From January's vantage point, the road ahead in 2002 looked rather bleak for the major appliance industry. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) predicted that the run of consecutive monthly increases in factory shipments in late 2001 would come to a screeching halt, making even 2001's less-than-impressive numbers hard to achieve.
But, fortuitously, those predictions were wrong. with year-to-date shipments up 7.3 percent through May.
It's been a busy year thus far for majap vendors and retailers alike. Here's a list of industry highlights for the first half of 2002:
The Smart Appliance Task Force of AHAM announced it was near completion of its mission to develop a partial home-appliance network standard in the first quarter.
It plans to publish a generic standard that is only a first step toward the potential goal of inter-brand interoperability.
Also in the first month of the year, MARTA Cooperative of America met in Orlando, Fla., in late January for the $2 billion buying group's first biannual conference and show of the year. The group said it would continue to press its value-added advantage as it builds on 2001's profit gains and fends off incursions by national retail chains.
"We expect that most independent retailers — not just our group — prospered," said executive director Warren Mann.
Nationwide TV & Appliance was also rather upbeat at its February meeting in Orlando, Fla. The buying group said it expects $500 million more in annual sales from the addition of Retail Dealers of America (RDA) and positive results from the debut of a new consumer Web site. Director Ed Kelly said sales were strong in both major appliances and consumer electronics in the first months of the New Year.
Also in February, a handful of major appliance exhibitors showcased such innovative, value-added introductions as a refrigerated oven, flat-panel air conditioners and a talking refrigerator at the International Builders' Show in Atlanta.
Though short on breakthrough technologies, majap makers made sure to embellish their kitchen and laundry entries with more of the bells and whistles that have lately helped resuscitate sales of high-end white goods.
Among the majap marvels on hand was Whirlpool's new Polara, which the manufacturer touted as the first range with refrigeration capabilities. Meanwhile, GE Appliances said it would commit $800 million to majaps R&D over the next three years.
After outpacing industry sales averages in 2001, NATM Corp. kicked off the new year with better than expected first-quarter growth in major appliances.
The announcements came during the buying group's annual meeting at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort.
But despite impressive gains in core categories, executives exhorted member dealers to keep their pedals to the metal in order to survive in an increasingly competitive environment.
That strategy paid off handsomely in 2001 for the group as a whole and its 11 individual dealers, with sales of white goods growing 7 percent according to executive director Bill Trawick.
Underscoring the uptick in off-shore competition, BSH Home Appliances broke ground on a $154 million factory expansion in New Bern, N.C., that will dramatically increase the company's U.S. production output.
The additional capacity, combined with the new facility's state-of-the-art production technology, will enable BSH's Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau brands to build market share, the manufacturer said.
"BSH has undertaken this expansion to meet the increasing demand for our products in the North American white goods market and to meet our objective to be the primary supplier of high-end appliances," said BSH president/CEO Hans-Peter Haase during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Capitalizing on the rebound in major appliance sales — particularly within the super-premium niche — majap makers big and small unleashed a torrent of sleek, fully-featured machines at this year's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS).
Also telling was the much-anticipated entry of Samsung into the full-size refrigeration business. The move, which follows those of fellow Far East concerns LG and Haier, underscored opportunities within the U.S. white goods market, while expanding the pool of Asian alternatives to more mainstream kitchen brands.
The overriding theme of the show was finish, which took front and center within the kitchen category. Following February's introduction of a fingerprint-free Titanium line from LG Electronics, other manufacturers followed suit with innovative step-up surfaces that raised the bar on stainless steel.
Amana is getting a makeover.
Ten months after acquiring the venerable white goods vendor from Goodman Holdings for $325 million, Maytag has mapped out a new role for Amana as it finds its place within the manufacturer's expanded brand portfolio.
The game plan calls for creating a new persona for Amana through advertising, licensing and product development, and to fix that positioning with a new generation of consumers.
At the same time, Maytag is returning the brand to its traditional distribution roots by re-embracing the independent dealer channel.
Industry Shipments Of Major Appliances*
(In Thousands Of Units)