Remodeling clients are spending less on projects these days and, when it comes to appliances, they’re spending more time researching their options. They want appliances that will perform flawlessly, look great, make cooking and cleaning easier, be efficient — and not cost a lot of money.

“One of the key trends that you see across the board is consumers looking for energy and water efficiency,” says Carlos Johnson, senior brand manager for Amana. “Consumers want to feel like they’re being greener and are effectively managing their appliances. There is more demand for Energy Star and green certified appliances, and going forward it will get even stronger.”

GE Appliances has addressed this trend as well. “To give you an idea of how efficient our products have become,” says Steve Anderson, contract marketing and specialty manager of GE Appliances, “one of our 16-cu.-ft. refrigerators will use fewer kilowatts than an 80-watt light bulb. That’s how far we’ve come.” About 18 months ago, GE began testing demand response appliances that reduce electrical consumption during periods of peak energy consumption.

Technology and Features

Technology goes beyond efficiency, however. “Appliances are all about technology to make tentative cooks better cooks,” says Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, Ellen Cheever and Associates, Wilmington, Del. “I think that 10 years ago you had consumers who thought a commercial high-BTU gas range would make them a better cook. Today, I think they are saying, ‘How can you make it easy for me to be a good cook?’

“Jenn-Air’s oven, for example, is specifically designed to help a tentative cook select the right pan and the right temperature. The concept is to make the controlling mechanism easy to operate and fail safe,” she says.

Remodeling clients are asking for real innovations that make cooking and cleaning easier. In the professional-grade appliance category, it’s not just about making a statement or having the most powerful range in the kitchen. What’s important to consumers are real cooking innovations such as Thermador’s Sensor Dome, ExtraLow Simmer and patented Star Burner, a star-shaped design that allows for greater heat coverage and a smaller cold spot than a conventional round burner.

“The result is 18,000 Btu on every burner, more even heat across any sized pan and faster time to boil,” says Zach Elkin, director of the luxury division, Thermador Home Appliances for BSH Home Appliances, Corp. “Also, the new Star Burner design coupled with the porcelain Quick Clean Base allows for easy access and cleanup.”

“There are a lot of gimmicks on appliances, but consumers are not interested in features with no real payoff. They want features they can use,” says Scott Davies, marketing manager for Fisher & Paykel Appliances.

“Ergonomics and efficiency are features that have a real payoff ,” adds Davies “Cycles on a clothes washer, like an allergy cycle, or a tall dish drawer which fits large 13-in. platters, aren’t just novelties; they provide a real and usable benefit,” he says.

GE Appliances has also introduced innovative features. On some of the higher-end refrigeration models, a bottom drawer can be temperature adjusted to cool down wine or beer quickly. The same drawer can be used to defrost meat over the course of a day while maintaining it at a safe temperature.

There is also GE’s Advantium Speedcook oven, available in above-the-range and wall units. The 240-volt version can cook up to eight times faster than conventional oven and still maintain oven-quality results.

In the washing area, GE’s SmartDispense dishwasher only has to be filled with detergent once every three moths. The dishwasher will determine the amount of detergent needed based on the soil level in the water and the hardness of the water. There is a similar product in GE’s laundry line where a six-month supply of detergent and softener can be stored in the washing machine to be dispensed during the wash cycle.

Appearance and Style

Another trend that is hitting appliances is color. The sea of white appliances is starting to fade. Black and stainless steel appliances are growing in popularity, particularly on the high-end side.

Whirlpool has gone beyond this and is bringing color into the kitchen and laundry area.

“In the laundry room color is taking over,” agrees Carlos Johnson of Amana. “There are now a lot of greens, reds and other interesting colors that consumers are asking for.

“In the kitchen, Amana also has been experimenting with colors in top-mount refrigerators. Right now we offer red, silver and midnight blue with a bit of a speckle, and this spring we’re launching a green tea color that has an almost metallic finish with a leafy pattern on it. We’re finding more consumers want to express their personality with non-traditional colors,” Johnson says.

Although stainless steel remains the top alternative pick to traditional white appliances, more and more manufacturers are offering different design options in finishes, especially on higher-end products. For example, Dacor offers floating glass options in Anthracite Gray, Sterling Gray, Titanium Silver, Blue Water, Slate Green and black. Similarly, Jenn-Air offers two different stainless steel lines — Euro Stainless and Pro-Style — in addition to an oiled bronze finish and black and white floating glass options.

Flexibility and Placement

Both GE and Jenn-Air spokespersons indicate that there is growing interest in products that offer flexibility of placement. This includes beverage centers, warming drawers, dishwasher drawers and drawers for refrigeration and freezing. This creates greater design element ideas and offers multiple placement options to better suit usage patterns.

“Consumers are feeling less tied to traditional notions of kitchen design,” says Juliet Johnson, Jenn-Air manager of brand experience. “For example, those who entertain frequently are increasingly opting for two dishwashers or two cooktops or placing beverage centers and drawer dishwashers in entertainment areas outside the kitchen.”

Looking Forward

Demanding remodeling clients will continue to expect more from their appliances — more performance, more innovation, more style and greater value. At the same time, manufacturers will continue to design appliances for those that are passionate about cooking and entertaining at home.

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Helping Customers Choose

The first thing to ask a homeowner when thinking about a new appliance purchase is how they use the product. How do they use the appliances they have today? Do they do lots of cooking and like to cook large dishes? If so, they might want to look at an appliance with a convection oven or dual elements. Do they cook small meals, trying to get it done as quickly as possible and it’s not about the experience? Then a different appliance might be better for them. Next they should think about how important styling is to them. Do they want to make a bold statement or do they want something more subtle that fades into the kitchen or laundry room? Then, based on those two things they should begin looking around in the marketplace, do research on what is available, and find what meets their needs.

“I think one of the first things to do to qualify the consumer is to ask whether they are interested in a free-standing product or a built-in product,” explains GE’s Anderson. “Then, you want to find out how big their family is and their interests in cooking. Whether they cook occasionally, or they do a lot of cooking. How much entertaining do they do? Then, we have to find out what they’re CTQs are, which stands for Critical to Quality interests. Whether it’s efficiency, design, a specific feature, how many children they have in the family — all those things would determine what sort of feature pack or brand we would work with them on.”

As a remodeler, the biggest thing to consider is cutout size of the appliance. Some companies try to maintain the same or similar cutout size to their appliances in order to make replacing them someday as easy as dropping in the new appliance. As innovation continues, though, it’s safe to say that there could be some variation on a product’s depth, width or height, especially if changing brands, and this should be looked at closely before a product is purchased.

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