry and cooking products that belied the term “white goods.” Here are some highlights (all prices suggested retails):

Ariston: New additions to the high-end, imported cooking line include a non-plumbed steam oven ($2,000), convection oven ($2,000) and warming draw ($800), all in 24-inch configurations within the company’s Experience series. The steam oven’s 1-liter reservoir permits 25 minutes of steaming, and the convection oven features a touch-through stainless steel activation pad. Ariston also bowed its first ventilation hood ($2,000), along with 36-inch gas, electric and induction cooktops ($1,100, $1,000 and $2,400). All will be available in the fourth quarter.

GE: In addition to induction cooktops, side-by-side refrigerators, dual-fuel cooktops and ventilation hoods under its premium Monogram brand, the company introduced a new platform: GE Café. Positioned as an affordable commercial-look kitchen collection, the suite includes a gas and dual-fuel range, dishwasher, refrigerator, over-the-range microwave and vent hood.

The range, available as a freestanding slide-in configuration with an optional back guard, features one 18,000 BTU dual-stacked burner, one 17,000 BTU burner, a center oval burner with non-stick griddle, and a double oven configuration with a lower oven that heats to 450 degrees for added cooking capacity. The gas model will retail for $2,500 and the dual-fuel model is priced to carry a $2,600 price point.

The dishwasher ($1,200) features a stainless steel interior; 16 place-setting china and silverware capacity; and “SmartDispense” technology which holds an entire 45-fluid-ounce bottle of liquid or gel dishwasher detergent and dispenses correct amount based on water hardness, cycle selection, and soil level of the dishes.

The refrigerator ($2,200) features stainless-steel side panels, “ClimateKeeper” technology for food freshness, an “ExpressChill” drawer that cools drinks in minutes and interior GE Reveal lighting.

Kenmore: Sears held a private showing of its private-label majaps line at the adjacent Renaissance Hotel. This year’s offering, presented under the brand positioning “Simplify,” featured user-friendly operating systems, easy-to-understand product language and common sense features designed to make consumers’ tasks, and lives, easier.

“Daily household chores can seem like insurmountable tasks. Appliances themselves should be part of the solution, not the problem,” explained Tina Settecase, Sears’ home appliances VP and general manager.

The platform included countertop and major appliances. Among the latter, new additions to the stainless-steel Kenmore PRO line, hitting stores this fall, included an induction cooktop (under $2,700) and a side-by-side built-in refrigerator ($6,500). In addition, Kenmore Elite is getting pan-sensing SensaCook cooktops ($1,400 to $2,000) and a new collection of stackable steam-cleaning washers ($1,500 to $1,600) and dryers ($1,100 to $1,360) this fall.

LG: Steam was the theme at LG, where the company added a companion dryer to compliment its popular steam washer. Utilizing LG’s patented built-in steam generator, which injects steam via a pump and cartridge system into the tub, the 7.3-cubic-foot dryer features a “SteamFresh” cycle to freshen clothes and reduce wrinkles; an “easy iron” option to dampen clothes in preparation for ironing; and a static reduction option that produces more comfortable, static free garments. The unit will be available in the third quarter for $3,500 in stainless (along with a $500 matching pedestal), and for $1,150 to $1,400 in white and cherry finishes.

LG also employed steam technology in the kitchen: Its new flagship stainless-steel dishwasher, available in the third quarter for $1,600, uses steam to improve energy efficiency and cleaning performance. The model also features a third rack for utensils and flatware, advanced digital display with LED indicator lights, a “SteamDelicate” cycle to protect fragile items such stemware and china during the wash process, quiet 45-decibel operation and a 24-inch-tall, stainless-steel tub.

Samsung: The introduction of its first U.S. electric ranges and dishwashers allows the brown- and white-goods supplier to now offer a complete suite of kitchen appliances. The ranges ($900 to $1,300) boast “AirVection” technology for even baking and a “SteamQuick” system for easier cleaning, while the dishwashers ($700 to $1,000) feature such innovations as digital leakage sensors and fan-driven condensation-type drying systems. Samsung also expanded its line of French door refrigerators, all with twin cooling systems for individually controlled compartments and available in stainless, platinum, black and white ($1,500 to $2,500). The top-of-the-line model comes with an external ice and water dispenser and will be available in July.

In laundry, Samsung’s new VRT line offers vibration-reduction technology to reduce noise and vibration caused by unbalanced loads during the spin cycle. The extra-large-capacity washers continue to include bacteria-killing SilverCare technology, and are available in red, blue, gray and white ($1,300 to $1,400).