Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
Whirlpool Dives into Bath Business
Whirlpool Corp., a company that earned its reputation helping people wash dishes and clothes, wants everyone to take a bath.
Whirlpool Corp., a company that earned its reputation helping people wash dishes and clothes, wants everyone to take a bath. The company will even tell you about it at a web site devoted to the subject, www.takeabath.com.
The web site is part of Whirlpool’s launch of its initial entry into bath products at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show last month - a full line of jetted baths under the name Cielo. Pronounced "see-el-o" meaning sky and heavenly in Spanish, it is the company’s first home-grown brand launch since it introduced the Whirlpool name more than 50 years ago, says Nancy L. Green, director of the brand. Why all the fuss? She says the launch signals the company’s recognition of the growing importance of the bathroom in homes, "If kitchens are the gathering place, bathrooms are the retreat."
|The Cielo line of jetted baths is a departure for appliance maker Whirlpool Corporation and signals its recognition of the bathroom as a home’s primary retreat.
For proof, Green points to Whirlpool’s own research and surging bath industry sales figures. According to KBIS, the jetted bath market grew at a 7% annual rate from 1993 to 1998 to an estimated 870,000 units last year - a figure that was split evenly between new and remodeled homes. Meanwhile, consumer interest in the segment suggests a very high demand for jetted baths that for many reasons has not translated to sales - about 70% of the 1.1 million new-home buyers in 1997 said they wanted a jetted bath while only 27% of those actually got one.
The problem and the opportunity for Whirlpool, Green says, is to help raise consumer knowledge about the product segment and also to make it easier for builders to find value in providing upgraded baths as standard equipment. In that regard, the company hopes to leverage its strength in the kitchen and the laundry room by positioning jetted baths as simply an appliance for the bathroom, recognizing the trend that more builders are inclined to do business with single-source suppliers.
Whirlpool’s new foray into the bathroom makes sense for another reason: when surveyed, many consumers think the company already makes a line of bath products while one-third of jetted bath owners have a difficult time remembering the brand they own. Added to this is the fact that no one company has a lock on the market. Green says about 100 companies make jetted baths and not one "owns" the industry. Jacuzzi has a 25% market share followed by Kohler and Lasco, KBIS says.
"We have a tremendous opportunity here," says Tom Halford Whirlpool’s general manager for contract marketing. "Everything we put into the Cielo bath brand is meant to make the whole process easier for builders and designers. At the same time we are addressing what consumers want, a place to spend some time for themselves away from the pressures of work and family."
Starting from there, the company went further in its research to identify the features that current jetted bath owners would seek when purchasing a second one. High on the list was appearance and price, but after that came "ease of entry/exit", cleanability, and comfort. To this end Whirlpool is going into the market with its guns loaded.
Whirlpool is rolling out its Cielo line regionally during the next few months and will be available nationally by the fall, says Green.