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issue: December 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

China Report
Fans Hot This Summer

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Qinli, China correspondent

 Electric fans are getting new designs—and they’re flying off the shelves.

 Visiting supermarkets and home electronics stores in China in August 2008, one would find some models of electric fans completely sold out. Retailers report that high-end electric fans with new designs and priced around RMB 400 (approx. US$58) were the most popular, especially among urban consumers.

Only a few years ago electric fans were called a sunset industry; so why are they regaining popularity now? Airmate Electronics Co. director of industrial design Huang Shoucheng believes he knows: “The strongest weapon that a company can have against market stagnation is to emphasize innovative product design.”


A Storm of Sales

 Market data show that electric fan companies have been growing in the last two years, competing to launch new models, while sales surged. China’s National Statistics Bureau reports that more than 140 million electric fans were produced in 2007. In the first six months of 2008, production reached almost 86 million units.

The peak 2008 season for electric fan sales brought even more pleasant surprises to fan makers. An internal document provided by Midea shows that, as of July 2008, domestic and international sales of Midea electric fans (including air-conditioner fans) totaled 16 million units, for a total revenue of RMB 2 billion (approx. US$292 million), up 38% over the same period in 2007. A/C fans grew 55% year on year. The domestic market is buoyant.

“Sales of electric fans were very good this year, growing 40% over last year,” said Yao Wangxing, head of marketing for Shenzhen Lianchuang, which produces mainly A/C fans.

This summer’s hot sales of electric fans also came as a surprise for Sinfung Electronics marketing director Zhang Xiao. “There was huge growth this year over last year in electric fans, overall totaling 60%. Sales of floor fans was more than double what it was last year and air-conditioner fans grew by close to 50%. Growth in sales of high-end products was the most striking.”

Naturally, the growth of the market has attracted more companies to the industry, which has in turn intensified competition. Zhongyikang’s June 2008 report on electric fan sales in 2500 stores in 280 Chinese cities shows Midea has 44.76% market share, Airmate has 14.06%, and Sinfung has 9.43%. Compared with Zhongyikang’s figures from June 2007, the brand situation has not changed very much, including the market shares of the top three brands.


Innovative Design Is Key

In an industry in which major players have the same core technologies, product differentiation and innovation has become extremely important. OEMs are using innovation to break away from traditional designs, developing appliances that are unique and personalized. Electric fan makers widely attribute increased fan sales to design differentiation, personalization, and innovation.

“At first, we simply took fans that were meant for export and sold them in China,” relates Huang of Airmate. “Now, products for domestic sale are all specially designed for the China market. Even though the actual functions of these products hasn’t really changed, the details of the products have seen big improvements. They consider more how Chinese consumers use products, like creating more design details that match other furniture.”

As evidence of the increasing emphasis on design in the electric fan industry, Huang said, look to the Airmate Concept Fan Contest, organized by Airmate and the China Industrial Design Association. The winning designs, he said, showed quite imaginative design ideas that impressed even the industry experts.

Midea, China’s market share leader in fans for 14 consecutive years, made improvements to the functionality and external design of 2008 models. “This year our product designs feature a black and gold tech look, and next year we are planning to go for a clean, refreshing look,” said an engineer from a fan development department.

One Midea engineer couldn’t hide his excitement about the company’s 2008 fan designs. “Based on our observation of people’s sleeping habits in the summer, we developed a timer function and have already applied for a patent on it. We divided an eight-hour period into 16 parts and assigned numbers to them. The user can then set the timer according to his or her preference. If you turn the fan to the fifth setting, it will automatically turn on two hours later and the speed of the fan will be automatically adjusted according to the temperature in the room (there are six speed settings).”

Midea also puts much consideration into engineering the air movement. “We’ve modified the turning speed of our electric fans to make the airflow feel like an ocean breeze or wind blowing through a forest. This makes the airflow feel natural.”

Electric fan blades have also seen noteworthy design changes. In 2008, Sinfung heavily promoted dual-blade technology. Zhang explained that the one set of blades on traditional floor fans can create an eddy of air when spinning rapidly, which channels most of the air to the sides with less airflow in the center. In contrast, the dual-blade system has a smaller set of blades in the center of the primary blades, running at the same speed. This makes up for the lack of airflow in the center and increases the overall airflow.

Three-blade fans are still the mainstream standard in China, but Midea staff have said that the company may launch five-blade fans in 2009. The five-blade design will allow air to be dispersed more evenly and make for a softer airflow.

The consumer will have to spend more for a five-blade fan. However, trends in the market suggest consumers are more than willing to pay a premium for a fan that offers innovative design.



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