Electric Housewares and Fans

SIC 3634

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing electric housewares for heating, cooking, and other purposes, and electric household fans except attic fans. Important products of this industry include household-type ventilation and exhaust fans; portable household cooking appliances, except convection and microwave ovens; electric space heaters; electrically heated bed coverings; electric scissors; and portable humidifiers and dehumidifiers. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing attic fans and industrial and commercial exhaust and ventilation fans are classified in SIC 3564: Industrial and Commercial Fans and Blowers and Air Purification Equipment; and those manufacturing room air-conditioners and humidifying and dehumidifying equipment, except portable, are classified in SIC 3585: Air-Conditioning and Warm Air Heating Equipment and Commercial and Industrial Refrigeration Equipment.

Industry Snapshot

Electric housewares and fans comprise a major portion of the widely diverse products of the general housewares category, ranking third in shipments behind refrigeration, which is first, and laundry equipment, which is second. In 2007 there were approximately 525 companies in this industry, and shipment values were $7.59 billion, which decreased to 7.5 billion in 2008. Moving into the late years of the first decade of the 2000s, the biggest sellers in this diverse industry were in kitchenwares, as consumers began to spend more time at home. Specialty products for at-home pampering were driving much of the growth. Conair Corp. and Salton Inc. were two of the big names in this industry in 2006.

Organization and Structure

Little product from the electric housewares and fans sector was sold directly from the manufacturer to the consumer. Instead, manufacturers sold to mass distribution networks on a wholesale basis, using account representatives who not only knew the company's product line but also the best way to market the products. Mass market discounters, drug stores, and supermarkets had the lion's share of sales.

Manufacturers engaged in national advertising and promotion campaigns, headlining the product and directing customers to major retail chains. The infomercial continued to be a very successful advertising medium for the industry. By packaging advertising material as a television talk show and featuring celebrity guest appearances, manufacturers could capture consumer attention and dramatically raise awareness of new products. Consumers seemed to like the option of getting detailed information on a product without the pressure of dealing directly with a salesperson. Infomercials were used to target specific television audiences as a direct sales pitch or to supplement national advertising campaigns. They also appeared in the stores as part of point-of-purchase displays. In 2003, Time magazine described many of the new products from this industry as "destined" for infomercials.

Background and Development

Housewares evolved with the changing needs of the modernizing kitchen and the growing demand for more efficient, less labor-intensive work spaces and appliances. In The Housewares Story: A History of the American Housewares Industry, Earl Lifshey described the transition from wasteful disorder to luxurious convenience. An important part of this progress was the advent of the first electric houseware, the electric iron. The first iron patent was issued on June 6, 1882, but the power needed to run it was not available until 1890. Power generating companies had to first be convinced to keep generators on during the day. A more successful iron followed in 1905 when Earl Richardson, an electric company plant supervisor and meter reader, developed the first iron with the heating element concentrated at the point. He marketed the new concept, developed with input from homemakers, under the brand name "Hotpoint."

Many early housewares designs met with manufacturer resistance. What the inventors needed was a marketing network, and the most logical one was the power companies themselves. Inventors would give some of their products away to homeowners for them to try. The inventors then took their field test results to the utilities as proof of the existence of a market for a product and the product's quality. Eventually, utilities realized the market potential of electric housewares and bought into the concept of load building as a way to increase profitability. They began offering appliances directly to homeowners, allowing them to finance their purchases through their utility bills.

Some major electric appliance developments were Landers, Frary & Clark's 1908 introduction of the "universal" coffee Percolator; General Electric's and Westinghouse's 1909 marketing of the first electric toaster; Westinghouse's first electric frying pan in 1911; Landers, Frary & Clark's 1918 introduction of an electric waffle iron that plugged into a light socket; and A. F. Dormeyer's 1927 introduction of an electric household beater that featured a detachable motor for cleaning purposes.

The proliferation of products in the industry prompted retailers to consider the future of electric appliances. The first to adopt a marketing strategy to promote them was Wanamaker's in New York. In 1906 it opened its "Electro-Domestic Science" exposition. The department store placed the display in its basement, which was the poorly lit, badly ventilated, unevenly heated space that had become associated with housewares. However, it was not long before the housewares department found itself displaced by the "bargain basement" concept and moved up into the mainstream of department store marketing. Other marketers, such as hardware and drug stores and discount and wholesale outlets, quickly entered the arena, but with the poor transportation facilities of the day, they serviced essentially local and somewhat isolated markets. To grow into a mass production industry, electric housewares needed a mass distribution system. The "drummer" or traveling salesman, so named because of the huge drums of product he carried around, could only begin to tap the potential of this market.

The mail order catalog was already a success by the end of the nineteenth century. Mail order companies provided an excellent alternative to traveling salesmen because they bought large volumes of goods inexpensively and distributed them by means of the mail system. By 1972 mail order accounted for $261 million of the retail sale of general housewares.

During the middle to late 1980s, many long-time industry giants began to falter or fail. In 1985 the biggest name in the industry, General Electric Company, sold its housewares division to The Black & Decker Corporation. That was only one of many deals throughout the 1980s that rearranged the list of major players in the industry. Much of the activity was driven by a shift from traditional mass production and inventory systems to more time sensitive "just-in-time" production. Some poorly capitalized corporations could not handle the erratic production schedules of the latter method to provide reliable product delivery. The result was a concentration of production in fewer, larger companies using modern production techniques. Between 1972 and 1987, the number of establishments manufacturing electric housewares dropped from 299 to 230. At the same time, automation and more efficient production techniques reduced the number of production workers from 41,000 to 19,300.

In 1988 the leading firm in the electric housewares industry, Allegheny International (AI), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and began a long series of maneuvers to recapitalize. At one point, AI accepted an offer from Black & Decker that would have given that company 63 percent of the iron market, 59 percent of hand-held mixers, and almost 40 percent of food processors. That seemed to be too much concentration for the industry, and a campaign of determined opposition scuttled the deal. AI eventually emerged from Chapter 11 in 1990 as Sunbeam-Oster Corp. and in 1996 achieved stature as the most profitable publicly held appliance manufacturer, ahead of such behemoths as Whirlpool and Black & Decker.

As the economy began to rebound in the early 1990s, consumer confidence buoyed industry production, but the consolidation trend continued. By 1992 three of the largest firms--the revitalized Sunbeam-Oster Inc., Rival Co., and Toastmaster Inc.--had successfully floated large initial public offerings with the intention to spend at least some of that capital on corporate acquisitions. They targeted firms with less than $10 million in sales, since those companies would have difficulty meeting the increasingly demanding shipment requirements of the major retailing chains. Some of the $299 million raised was to be used to erase debt incurred during the 1980s and some was earmarked for new product development.

New product may have been the real driving force of the electric housewares industry in the early 1990s. At this time baby boomers began to cocoon, retreating into their homes and looking for ways to optimize comfort and style. Sunbeam estimated that 24 percent of its 1992 sales came from products introduced for the first time within the preceding four years.

One area that came of age in the 1990s was the fan portion of the electric housewares industry. The Vornado fan, with its modernistic styling and quiet but high-volume air moving capabilities, revitalized the domestic circulation fan business for many retailers. At the same time, the ceiling fan, most popular in the South, changed from the functional, low-priced favorite of the mass merchandiser to an up-scale designer product. Style and color, as well as quiet, efficient, and variable operation, became important selling features. Sixty percent of the 17 million fans sold in 1996 included some type of light fixture, and many of those were of the chandelier style, incorporating French glass, lead cut crystal, and solid Italian brass.

In 1996 Appliance magazine analyzed manufacturers of blenders, can openers, coffee makers, food processors, hand mixers, irons, toaster ovens, and toasters to determine market share rankings of small household appliance manufacturers. Hamilton Beach/Proctor-Silex held 27.9 percent of the market; Black and Decker, 18.5 percent; Oster/Sunbeam, 9.2 percent; and the rest of the market was divided between Toastmaster, Rival, HPA/Betty Crocker, Braun, and others.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the early years of the first decade of the 2000s, shipment values for electric housewares and household fans decreased from $2.44 billion in 1999 to $2.26 billion. Over the same time period, the number of industry employees dropped from 13,823 to 9,394.

In 2007, there were 525 establishments in the industry, with 27,037 employees, 23,295 of whom were production workers earning $795 million in wages. Nearly three-fourths of companies in the industry reported fewer than 10 employees. The cost of materials for 2006 was more than $2 billion.

The leading product categories within this industry were electric household fans ($3.6 billion), electric household cooking appliances (more than $2 billion), and electric housewares (less than $2 billion).

Appliance color and shape became important criteria as consumers demanded innovation in form as well as function. Other important appliance features were multiple functions, such as a handheld mixer with kneading, whisking, and drink-blending attachments; smaller size; and speed. In the mid-years of the first decade of the 2000s, while the discount products continued to sell well, the luxury lines experienced strong growth, with most high-tech, high-end products in demand.

Current Conditions

Following the global economic slump during 2009, manufacturers of electric kitchenwares were anticipating a slow start in 2010 as high unemployment and sluggish home sales lingered. Harry Baltzer, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group who authored "Eating Patterns of America," revealed preparing more meals at home has been the norm since the onset of the 2000s and that trend was expected to continue, which translated into good news for the industry.

Electric kitchenwares continued to drive industry sales during the first quarter of 2010 as consumers opted to prepare more meals at home. In fact, according to The NPD Group, demand for electric grills and griddles, food processors, coffee/espresso makers, deep fryers, electric skillets, and slow cookers achieved double-digit growth between March 2009 and March 2010. On a global level, the housewares market grew 4.7 percent in 2010, with the U.S. market climbing by 1.5 percent, based on a report released by the International Housewares Association.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, shipment values for electric housewares and household fans decreased from $1.95 billion in 2009 to $1.54 billion in 2010. There were 12 establishments that manufactured electric fans (not including industrial fans) in 2010. Electric fan shipment values fell from $613.9 million in 2009 to $414.1 million in 2010, as did small electric household appliances (excluding fans), that fell from $1.33 billion in 2009 to $1.12 billion in 2010. In addition, parts and attachments for small household electric appliances totaled $55.9 million in 2009 and $54.4 million in 2010. Small electric household appliances, including portable, fan-forced type air space heaters, were valued at $683.6 million in 2009 and plummeted to $496.9 million in 2010. Small electric household appliances such as humidifiers and vaporizers within this industry classification fell from $652.9 million in 2009 to $631.8 million in 2010.

Despite sustained economic uncertainty on the retail end and continued slow growth for housewares manufacturers throughout 2011, shows sponsored by the International Housewares Association (IHA) experienced record attendance in early 2012, an indication that the economy was finally on the mend. As competition heated up, housewares suppliers were "�exporting more, concentrating on foreign markets, increasing distribution, finding new customers and producing new products in new segments of categories," Bruce Kaminstein, CEO of Casabella Holdings LLC, told the IHA in January 2012, adding that "�our industry has to get more aggressive in selling and developing new products." Going forward, some industry watchers view rising prices, labor shortages in China, Internet deals, and a mind-set consumers have developed to make their purchases when the price comes down as factors that could affect housewares manufacturers' bottom lines.

Industry Leaders

Conair Corp. of Stanford, Connecticut led the electric housewares industry in 2007, with $1.9 billion in sales and 4,060 employees. Salton Inc. of Miramar, Florida was second with 2008 sales of $676 million and 905 employees. According to Ward's Business Directory of U.S. Private and Public Companies, other leading companies were Norelco, Helen of Troy, and Blendtec.

Conair Corp., maker of Cusinart and Waring reported sales of $1.8 billion for 2009 with 3,781 employees. The company operates across the globe with offices in Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Europe, including others. Salton Inc. who changed its name to Russell Hobbs, Inc. in December 2009, was acquired from investment firm Harbinger Capital Partners by Atlanta, Georgia-based consumer products company Spectrum Brand, Inc. in June 2010. The combined company was expected to generate annual sales totaling $3 billion.

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