HVACRDB
Building on the Brand

Building on the Brand

Whirlpool is a well-known and well-regarded brand name among consumers. In fact, you can find a Whirlpool appliance in one-third of American households, ranking first among appliances that are repurchased by consumers. With such strong loyalty and brand recognition among consumers, HVACR distributors who carry Whirlpool have seen that its suite of products helps to drive sales.

Whirlpool offers a full home heating-and-cooling product line, including air conditioners, heat pumps, packaged units, gas furnaces, air handlers and indoor air quality products. Whirlpool licenses its home heating-and-cooling products in the United States and Canada to Tradewinds Distributing Company LLC in Jacksonville, FL, the licensed distributor and manufacturer of record. With many successful distributors and dealers across the country, Tradewinds is now working to set up new distributors that have the sales and technical skills along with the marketing savvy so that Whirlpool and their own businesses can grow profitably.

Whirlpool came back into the HVACR market in 2003 after a 16-year absence; it discontinued its home heating-and-cooling product line in 1987. According to Chris Campbell, director of sales and marketing for Tradewinds, Whirlpool did extensive market research to determine the feasibility of bringing back the Whirlpool name to HVACR. The research showed that Whirlpool still had tremendous power among consumers. In fact, “consumers expected and assumed that Whirlpool was still in HVACR,” he says. “Whirlpool would not have entered into this if the brand didn't have equity with the homeowner.”

Whirlpool's research also showed that in such a competitive HVACR market, coming back as a traditional manufacturer would be difficult. Instead, it developed the licensing relationship with Tradewinds, a wholly owned subsidiary of Watsco Inc., to relaunch the Whirlpool HVACR brand.

When it comes to its HVACR products, Whirlpool is not an over-the-counter brand, Campbell notes. “It's a dealer-aligned brand. We're looking for a person that is a marketer, an individual that understands the value of brand leverage with the consumer. This is for dealers that want to be different and not a ‘me too’ brand offering.”

Distributors and dealers who carry Whirlpool work with their customers — the contractors — to leverage the brand. When a contractor sits down at the kitchen table to walk them through the process of installing or replacing the air-conditioning unit, there is some comfort when the consumer sees the Whirlpool name. Campbell notes that approximately 70 percent of homeowners don't have an existing relationship with an HVACR contractor. But there's a good chance the consumer has a Whirlpool appliance in their home. “That can be very powerful and a very strong leverage point,” he says.

With that in mind, Tradewinds works closely with distributors and their contractor customers on marketing and selling the Whirlpool brand. “We're trying to help the contractors understand the value of the brand,” Campbell says. Tradewinds provides a full line of marketing materials, including print, radio and television advertising. “We create marketing assets that they can pull from and make available to them that promote the brand and promote the brand with their dealers.” Tradewinds also offers advertising materials that go to consumers to drive them to their local dealers. “The marketing support has been very powerful for the dealers.”

Much of the growth in Whirlpool's distribution has been in the Southeast, Southwest and along the Eastern Seaboard. The company is now aggressively going after opportunities in the Midwest and the West. Tradewinds also has an alignment with Watsco's distribution companies and will be focusing on independent distributors. “We have found independents to be a great heartbeat of this industry,” Campbell says. Many of them employ experienced and savvy sales teams that have strong relationships with their customers, but they've not had a lot of access to branded products. “We want them to grow their business with us,” he says.

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But is there a danger of oversaturating the market with Whirlpool distributors? Campbell says Tradewinds and Whirlpool know the importance of allowing distributors to build and grow their market areas without fear of tripping over a competing distributor who is also selling Whirlpool. “We have no reason to oversaturate a market and step on distributors and dealers,” says Campbell, who has had discussions with distributors who had come to him because they were upset that other brands had set up distributors within their market areas. That, he says, creates some leverage for Whirlpool. “We know what's happening with other labels and brands with respect to oversaturation. People are coming to us and saying I'm tired of this company and that company selling to me and then selling to distributors around the corner, and we're beating each other up.”

It's not just about setting up distributors. It's about working closely with them to enhance their profits by selling Whirlpool. A group within Tradewinds is charged with coaching distributors on sales techniques. Developing new distributors is not about signing up anyone who wants to join. Campbell stresses that they are looking for “quality, not quantity” when it comes to distribution. “We need distributors that will have good sell through. We're very selective. We know that we will not win the over-the-counter price battle. That's not our target. It's the higher-end, dealer-focused sales over the long term.”

A recent advertising campaign targeted at potential distributors begins with this powerful quote from a Whirlpool distributor: “Never discount the power of this brand.” It ends with the tagline: “Performance. Comfort. Peace of Mind.” Tradewinds wants to work with distributors to enhance their profits by leveraging the Whirlpool name, but Campbell points out that dealers can't just ride the brand's reputation. They have to apply all of their sales and marketing skills to enhance the brand.

Whirlpool dealers, Campbell says, are very self-directed and self-motivated and seize on opportunities within their markets. “They know how to pull together their brand and the product brands. They've been in businesses for five years or longer, and they continue to grow and be successful without price as the primary target.”

In addition to the sales staff, Whirlpool distributors have the backing of day-to-day technical and customer service support. Whether the orders come via fax or through an electronic transfer, Campbell says, the Tradewinds staff can accommodate any requests from its distributors. “We do accommodate small to mid-level distributors in that way,” Campbell says. “We have one guy who has one location; he's small, but he's very good. It's a special situation, but we've accommodated him and we're very happy with him. We have others that will buy nothing less than a truckload. So we're very nimble in supporting a wide range of distribution.”

Whirlpool has a full line of standard and Whirlpool Gold products, with its Gold line carrying a lifetime unit replacement warranty on 14 SEER and above systems. Its EcoCentral Living Systems feature environmentally conscious designs focusing on comfort and operational efficiency.

In the second and fourth quarters of 2011, Tradewinds will launch a very exclusive line of whole-house dehumidifiers and IAQ products. It will also come out with thermostat controls and, later, geothermal applications. “We're always considering the ancillary products in this category,” Campbell says.

Tradewinds also has a partnership with Whirlpool to help them support the design and development of new products and technologies. Anything that will have the Whirlpool name on it must first go through a rigorous 12-step approval process that includes performance, safety and quality. Any manufacturer that Tradewinds works with must first pass the approval criteria established by Whirlpool.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Whirlpool Corp. wants to make sure that every product that goes to market with the Whirlpool name on it meets its exacting standards. So the company carefully manages every aspect of its brand — from evaluating new products to developing partnerships and licensing agreements. “It's a formal process internally, and it's exacting,” Campbell says.

Planned growth is the mantra as new Whirlpool distributors come aboard. “We're very selective; we want to grow with the right distribution and we want them to trust us that we're not going to oversaturate,” Campbell says. “We are aggressively looking for independent distributors that we think fit the model.”


Michael Maynard is a business writer in Providence, RI, who writes on issues related to HVACR, construction and architecture. Contact him at [email protected].

Best Practice

Significance: Tradewinds Distributing operates as the exclusive source for Whirlpool® Home Cooling & Heating products. They set up and manage select distribution channels throughout North America with a calculated market approach that promotes the brand while also protecting coverage areas.

Benefits: Whirlpool® Home Cooling & Heating offers one of the strongest warranty packages available in the industry to reinforce its presence as one of the most recognizable brand names found in homes today. From consumer and trade websites to marketing programs to detailed product literature, everything needed to support the sales process is available.

Procedure: Targeted Distribution/Marketing

Timing: Company started in 2001

Other considerations: Support hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EST), Monday through Friday, by calling 866/944-7575

Contact: Chris Campbell, director of sales and marketing, [email protected], 904/407-4474

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