Whirlpool Corp. may one day look to sell its appliances at home improvement retailer Home Depot Inc.which is rolling out new appliance showrooms, the appliance maker's chief executive said.
David Whitwam said Whirlpool, which sells appliances under the KitchenAid and Whirlpool names, made a decision 2 1/2 years ago not to sell at Home Depot warehouses for a number of reasons. He said the retailer "wasn't then" a destination shop for females, Whirlpool's target consumer.
In retail, "never is not forever," Mr. Whitwam said during a presentation at a Banc of America Securities conference that was carried on the Internet. "If it's a destination place at Home Depot, we're going to have to be there, absolutely have to be there."
He stressed that Whirlpool was pleased with its current distribution setup. In later remarks to Reuters, he said through a spokesman that Whirlpool has "absolutely no plans at this time to change the decision that we made or change the distribution strategy that we have."
Whirlpool sells appliances at Home Depot's main rival, Lowe's Cos. It also sells KitchenAid, its higher end brand, to Home Depot's Expo Design Center division. A Home Depot spokesman said the retailer expects to have upgraded appliance departments in its about 1,600 stores by year's end. Home Depot is investing heavily in new merchandise, store remodels and technology, and has boosted marketing to women and minorities.
Mr. Whitwam also said Sears, Roebuck & Co. Whirlpool's biggest retail customer, has "put in place a really aggressive revitalization" of its appliance business. Sears is the leading appliance retailer, but saw its market share decline for the first time in 2002 as the home centers devoted more selling space to appliances.
In May, Sears announced that it was cutting appliance prices, stocking more lower-priced models, and boosting marketing to win customers from rivals.
According to research firm Stevenson Co., Lowe's and Home Depot picked up market share in the second quarter. Lowe's had appliance market share of 14 percent in the 2003 second quarter, up from 10.9 percent a year earlier. Home Depot had market share of 5.7 percent, up from 4.2 percent in the 2002 second quarter. Sears' market share fell to 38.5 percent in the second quarter from 40.8 percent a year earlier. Best Buy Co.'s market share edged up a bit, to 6 percent from 5.9 percent in the year-earlier quarter, the data indicate. (Reuters)
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