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issue: June 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
Fresh Faces at K/BIS

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Tim Somheil, Editor

Global appliance players are bringing new technologies and new attitudes to the U.S. market.

Tim Somheil, Editor

The 2007 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) in Las Vegas demonstrated the importance and the lure of the U.S. market, with a number of non-U.S. companies on hand. Among them was New Zealand’s Fisher & Paykel, celebrating its 10th anniversary in the United States. Germany’s BSH was on hand with its many appliance brands, including Siemens, which is unfamiliar to U.S. consumers in the home appliance realm. Other exhibitors that have come to the U.S. major appliance business in the last dozen years included China’s Haier and South Korea’s LG and Samsung.

Bertazzoni SpA, based in Parma, Italy, was there with its new Heritage line of cooking appliances. Bertazzoni has been in the United States just two years, and as president and CEO Paolo Bertazzoni told me at K/BIS, getting products ready for the U.S. market was no small engineering challenge. In fact, as little as 4% of the components in a cooking appliance for Europe are used in a similar appliance for the North American market.

Another Italian OEM with U.S. market ambitions is Guastalla-based Smeg, exhibiting colorful, retro-style refrigerators. The units have U.S. safety approvals, but their retail availability was still up in the air during K/BIS.

Another fresh face at K/BIS was Coway, a South Korean producer that exhibited a large variety of personal care appliances and electric housewares, each with a unique design or technological aspect. One example was an induction pressure cooker that makes rice in 11 minutes.

Coway, well known at home under the Woongjin name, intends to focus on four product lines in the United States. One is air purifiers, and the company has a unique filtration system that allows the user to customize air filters to meet specific needs. For example, a new-house filter is designed to remove the particulates that off-gas from new carpeting and paint. Another product line is bidets, with digital control, water filtration, and versatile water dispensing. Next is water purification, using multilayered filtration that includes a reverse-osmosis membrane filter.

The most unusual product of the four is a megasonic cleaning device, which uses sound waves to produce agitation in a water stream for cleaning. The device looks and operates much like a conventional faucet, but 1.6 MHz cavitation in the water is said to clean impurities from fruits and vegetables without chemicals or detergents. It can even be used to clean baby bottles and china using little or no detergent.

Coway's megasonic cleaning device

The U.S. Challenge

Coway faces some real challenges in the U.S. market. Its premium products will command a premium price. And how readily will U.S. consumers embrace these unfamiliar products, with their unfamiliar technology? Inchan Yee, senior vice president for the overseas business unit, told me that Coway understands the need to educate consumers about its products. It may launch less-featured products to meet price points more attractive to U.S. mass merchants.

In South Korea, some of the pricey water purification systems are leased by customers and require professional installation and maintenance. That’s a distribution model that Yee does not believe would be successful in the United States.

Coway is a technology-driven company with substantial annual R&D investments, and clearly a great deal of research has gone into the four product lines it plans to push in the United States. One of its water filtration products just won a 2007 red dot Design Award. In 2004, it was named the most innovative company in South Korea—no small accomplishment when you consider the other high-tech firms based there.

The company seems to have picked a good time to enter the U.S. market. Premium appliances are selling like never before to U.S. consumers. Consumers are also more aware of environmental issues, indoor air quality, and food safety. There may never be a better time to launch a new wave of appliances catering to personal health and well-being.

U.S. consumers embraced Fisher & Paykel’s DishDrawer. Bosch has long enjoyed a reputation among Americans as the quietest dishwasher. South Korean OEMs like LG and Samsung have capitalized on their consumer electronics success to grow their U.S. home appliances business.

Clearly, U.S. consumers have little fear of “foreign” appliances that demonstrate good design.


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