Maytag gives customers chance to take appliances for a spin

Maytag gives customers chance to take appliances for a spin
 
Date August 06, 2004
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By DAVID PITT

Associated Press Writer

DES MOINES (AP) — New Maytag appliance stores opening in cities across the country allow customers to take a new washer for a spin, avoiding the agitation of a crowded noisy discount store.

A mom curious about an oven’s baking capacity can make cookies while she ponders her purchase. If she needs to know how many pairs of blue jeans a particular dryer can handle, she’s more than welcome to throw a load of laundry in.

If she has youngsters with her, they can play or watch a video in a kids area while she shops.

Iowa-based Maytag Corp. has helped independent owners across the country set up more than 40 of the try-before-you-buy stores, with plans to triple the number over the next two years.

Maytag definitely did their homework on this,” said Ron Dorf, a store owner in Minnetonka, Minn.

The company conducted surveys of appliance buyers to determine what they wanted in a shopping experience and what bothered them.

“In every other category you can experience it before you put it in your house — your car, TV, stereo,” Dorf said. “How come appliances are such a mystery?”

Dorf opened his suburban Minneapolis store the day after Christmas last year and said he’s found customers — mostly women — impressed with the option of hearing and seeing an appliance work.

Clothes washers and dishwashers are tested most often.

“These are two appliances that have water involved and people are very sensitive about the noise performance of it and its washing capability,” Dorf said.

Akshay Rao, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Minnesota’s Carlton School of Management, said with the concept, Maytag is helping to reassure its customers that the appliance they’re going to buy is good quality.

“If my product was really bad, I would be a fool to provide you with that opportunity. So, it must be a good product,” he said. “Whether or not people come in to check it out, it serves the purpose of convincing a suspicious marketplace that the product is, in fact, good.”

Lynette Morgan, of Seattle, said she shopped at a new Maytag Store after hearing a commercial at the radio station where she works as an afternoon announcer.

“I was thrilled to be able to try out their biggest and most roomy washer and dryer,” she said. “I threw the laundry in, and looked around at other appliances while waiting.”

She wanted to test the appliances to see if they would wash the sleeping bags for her family, who enjoy camping.

Her new Neptune washer and dryer handle them easily, she said.

She also liked the store’s kids area.

“It’s great. They were distracted with all the videos and play table. I was able to still walk around the store and keep and eye on them,” she said.

Maytag plans to open another 60 stores by the end of this year and another 30 to 40 next year, said Rian Cain, head of business development.

The new stores are targeted toward urban women.

Because women typically make the decision about appliance purchases, Maytag found that stores with a child-friendly environment and sales people that were accessible but not hovering could make customers more welcome.

Marketing studies found women wanted clean, small stores, with the opportunity to try and compare appliances.

The first test site opened in 1998 in Des Moines and lessons learned there were then tested before focus groups in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Atlanta.

Exit surveys found 84 percent of the customers were satisfied or completely satisfied with their shopping experience, Cain said.

More importantly to owners like Dorf, customers frequently leave the store with a new appliance.

“Our close rate — that is how many customers actually purchase that walk through the door — is running upwards of 70 percent,” he said.

The stores sell most of Maytag‘s major appliance brands, including Hoover floor care products and Maytag, Amana and Jenn-Air appliances.

Maytag, a company that relies on its reputation for reliability and quality, has traditionally focused a large share of its sales on higher-end buyers.

The company’s premium Neptune clothes drying center, for example, typically sells for more than $1,000. Newer style washing machines can cost around $900. Those prices compare with traditional style washers and dryers priced closer to $500.

The company is working feverishly to lower production costs and better compete with increasing numbers of appliances made in low-cost foreign labor markets such as Mexico.

The new stores are part of a strategy to raise consumer awareness of the Maytag brand in the markets where stores are opened.

“We want to create an umbrella in all of these markets that makes it very conducive to hear the story about Maytag, Amana and Jenn-Air,” Cain said. “So, wherever they buy, Maytag becomes a much greater part of their consideration set — because of the Maytag store in the market.”

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