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issue: September 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line - Editorial
Embracing the Inevitable

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Lisa Bonnema, Editor

If there’s one thing you can count on in today’s fast-paced world, it’s change—and that’s a good thing by the way.

Can you ever think of a time when the appliance industry has garnered so much attention? Not just from consumers, but from the media and investment community? You name it, and people are talking about appliances. At family parties, I have uncles asking me about “that cool LG TV refrigerator.” Sunday newspapers are repeatedly running spreads about smart homes and the latest vacuum cleaners. And with the recent Maytag/Haier/Whirlpool saga, I can’t count all of the consultants and investors that called me on a daily basis to “chat” about our industry.

My father-in-law, a mortgage banker, was curious enough to have an hour-long discussion with me over the fourth of July holiday about the Asian manufacturers entering the U.S. appliance market. I, of course, more than welcomed his interest. Usually I just get blank faces when I tell people that I write about the appliance industry for a living.

There is no arguing it—these are truly exciting times for our industry. If you would have told me 4 years ago that I would be spending almost 40 minutes on the phone with a Wall Street Journal reporter discussing front-load technology, I wouldn’t have believed you. Since when does Wall Street care about agitators (or lack of)? Well apparently they do, and so does almost every other person who interacts with our little gadgets on a daily basis.

What does that mean for the industry? Well, first of all, it means the spotlight is on you, which leaves a huge opportunity to make your presence known. Although innovation is certainly one way to make your mark, I have a feeling quality will be even more important as the industry continues to get more coverage and as the consumer desires to know more. Bad press is not good press in my book, especially when it comes to purchasing appliances.

That also means branding will be of key importance in the coming years, and if there is one area of this industry you are already seeing changes, this is it. Appliance makers from all over the world are redefining their brand strategies, downgrading from huge portfolios to one, two, or three flagship brands. Companies are changing their corporate names to better reflect their strategies and are spending millions of dollars defining and communicating the identity of each brand. Manufacturers are creating global brand portfolios as they enter new markets, and old names like Westinghouse and Speed Queen are popping up on TVs and washing machines again. And, depending on what happens with the Maytag acquisition, the U.S. marketplace may experience the biggest brand shift in more than two decades.

Add all of this to the outsourcing and cost issues I’ve discussed over the last few months, and you end up with an overwhelming amount of question marks. What will the appliance industry look like in 10 years? Will the market shares listed on page 66 of this issue be vastly different in 2, 3, or 5 years? Will categories need to be more clearly defined into premium and low-end products to get a true picture of the industry? Will the middle-range be non-existent? Will unit shipments be shipped from the U.S. anymore, or just shipped to the U.S. for sale? How about retail? Will the consumer eventually know enough to simply buy their appliances online, abandoning the traditional appliance retailer?

I could go on, but that’s a lot of unanswered questions to stomach. And although we all have our own opinions, none of us really know any of the outcomes, which is the exciting part. Scary? Yes. But in the end, I would rather be part of an industry with this much movement as opposed to the “conservative” reputation we’ve had for so many years. The fact is we are a dynamic industry that is going through change because we are innovative, and we are growing—and it’s nice we are finally getting noticed. I, for one, am proud to be a part of it all.

Am I am optimist? You bet. But you have to be. In fact, I think realists have to be optimists at some point because no one really knows the future, leaving acceptance as the only alternative. As the character Haw demonstrated in the book, Who Moved My Cheese?, embracing change is a survival skill, plain and simple. But acceptance doesn’t mean that life is over as we know it. If you ask me, it means the exact opposite. It means that life is cyclical, and change is inevitable—all of which leads to a never-ending road of opportunity.

Speaking of Change...

In fact, I guess you could say this is all representative of my own life right now. By the time you all read this, I will have just given birth to my first child—quite possibly the biggest change I will ever go through in my lifetime. And although I am more than excited about all of the good changes this little bundle of joy will bring to my life, some hard choices had to be made to adapt to what would be a very different reality for both myself and my husband.

As I analyzed the situation, it seemed inevitable that the job of Editor-in-Chief of this magazine needed to be handed over to someone who could devote every ounce of energy to covering this ever-changing industry. Thankfully, that person was right inside of our office doors. In fact, many of you industry veterans will recognize his name, as it has been on our masthead for 17 years.

Although he has spent the last decade focused on our Web site, Tim Somheil is no stranger to the appliance industry. Besides overseeing our Web coverage for the last 10 years, he spent the previous 7 years reporting on the appliance industry and has more experience than any other editor that has worked for our magazine. He has traveled to Russia to report on trade shows, New Zealand to tour appliance factories, and has circled the U.S. to visit both industry OEMs and suppliers. Tim has grown to love this industry, and I feel more than confident that his experience and knowledge will provide a great foundation for maintaining the editorial quality of APPLIANCE.

Fortunately, in my case, change isn’t pushing me out of the picture, but instead, is offering new opportunities. I am happy to say that under Tim’s direction, I will continue to serve on the APPLIANCE magazine staff as Senior Editor in charge of coordinating our Appliance Engineer® section and our European Edition, which is published three times a year.

So, this optimist isn’t going too far, and yes, you guessed it, I personally couldn’t be happier about that. I have learned more during my time at APPLIANCE than in any other journalism job I have held, and I am grateful to those of you who have taught me the ins and outs of the appliance market.

With sincere honesty I can say that these last 5 years have shown me that this isn’t an industry to abandon, but one to embrace—no matter the circumstance. I look forward to working with all of you in the years to come


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