The number and scope of products in the specialty appliance arena is vast – from point-of-use refrigeration and ice machines, induction cooktops and drawer microwave ovens, to high-end built-in coffee systems, outdoor kitchen appliances and trash compactors. The diversity reflects an ongoing desire for products that perform unique tasks while offering design options to create a one-of-a-kind kitchen.
But contrary to their predecessors, these appliances aren’t just for the kitchen. Rather, the specialty appliance category opens up a world of possibilities to designers and consumers as these appliances continue to migrate to other areas inside – and outside – the home.
The desire for products that make a statement – whether an antique oven in a brilliant color as a focal point in the kitchen, a trash compactor that promotes greener living or a fully equipped wet bar with refrigeration, dish drawers and a modular induction cooktop unit in an entertainment room – drives the trend toward innovative products that deliver top quality performance, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
While trophy-sized kitchens may be waning, there are still plenty of consumers who want their kitchen to have trophy appeal. Specialty appliances can provide that uniquely personalized luxury touch that sets a kitchen apart, manufacturers say.
“The biggest determining factor for these sorts of specialized categories of products is really the trophy mentality,” says Matthew Kueny, director of innovation and technology at Miele in Princeton, NJ. “First and foremost, anybody who’s really looking at this is trying to have something that their neighbors don’t have. They really want to have something that they can show off.”
Jeff Wimberly, director of sales and marketing at Perlick Residential Products in Milwaukee, WI, agrees. “People are looking to be the Jones instead of keeping up with them,” he says.
“I think there’s a growing situation where people are perhaps bored with the appliances they have and the appliances they are seeing in the showroom,” notes Tony Dowling, business development manager for Elmira Stove Works in Elmira, ON Canada. “There’s certainly more excitement with the colors,” he says of the antique ovens his company manufactures. “People love the fact that they’re different.”
The “wow” factor alone isn’t enough, however. Manufacturers say the products must also be convenient, easy to use and offer clear benefits.
“Quality is key,” says Larry Lozar, v.p./sales & marketing, Consumer Products, for Scotsman Ice Systems in Vernon Hills, IL. He adds that the specialty products are typically thought of as luxury items, and when people are spending more money than they would on a standard appliance, they expect it to perform well.
Scott Davies, marketing manager for Fisher & Paykel Appliances in Huntington Beach, CA agrees: “Customers are still willing to pay a premium for these appliances, but they really want to get something in return. Over and above the latest trendy things, they want some real features and benefits. So it’s important still for us to make sure the specialty appliances have the same level of innovation we put into all of our other appliances.”
Specialty appliances must offer convenience, including easy-to-use controls and functions. “Because the products tend to be a bit more exotic in nature, ease of use really becomes a key feature for the products themselves,” says Kueny. For instance, he says, with the steam oven, the user doesn’t have to know how to cook with steam – the person simply pushes a button telling the oven what is being cooked, and the machine does the work. “You really have to make sure the customers can easily utilize the technology without having to change their cooking habits,” he adds.