As an appliance industry professional, I am exposed to most of the claims made by several of manufactures that I represent regarding why their premium grade product is better than the competitor. I gain my information and overall knowledge from the manufactures’/distributors’ local representatives, and periodic manufactures’ education seminars. I also read trade publications, web & blog sites such as this one, and the internet. The internet is a great tool, but the information found at any manufacture’s site will be the story they want the purchasing consumer to hear. This isn’t the complete story. These are the ways they distribute the information, but what about the product availability, the sales support and in-home customer warranty service?
The facts, as I see it, are that most of the premium brands are great products. Is there a difference between one brand’s 15k BTU burner and another? The differences can be proven, but the majority of end users would never know the difference in their daily use. The same can be said of convection oven systems, control panels and so on. This idea is the same for the other categories of appliances.
The sale and distribution of premium grade products to end users is a process that requires a lot more effort, and is different than traditional retail sales of replacement products that can be made at any big box store by a retail clerk. It is likely that this consumer is using an architect, designer, contractor, cabinet dealer or CKD and/or all of these. The flow of information and support to complete the end users’ dream is critical. Here is where the purchase is so much more than BTU’s or decibel ratings. This is why local high-end showrooms, such as Westar, and manufactures’ live kitchen showrooms exist. Local distributors can and do provide value added services. They provide the hands-on support and customer services that the websites do not provide.
An example or two of that value-added local distributor could go like this. We are doing a chimney-style wall mount hood with a 12-foot ceiling. The manufacture only makes duct cover extensions for a maximum of 10-foot ceilings. We decide to have a local custom stainless steel fabricator bid a custom duct cover to meet our needs. We need to know from the hood manufacturer, the gauge and polish level of their product so as to match perfectly. Many days pass in getting the information so the project can go forward to meet the customer’s schedule. Dealing with regional voice mail systems, and not getting the needed information, does not make up for much in product quality. If I had the local engaged factory representative to assist in problem solving, the wait would not go on indefinitely.
If, after the completion of the project, a cosmetic piece needs to be replaced on a new $12,000 range, it is difficult to get it in a timely manner because the manufacture is only building cosmetic pieces every four to six weeks. They are out of touch with the reality you and I face with this customer. What good is high BTU’s in an incomplete dream kitchen?
When I am advising any trade partner or end user about product purchases, there is so much more to the picture than the product features. I am concerned about sales and spec support, product availability, speed of warranty and service just to name a few. That is just the starting point in a successful and seamless transaction. It also cannot be denied that local personal relationships are not a critical factor. There is a growing trend in this industry to factory branches and regional distribution with less people that is affecting all of our abilities to meet that dream kitchen customer’s expectations.
Some manufactures/distributors just do it better than others: making the process more local, more supported and with less hassle. We even have substantial appliance manufacturing in Arizona. Many consumers want to buy more local. In my mind, locally supported distribution will often trump all the product features in providing the best overall value package and happy end user.
“My BTUs are better than your BTUs” just isn’t the big picture.
Andy Welemin, Account Manager with Westar Kitchen & Bath, has been involved in home products since 1977 and, specifically, in the appliance industry since 1983.
Andy is a member of NKBA and NARI and a past board member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association, Minnesota andArizona.
You can reach Andy at Awelemin@westar-sw.com