“Nothing will be like before anymore” is a leitmotiv we got used to. The pandemic has severely impacted lives of people and businesses, now engaged in creating a new normal. Some brands of the household appliances sector tell us how they are living this phase
by Elena Corti
After the acute phase of the emergency and the related restrictions, also the home appliance world looks ahead and begins to build a new normality in a context characterized by strong uncertainty. The completely out of the ordinary situation, that companies have had to face, brought the attention on the possible tools that can be adopted to manage such exceptional circumstances, starting from digital technologies to support remote work, avoiding unnecessary movements thanks to the use of videoconferencing and maintaining contact with suppliers and customers. To understand in detail how home appliance companies are moving, we have carried out a survey to which some brands in the sector took part telling us about their strategies and the products they intend to focus on to turn the page and continue to grow.
|The flagship products for the recovery
In recent months there has been several discussions on how the pandemic and the consequent lockdown period have changed consumer habits, leading to new trends. How did this impact on the appliance sector? Certainly, there has been an increase in interest in devices dedicated to air treatment and sanitization, whose value is now more than ever appreciated. In fact, hoods and purifiers allow to restore indoor air quality, guaranteeing constant cleaning of the rooms from polluting agents. The need for healthy air is combined with the desire for psychophysical well-being. In addition, to meet the needs of consumers, these products combine advanced purification technologies, aesthetic refinement and, in some cases, also connectivity, a feature that is predictably increasingly appreciated given that the Covid-19 emergency has led to greater familiarity with digital technologies.
If appliances for the health of environments are certainly among the growing products, kitchen appliances are also in the spotlight. The obligation to stay at home has prompted many people to rediscover the pleasure of cooking and this makes hobs, ovens and cookers products to which is increasingly focused the attention of consumers who are looking for performant appliances (but simple to use) in order to be able to experience cooking at home.
|What we asked to companies
1 What are the key points on which you intend to focus your business strategies in order to reach a new normality after the Coronavirus emergency? Will something change compared to the past in your way of working?
2 What are your goals in the near future?
3 How is export going? Have you experienced significant drops due to the lockdown?
|«We intend to focus on the production of environments purification and sanitization systems with one of the latest technologies available that reduces the viral and bacterial loads suspended in the air: cold plasma technology. These systems will be available for purchase in various configurations: from small sizes for elevators or wardrobes to larger models for living, school or work spaces. The production will provide both single products and components integrated in our kitchen hoods that are effective against viruses, bacteria, spores, fungi, molds and bad smells.»|
1 The challenge taken after the reopening was to rapidly change the consolidated production of kitchen hoods and induction hobs towards air sanitisers dedicated to the home and work environment. It is a project called AirO’ which has been in development for many years and which had a very strong push in the Phase 2 period of the epidemic.
2 The goal we are setting is to carefully follow the demand for a cleaner environment, intended not only as nature in a generic sense, but precisely as a place where a person lives and works. The epidemic pushed towards an even higher level of need for cleaning and sanitation. We had to activate a new production line that manufactures sanitizers of different sizes, based on cold plasma technology for domestic environments, shops, offices, elevators, etc.
3 Lockdown caused a drastic drop in orders and deliveries abroad but from the restart it seems that the offer of products related to the needs of healthier and safer environments is leading us towards a saturation of the production capacity that we hope will go on in the coming months, especially towards the end of the year. As a good omen we have renamed our factory “pure air factory”.
| «In the company we have noticed that the health emergency has pushed people to use kitchen appliances more than before. During the closing period we received numerous requests. Fortunately, communication with customers and consumers has never ceased. This is the advantage of having a national manufacture: consumers know who to contact.
Bompani focuses on products that have made our history, namely the cooking appliances, from cookers to ovens and hobs. The oven has returned to being the protagonist in the kitchen: it is an appliance that was probably less used in recent times. But to make bread, cakes and pizza at home it is important to have an excellent oven.»
1 The company only stopped operating as a result of government regulations, but we could have continued to operate safely and thus meet customer orders. Certainly, some of the good practices adopted in this period will be preserved both in terms of health security and the use of information technology.
2 Our business has restarted normally. Without a doubt, the effects of the stop for the health emergency will be felt throughout the supply chain and this makes us worried and cautious. The main corporate objective remains unchanged: to continue the product repositioning strategy that is already giving excellent results. The quality of Italian “cooking” is undisputed all over the world.
3 Export represents 90% of our sales. Fortunately, it did not drop, but it is still early to say. Our order book is in line with the budget, but we will better evaluate the situation in the coming months.
|«Hood remains our core business and even this year, despite the complexities of the moment, there will be plenty of news that will confirm Faber investments in research and development. This appliance is gaining a central role in the kitchen also as a piece of furniture, as well as being fundamental for improving indoor air quality. In these two directions are positioned the products we are launching during the current year to which, at the turn of 2021, we will add new models that filter air and monitor its quality, communicating the values of the healthiness of the various environments. These latest innovations will further express our mission "Air Matters", that is, the desire to offer high-performant products for the best air quality within the walls of the house, also taking advantage of connectivity: let's not forget that the health emergency has given a strong impulse to the penetration of digital in people's daily lives. In addition, the Faber catalog will continue to expand with new proposals for induction hobs, some with integrated extraction systems, a segment in which Faber Galileo line represents true excellence.»|
1 I state that the first variable that has guided and continues to guide our corporate choices is the great sense of responsibility towards the health of all our employees, both internal and external. A choice undertaken since the early stages of lockdown and which today allows us to affirm that we are able to meet the market demand by producing in total safety. This is also the first prerequisite for returning to invest in a sustainable and solid development of our company, strengthened by the usual determination and medium-long term vision that has always distinguished us: an event such as Covid-19 emergency is not only a very demanding challenge for businesses, but also an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of digitalization and a strong relationship with all our employees and partners.
2 One of our priorities is to safeguard the 2020 result, which, although compromised by the lockdown of almost two months, can still allow us to recover some of the lost ground. As always, we will work by carrying out all the strategic objectives that the company has already set, such as consolidating international development on key markets such as Italy, India and the United States (area where Faber has great growth margins) without neglecting the presence in Europe. It is a goal that we intend to achieve thanks to the support of our distributors, business partners and customers that we will continue to involve in an effective promotion of our catalogue and the many innovations that we will present in the coming months. At the same time we want to establish an increasingly direct relationship with the final consumer – in this direction we will continue to invest in the development of channels and in digital communication – and to expand brand awareness and reputation also thanks to the launch of distinctive products.
3 The lockdown weeks obviously marked a strong drop in the production of the Italian factory in Sassoferrato, with consequences on the second quarter of the year which translate into lower results compared to our forecasts for the beginning of the year, but we are strongly committed to recovering this contraction in fast times. The impact of the Covid-19 emergency on sales has occurred and will probably be recorded for the entire fiscal year, but some of our production units in Turkey, Sweden and Mexico have continued to work, albeit at reduced rates, and this placed us in a condition of partial advantage.
|«In this period the issue of air quality is fundamental and as far as we are concerned it represents a great opportunity to reaffirm our solutions in terms of air treatment and sanitization of environments such as E.ion® System and Bellaria, which are currently having a boom in requests.»|
1 During this strange historical period we paradoxically had the opportunity to strengthen relations, albeit at a distance, with our customers, united by a common difficulty and limitation. Thanks to modern videoconferencing tools, however, we have not lost touch and indeed we have discussed and prepared specific actions to be more active in the market. This break taught us to optimize travel and take full advantage of the technological possibilities to better manage and plan our time and activities.
2 Certainly the target remains growth – both in absolute and dimensional terms and in qualitative terms – in the offer of increasingly exclusive and distinctive products, to strengthen the uniqueness of the Falmec brand. We have clear ideas on what the steps are to get back to running once the situation is normalized. We remain positive and optimistic for our near future and for our sector as a whole.
3 In general, exports certainly better withstood the impact of ” Covid hurricane “, even if we nevertheless recorded a drop in sales in some markets, in particular Spain and France. However, we are now seeing very positive signs, both from domestic and foreign markets which bode well for the second half of 2020.
|«In our market offer, cooking appliances (indoor and outdoor) have always been central and therefore, without taking anything away from other sectors such as refrigeration or washing, we will focus more on the development of these products with intrinsic value and unique “flavor”, able to conquer consumers not so much for the price but for what is contained in them and for the satisfaction they will give in their use, with the aim of making people touch with their hands that ‘living better is possible’.»|
1 Daily life itself teaches us to respect the new rules of behavior within the company and among collaborators, customers and suppliers. Certainly, this emergency has pushed us to a greater use of the communication technologies that have allowed both the operational continuity and to maintain strong personal relationships and among companies. It is an invaluable teaching for all company dimensions, which will certainly bring benefits also for the future.
2 In the short term, we are very committed to recovering what was lost during the forced closure period, trying, with the collaboration of customers, to catch every opportunity that occurs and that can be pursued economically and with the currently available resources. In the medium term we aim for a greater centrality of our Fulgor Milano brand in industrial and commercial choices, while in the long term we want to “build” our brand as an asset in the Made-in-Italy luxury market.
3 If, with the restart, Italy is giving signs of sometimes unexpected revival, the foreign markets are unfortunately subject – some more and some less – to problems of falling consumption dictated by the past or current Covid-19 emergency. Significant markets for our company such as North America, China, the Middle East and Russia are at the moment (when the article is written, ed.) very contracted and folded in on themselves, even if local operators are not lacking very strong doses of optimism for recover in the future. As for many sectors, also that of the household appliance saw the sell-out drop in the major markets (perhaps excluding Germany only), thus causing an increase in stocks due to the sell-in in the period prior to the lockdown: now these volumes will have to be sold on the market in a F.I.F.O. (first in-first out) dynamic causing a drop in production demand towards the industry. But in all likelihood – and in the absence of further health critical phases – in the last quarter of 2020 we will return to a normalization of the production-distribution-consumption dynamics.
|«In the immediate future, Specialista by Glem Gas cooking project is having great success in our built-in range, driven even more by an invigorated demand for home cooking. As a brand, free-standing cookers are our leitmotiv and, thanks to a wide and versatile range, we record comforting sales. At the same time, we are continuing with our project to launch the new built-in and free-standing platforms in progress since the beginning of 2020. We expect a lot from both projects, strong and proud of the excellent results achieved abroad.»|
1 In the organizational sphere, we have adapted to the situation, reacting to this new challenge since the beginning of March. Since then we have been working following all the indications and protocols in force to avoid any problem for staff: this is obviously the number one priority. Distancing, masks, smart working, Covid-19 operating manuals etc. they are all behaviors and safety measures adopted to better face this new reality.
On the market front, however, we confirm our ambitious strategy and plans. Brand identity is the guide to our proposals: we are Specialisti in Cottura (Specialists in Cooking) and we want to continue offering high added value appliances, which enhance the performance of all home cooks with further more enthusiasm! In this period of reduced freedom, kitchen as a place and cooking have returned strongly in the life of all of us, all over the world! We feel an active part of this new (or more established) social reality and we want to give support with our products to users who will give us this opportunity.
2 We are totally focused on the recovery after the lockdown stop. Fortunately having the order books full, thanks to the collaboration and dedication of our staff, we were committed to processing all requests also in August. For the next future, we want to maintain our leadership positions in Italy and the Middle East where, given the latest events, we see areas of consolidation. In addition to this, we want and must grow in areas that see us as less protagonists: EU, Asia and USA in the first place.
3 World is reacting differently according to the areas. EU was hit hard in April by Covid-19 emergency, but is now recovering while Americas are still in the eye of the hurricane. The Middle East and Australia experienced moderate slowdowns followed by a sizable “rebound”. The outlook for the coming months is positive and, despite everything, we are optimistic. We have a few more uncertainties for 2021.
|«We will continue to focus on our range while maintaining our identity and we will go on as we set before Coronavirus without changing our product strategies.»|
1 We will pay further more attention to changes, because we are convinced that Coronavirus has greatly accelerated what was already underway, and in particular we will focus on attention to the consumer because it is from here that we start. At this moment, however, we are equally convinced that not everything can depend on us: regardless of our strategies, it is necessary that some time passes before we can arrive at a new normal. Regarding our way of working, I don’t think that, in general, there will be big changes considering the production characteristics of our company as an Italian manufacturer. As I mentioned before, we will pay more attention to everything, therefore also to changes, if it needs.
2 At the moment I think it is impossible to set specific objectives, also because working with foreign markets we will have to wait for “normality” to arrive in all the countries that have been affected by the Coronavirus after us. As I said before, we will pay more attention to everything in order to be ready to start again as quickly as possible.
3 Foreign markets, having been hit by Covid-19 after us, are “blocked” because they are in the same condition in which Italy found itself with the outbreak of the pandemic. Due to this situation, we have experienced sharp drops in exports.
|«As far as products are concerned, our focus is on: the new ProLine range, with a “professional” look that will be highly appreciated in the domestic context; Icon, which will restyle our Best Seller in line with the market trend; the new Gas on Glass Premium, which will offer an ideal combination of square and soft lines. So, as it is clear, the positioning of all these new products will aim upwards.»|
1 We will continue to focus on innovation and quality, factors which have enabled us to grow and which will help us to do so also in the future. We believe that, after this period, consumers, or at least many of them, will direct their choices towards more responsible consumption: we will try to seize these opportunities by designing products that are increasingly suitable for a circular and environmentally friendly economy.
2 In terms of products, we are completing the development of new hob lines. The goal is to expand our offer in new market segments. We are aiming upwards in the gas sector, to which we have always paid the utmost attention, but we are also expanding in the mixed/electric segment that had not yet seen us perform according to our potential. In a more structural context, however, we are implementing some projects in terms of digitalization of the factory as well as the rationalization of various internal processes; all of course with the aim of increasing our operational efficiency with clear advantages also for our customers.
3 Zepa has taken all the governmental measures imposed by the DPCM (decree of the president of the council of ministers) by keeping the factory closed for several weeks. We have obviously recorded a drop due to the contingent situation which has been managed in the best possible way and today we can certainly say that we have “kept the shock wave well”.
We are also satisfied with the work done because it allowed us to coordinate the orders of our customers without interruptions in supplies, which would obviously have compromised the recovery at the sell-out level. With pleasure we also note a gradual recovery of commercial activities by more and more customers and countries to which we export. With the mission then to transform “challenges into opportunities”, we also highlight numerous positive notes having made agreements with new customers. The potential that we guarantee as a Group is indeed remarkable. Having a supplier like Zepa today means ensuring the collaboration of one of the strongest Group in the market – the Teka world – and the opportunity to include in the catalogue a series of products also complementary to the hobs such as ovens, microwaves, hoods, sinks, as well as special products that can qualify our customer’s OEM brand in an important way. All these products are made within our Group, in the various factories located in many countries of the world.