Issue: November 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine
Merchandising Appliances in 2008
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Tim Somheil, Editor
If you are in the appliance business, whether in engineering or purchasing or manufacturing, you need to understand the basics of appliance merchandising.
Tim Somheil, Editor
Appliance development cycle times being what they are, you also need to be able to look ahead a couple of years and have a good idea what the trends in design will be.
A few weeks ago at the International Housewares Association’s Chief Housewares Executive SuperSession (CHESS) in Las Vegas, I listened to speaker Susan Iverson, president of Susan I. Design, address this subject. Iverson’s presentation was Trend Merchandising Strategies to Grow Your Business: The Power of Trend, Color & Design.
According to Iverson, “Trend merchandising is about looking at your entire business and thinking about where each of those products fits to the trend curve—so you can determine where your next opportunity is.”
Knowing the macro-trends is a good first step.
One macro-trend Iverson described is the movement toward urban living. In terms of home appointments, overstuffed is out, human-scale is in—to fit better into smaller city living spaces. The design look is more clean and minimal.
The trend is not limited to renovated condos in the big city. Bigelow Homes, for example, develops neighborhoods with New Urbanist touches in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, U.S. In the same neighborhood as its traditional family homes, Bigelow’s Lofts of Hometown are new homes with the look and layout of an urban rehab. Stainless steel appliances go perfectly with design elements like exposed metal ductwork and cable stair rails.
Another macro-trend, perhaps with less a direct affect on product design, stems from oil prices, Iverson pointed out. It’s a trend in flux, particularly in its impact on homes and home products. The sky-high gas prices earlier in 2006 began coming down not long before the CHESS conference—freeing up cash that may have helped give the U.S. housing market a surprise boost in August. The future influence of this macro-trend clearly depends on the volatility of oil prices.
Another macro-trend: China. “The general population has not been aware that there is a large shift in power going on in the world,” Iverson points out. It will take something big to bring the general population’s awareness to China—something as big as, say, the 2008 Summer Olympics, which will be in Beijing. But the China macro-trend is already impacting design in the form of a micro-trend Iverson calls Beijing. Colors are black and white as well a deeper red (cardamom) with some yellow accent—colors already seen in some U.S. appliance advertising.
The technology macro-trend is familiar. Everyone knows products are getting smaller while doing more. Phones are now thin as a deck of cards, but take pictures and text-message, too. The biggest iPod is just 4 inches long, but it has more data storage than many new desktop PCs and now it shows movies, displays photo albums and allows game play.
The last macro trend Iverson identified is the organic and natural. Iverson describes it as, “The desire to surround ourselves with things that are natural, and recyclable, and eco-friendly.” In home building, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) believes the trend to using natural elements is already so strong it recommends its home builder members use elements such as grass cloth wall coverings and bamboo or sisal rugs in their model homes to entice buyers.
Colors Predictions for 2008
Major appliances color changes seem to come at a glacial pace. That’s a result, in part, from consumers’ tendency to choose conservative colors for large, long-lived, highly visible home products. Electric housewares are another matter. They’re less visible (you can always put the toaster away when you’re not using it), less expensive and easier to replace if and when the look becomes tiresome. And small, colorful electrics can serve as accents to more staid and neutral major appliances.
In fact, in the last few years, Iverson says, the look of housewares has been driven in part by the look in major appliances. That means stainless steel. Stainless steel hasn’t yet peaked on the trend curve. (The popularity of stainless steel was discussed last month in the October APPLIANCE Line: Special Events and Smart Decisions.)
An incoming design trend for majors, Iverson believes, is combining stainless with another design element. Sub-Zero, for example, augments stainless steel designs with glass windows. The glass makes the appliance appear more user-friendly and even communicates the consumer’s organic point of view, giving it a link to the natural and organic macro-trend. The industry could see more glass use in coming years.
Stainless steel will evolve further. Sub-Zero and Wolf, for example, already offer appliances in three kinds of stainless steel finishes. New metallic finishes are appearing, such as Jenn-Air’s Oiled Bronze.
I’m no design expert, but I believe the Jenn-Air finish and even the darker Sub-Zero Carbon stainless steel give consumers a valuable choice: the ability to keep the perception of commercial quality that is inherent in “classic” stainless while coming across as having “natural” or organic elements.
Every product fits on the trend curve, Iverson said during the IHA conference. Every appliance you make is moving up or moving down, approaching its peak or receding from it. Whether you’re in management or marketing or engineering, you should know where your products fit on the curve—and which direction each is headed. With that knowledge, you can plan to take advantage of design opportunities before they happen.