NATM slips in white goods: electronics stole the show

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.”


Interior decoration trends: metal ceiling systems, odor-eating fabrics and more

Many innovative products for interior decoration have been developed recently. These products include a wood surfacing material made from genuine wood veneer backed by several layers of phenolic kraft paper and fabricated using traditional laminate techniques, patented acoustical panels and a mechanism that allows wheelchairs to ride escalators. A Japanese chemical company has also developed odor-eating fabrics.


* In its global outreach, Falcon has signed an agreement with the government of the Czech Republic to acquire a controlling interest in Miton a.s., a manufacturer of wood furniture with sales of approximately $3.3 million.

* Aktrin Furniture Research and Dave Woodburn Associates, an international marketing and consulting firm, joined forces to debut services, such as sourcing, inspection, packaging, study trips, and more, for companies interested in importing from Pacific Rim countries Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and China. Call 905-845-3474.


* Laminates can be attached flat to Laminart’s new substrate, Kerfkore, and then cold formed into any shape without stress cracks or delaminations, eliminating the need for pre-made forms and bending stock. For samples and a technical manual, call 800-323-7624.

* Formica introduces Formica Ligna, a wood surfacing material made from genuine wood veneer backed by several layers of phenolic kraft paper and fabricated using traditional laminate techniques. Call 800-FORMICA

* Hunter Douglas introduces a line of metal ceiling systems called GA-2000 Super Perforated Metal Ceilings. Call 800-366-4327.

* Partition Technologies introduces patented acoustical panels called Velcura, which connect with Velcro and require no skilled labor, tools, clips, or brackets for installation. Call 908-862-7000.


Baker Furniture has named Christian Plasman, formerly with HBF, as president…The D&D Building has appointed Alexis Contant as marketing director…Knoll has named Sarah Miles as vice president of communications and Sam Shaffer as marketing director of seating and wood casegoods…KI has hired Robert Allen as director of design…La-Z-Boy has named Robert Yeo as health-care sales manager and Mike Marsh as modular casegoods sales manager…Silk Dynasty has named Jason Falls as president…Mannington has appointed James Armour as vice president of its commercial business group of resilient floors…Steelcase North America has appointed James Hackett as executive vice president and chief operating officer…Steelcase Japan has named Makoto Baba as president…Cooper Lighting has named Larry Wegner as marketing communications manager…Pleion has named David Poole as government sales manager…Leggett & Platt has named Jim Grimes as group vice president.



Practical products for the elderly. Nursing homes, hospitals, and even residential quarters for the elderly continue to be built with typical general use carpeting or flooring. But some innovation is on the way. According to an article in Business Week magazine, researchers at Pennsylvania State University have developed a new cushioned flooring material that limits injuries to the elderly, who are prone to falling. The flooring is specially constructed of layers of an elastic material called urethane elastomer. Its downside: it costs up to four times as much as other flooring. The researchers plan to install in 1995 a prototype at a yet-to-be disclosed nursing home in Pennsylvania. The product could be used in numerous other interior applications where liability is an issue.


Escalators, potentially dangerous equipment even for the able-bodied, have been inaccessible to wheelchair users. But, according to a recent New York Times patents column, Yoshio Ogimura, a Japanese inventor, designed and patented a mechanism that allows wheelchairs to ride escalators. The mechanism is designed to bring two steps of an escalator to the same height to create a small platform on which a baby stroller or a wheelchair can sit without rolling off accidentally. The mechanism received patent number 5,332,077. Information on patents are available by number by contacting the Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, DC 20231.


Tokyo-based Asahi Chemical Industry Company has developed a way for upholstery fabrics, draperies, and carpeting to literally eat up smoke and other odors, according to Business Week magazine. The chemical company says it has synthesized a polymer that binds to acrylic fabric and at the same time attracts elements as nicotine and ammonium sulfide. Tests show that one gram of the special fabric can “inhale” the smoke of 15,000 cigarettes. The fabric will be available in 1996 and Asahi estimates that the fabric will cost an extra $1 per yard over untreated cloth.


When background magnetic field interference, which can originate from an electrical device close to the monitor such as a scanner, wiring, or even another monitor, collides with a computer’s own internal magnetic fields, the image on screen can become jittery or distorted or it can drift, shake, or swim. A typical solution is to shield the monitor with a costly, custom-built metal box to protect it from interference. A less expensive solution the JitterBox from NoRad Corporation. The JitterBox is made of four adjustable corner pieces of plastic which attach to each other and shield the monitor from the external magnetic field, resulting in stable screen images. Call 800-262-3260.


What happened in September at InterPlan, the new Designer’s Saturday? It was good news for the eastern region. Aisles were busy and most exhibitors were pleased with the turn-out of quality designers. According to Joan Landis, group show director, a total of 8,257 visitors walked through the 3-day show at the Javits Center. The not-so-good news: Product introductions at InterPlan were few and far between as most made their debut at NeoCon.

New was an executive panel system called TopLine by Panel Concepts. Presented during InterPlan’s showroom day at the A&D building, the new system can be installed by virtually anyone because it does away with all the confusing nuts and bolts it usually takes to hook together a traditional panel system. Instead, each 2 1/2-inch-wide aluminum panel connects to another by a patent-pending camlock device. The device, a specially designed rabbit-shaped key locks the panels together when it is pressed securely into slots on the panel-to-panel connector. Two to three camlocks per panel connector will ensure a level, solid, and stable system that costs 10 to 15 percent less than many other panel systems, says David Blackburn, vice president of operations. Call 714-433-3300 for more information on the system.

Another debut at InterPlan was Western Solution’s Premiere Solution, a handsome palette of 24 solid color cut pile carpets made from BASF’s solution dyed nylon. Norm Wool, president of Western Solution, says the company’s processes promise that its solid color solution-dyed nylon carpets won’t look streaky. Though solution-dyed nylon is one of the most popular choices for contract carpets today, fiber companies and mills continue to grapple with the muddy quality of solution-dyed nylon fiber colors and the demand from the design community for more sophisticated, clear, and vibrant colors. Call 800-308-6630 for information.

During InterPlan, The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) presented 62 Apex awards for the 1994 IIDA/Contract Design Product Design Competition.The award for best of competition was presented to the design firm Wiege for their design of Tubis, a line of lounge furniture manufactured by Wilkhahn, a company based in Germany which made its debut in the U.S. this year at NeoCon.


The New York Times may have opened up a small can of worms in its Home Design supplement in the October 2nd issue. In a major article, writer Joan Duncan Oliver discussed how contract furniture can be specified for residential use. Her description of the benefits of using contract furniture in the home may result in an avalanche of business for area designers, dealers, and furniture manufacturers–especially those mentioned including HBF, Jasper Seating, Vitra, ICF, Vecta, Herman Miller, Knoll, Haworth, Geiger Brickel, and others. The article made it clear that a consumer needs a designer to purchase such items. But could enough consumer interest convince more showrooms to sell direct?


Office Specialty, manufacturers of filing and storage products, will introduce at IFMA this month FILESpec, a computer program that automates filing and storage specification. FILESpec helps the specifier to quickly create filing cabinets in virtually limitless configurations to handle complex media storage needs.

The program can be used by an end-user, or, a designer can bring the software into a client to determine storage solutions. The operator of the program inputs on screen survey data about particular storage needs, then asks the program to analyze the data to help build on screen the determined size cabinetry including list prices. The program operator can also fill in the desired colors of files. FILESpec is a “windows” based program which runs on a 486DX notebook with color screen or comparable standard-sized computer. For more information about the program, call 800-563-7128.


Joining the BIFMA/IFMA World Work-place Consortium executive committee is Richard Haworth, CEO of Haworth; Kermit Campbell, CEO of Herman Miller; and Lanny Felder, CFM, director of real estate and facilities planning for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. The first consortium event will be the World Workplace ’95 show, scheduled to take place in Miami Beach, Florida, September 17-20, 1995…Seventy-four percent of facility management professionals report that the time they spend on health, safety, and comfort issues has increased in the past year due to workers’ complaints and better awareness of liability issues, according to the fifth annual Corporate Facilities Monitor, a survey from IFMA. Adding fuel to the fire is OSHA and its proposed rulings to regulate indoor air quality in the “non-industrial workplace,” including offices. BIFMA is keeping tabs on the progress of OSHA’s activities…A new book on TQM called Total Quality Management: Reports from the Front Lines by wholesale distributor Jim Truesdell features interviews of more than 50 CEOs, managers, and consultants describing their involvement in the TQM process


Kitchen furnitures Trends

1. Television technology is changing to that sets will be even lighter and more portable. This development will just hasten the spread of video products through every room in the house.

2. Cutlery products enjoyed strong growth throughout 1983, and there’s no reason to believe the trend won’t continue. High-quality, well-designed knives are the best bets.

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3. Thin wall clocks, featuring quartz technology and strong fashion colors are gaining momentum.

4. Microwave oven cookware has benefited from the continuing grwoth of microwave ovens. There are a variety of materials although specially-formulated plastics and glass seem to be the mose popular. Plastic cookware producers are upgrading cosmetic features.

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5. It seems as though all microwave ovens are selling well. The under-the-cabinet units, introduced a few years ago, are experiencing tremendous growth. In years past, top-of-the-line units dominated sales, but the promotions business has grown rapidly.

6. There’s been plenty of experimentation with stove technology, but it hasn’t resulted in major changes in buving patterns. Down-draft cooking, which allows barbecue heating without smoke, is expensive but is making headway.

7. Window treatments, such as these shutters, that control heat and light coming into a room are becoming more common-place. Adapted from European energy-saving applications, these items are popular because American consumers still feel that conservation is important.

8. Butcher block tables have been a steady success story. Retail distribution is broadening and a wider audience has been found. Consumers are showing a preference for natural wood throughout the home and butcher block has benefited.

9. Breuer chairs have enjoyed tremendous success during the past few years. While the original wicker chair is being widely distributed and discounted, upholstered units provide consumers with a little more sophisticated look.

10. Kitchen rugs provide a colorful fashion accent. Bright primaries coordinate with the placements and towels to make the kitchen the brightest room in the house.

11. One manufacturer introduced an under-the-cabinet coffeemaker last year and it has been such a success many similar units will be introduced this year by others. By 1985, the category may experience tremendous growth.

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12. Can openers are moving off the counter and under-the-cabinet. Consumers are buying all the units that can be produced, and production will be greatly expanded in next few years.

13. Electronic controls, durable construction and improved performance are features manufacturers are striving for in dishwashers. Makers are investing heavily to produce higher-quality units.

14. Side-by-side door refrigerators are gaining favor. The units are more expensive than freezer-on-the-top units and have more features, such as water dispenser and ice cream maker.

15. Gumbo pots as large as 60 quarts are beginning to turn up at stores outside Louisiana as interest in Cajun cooking grows. Could become broad-based trend as Italian, Chinese and Tex-Mex were.