"Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" was the seeming subtext at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show here (K/BIS), where majap vendors launched a wide array of feature-rich premium products in apparent defiance of the weak economy and struggling housing market.
"I've been through four of these down cycles now and the industry usually comes back stronger," said Keith McLoughlin, who heads Electrolux's North American appliance business. "The fact that the economy is slow for a couple of quarters doesn't concern us — we're looking at the next 100 years."
To that end, the company staged its most comprehensive launch ever, comprised of 130 new products including a recently rolled out Electrolux-branded premium platform, run by general manager Mark Chambers. Three-and-a-half years in the making, the new kitchen line "fills a hole in the market for $6,000 to $7,000 packages," McLoughlin said, and should appeal to dealers looking for a new selling proposition for their customers.
Elsewhere at the show, held at McCormick Place, Electrolux joined a coterie of other leading premium brands at the Sears booth, where recently named majap VP/general merchandise manager Steve Light made his K/BIS debut (see p. 18).
Light, whose background lies in apparel and automotive, said he had previously misperceived the appliance industry as being stodgy, and is now impressed with the "cutting-edge work by its designers and engineers."
Although the company's Kenmore line remains the No. 1 majap brand in the land, the private label took a back seat to vendor badges at the show in order to demonstrate the breadth of Sears' assortment, and to give Tina Settecase's successor time to develop a new brand strategy for the company's crown jewel.
The goal, said Light and divisional merchandise manager Dean Schwartz, is to win back Sears' 40-plus share of the majap market, which has slipped to 31 percent over the past decade.
On the store front, the company is testing Sears Appliance Showrooms, a 10,000-square-foot majap and CE concept shop aimed at metropolitan markets, and is evaluating its white-goods strategy for Kmart.
"We've had some great successes with Kmart," Light said. "It represents an opportunity to speak to the value customer. We'll be thinking that through over the next six months."
Other show highlights follow: