MIAMI–“New, exciting opportunities in brown goods” are the overall reason that white goods sales increase of NATM members “lagged behind industry increases” in 1983, says Alan Wurtzel, president of Wards Co. and president of the buying group.
Wurtzel, who presented this assessment at the NATM annual meeting here, said statistics showed the downward drift partly because “industry sales include sales to builders, a segment of the business that was sharply up, but in which NAT, does not participate.”
In the six traditional white goods categories–refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, dishwashers and ranges–NATM’s share of branded white goods sold at retail dropped from 8.3 percent in 1982 to 7.6 percent in 1983. Share in markets fell from 18.3 to 15.9 percent.
Wurtzel defended his group’s position, saying, “white goods suppliers are competing for the attention of our salesmen and buyers with some very exciting new electronics products, some very strong values for the consumer and strong profits for the retailer.
“I know in my company our salesmen find it more rewarding to work brown goods than white, and inevitably, the lack of new products or better values has tended to shift our buyer’s attention and our advertising dollars to produce categories which excite the consumer and are easier to sell.
“In addition, white goods are more expensive to deliver and service, and especially with multiple colors, turn slower than brown goods. Some of us who have carefully examined these variables find the return on investment in white goods far inferior to brown.”
Total NATM sales of major appliances and consumer electronics reached $1.508 billion in 1983, a 26.4 percent jump over the previous year. All categories of major appliances showed unit increases, even if in most cases this fell below industry figures.
Refrigerator unit sales were up 15.6 percent, compared to the industry’s 21.8 percent. Washer sales climbed 8.6 percent, with industry unit sales hitting 14.8 percent. Dryer sales were up 11.9 percent, compared to the industry’s 20.8 percent. The industry posted a 27.3 percent gain in ranges, with NATM climbing 14.6 percent. Dishwashers sales rose only 4.5 percent, compared to the industry’s strong 42.6 percent unit gain.
Freezer unit sales went against the trend, with NATM members showing a 5.3 percent increase over 1982, compared to the industry’s 3.9 percent decline.
Room air conditioners came in only slightly under the industry figure–a 27.5 percent increase for the industry, compared to 26.5 percent for NATM members. Both NATM and the industry posted 50.2 percent increases in microwave ovens.
Looking at the future of major appliance sales, Wurtzel expects consumers to “keep washers, dryers and refrigerators well beyond useful life unless American and foreign manufacturers provide exciting values.
“Just as sky high prices for automobiles have led us to drive cars further before we trade them in, we run appliances until they drop. Hopefully, we we’ll find a way to reverse this trend.” Otherwise, Wurtzel expects NATM members to continue emphasizing brown goods, with a declining concentration on white goods.
Although Wurtzel says most of the 15 NATM members “will struggle against this trend,” he feels specific direction is needed. “Some of us are experimenting with sales staffs dedicated to white goods and higher commissions on these products. But as in all product categories, neither the retailer nor the manufacturer can do it alone. We need to find some common answers.
“In the long run, we can only prosper if we reduce the costs of production and distribution to give the consumer a better value and ourselves a fair profit.”
Reaction from manufacturers attending the NATM meeting ranged from complete surprise that industry figures were outdistancing NATM increases to defending the manufacturers’ position, along with suggestions for remedying the situation.
“Major appliances still are the Number one buy in the country,” says Roman Conti, vice president of marketing for Tappan. “The value is still there, with the obligation to the consumer that an appliance will last for a long time. Manufacturers are doing the job, giving quality and value.”
Two reasons why NATM members would incur market share loss are related to the upsurge in the builder area and the appeal of brown goods, says Chuck Dowd, vice president for sales and marketing at Admiral home appliances.
“NATM members are not in the home builder market to the extent they serve the replacement market,” says Dowd. “Also, sales are gravitating toward brown goods because of their show-biz atmosphere.
“Manufacturers are just going to have to be more innovative from a standpoint of merchandise and sales,” Dowd says. “Maybe we need more people who would give their direct attention to white goods.
“Dealers also have to make changes in store policies. They should look at their sales force and commission structure. And appliance specialist might be the answer.
“Yet, I still feel the margins are there for white goods. Electronics don’t have these margins,” Dowd says.
Even though Hal Schafer, corporate vice president for consumer products and domestic marketing at White Consolidated, knew NATM members were placing emphasis on electronics–both inventories and promotions–he still is surprised that volume is down, compared to industry sales.
“We still believe the values we offer are outstanding,” says Schafer. “But maybe we’re a little complacent, especially if we forget about the consumer who is replacing major appliances. “We’ve heard dealers say electronics have more narrow margins, and that even if white goods are more profitable, they’re not getting the turns. This presents us with a challenge to improve this position.”