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.
335211 (Electric Houseware and Fan Manufacturing)
333414 (Heating Equipment (except Electric and Warm Air Furnaces) Manufacturing)
Electric housewares and fans comprise a major portion of the widely diverse products of the general housewares category, ranking third in shipments—refrigeration is first and laundry equipment second. In 1997 the industry shipped an estimated 16 billion units, totaling $3.53 billion worth of product, and employed 17,058 workers. By 2000, the value of shipments had fallen to $2.39 billion, and the number of employees was down to 12,928. Average earnings for production workers in the industry in 2000 were $10.53 per hour, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
By the early 2000s little product 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. These account representatives replaced the door-to-door salesmen employed during the industry's early years. At first, these sales representatives were company employees working directly for the manufacturing firm but, in the early 1990s, some firms started to contract out the sales function to independent marketing firms that specialized in product promotion.
Manufacturers engaged in national advertising and promotion campaigns, headlining the product and directing customers to major retail chains. One very successful advertising medium for the industry was the infomercial. Manufacturers discovered that by packaging advertising material as a television talk show and featuring celebrity guest appearances, they 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 the late 1990s, manufacturers developed extensive Internet sites primarily to market to the Generation-X audience. Sites like Sunbeam's offered a virtual home that the cyberconsumer could tour, "touching" and eliciting information about a variety of products. Another example is the InterCenter Company, which opened an Internet shopping center that allowed consumers to shop online for everything from skillets to blenders and gourmet coffee supplies.
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 of the 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 out the products; then the inventors took these field test results to the utilities as proof of the existence of a market 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—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 upwards by the "bargain basement" concept and 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 turn of the nineteenth century. Mail order companies provided an excellent alternative to traveling salesmen because they bought large volumes of goods cheaply and distributed them by means of the mail system. By 1972, mail order accounted for $261 million worth of the retail sale of general housewares.
During the mid- to late 1980s, many long-time industry giants were beginning 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 and 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 even such behemoths as Whirlpool and Black & Decker.
As the economy began to pick up 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 each successfully floated large initial public offerings and intended 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 be having 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 southern United States, 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 2000 the value of shipments for electric housewares and household fans decreased to $2.39 billion from $2.44 billion in 1999. The cost of materials declined from $.13 billion in 1999 to $1.2 billion in 2000; over the same time period, the total number of industry employees fell from 13,823 to 12,928.
Appliance color and shape became important criteria as consumers demanded innovation in form as well as function. Other important appliance features were multiple functions (e.g., a handheld mixer with kneading, whisking, and drink-blending attachments), smaller size, and speed. Such products included the "Robochef," which used microprocessor technology to computerize food preparation from raw ingredients to finished meal; West Bend's "Chip Factory," which automatically prepared and dispensed customized potato chips for the home consumer; and completely automatic bread makers that also prepared dough for cookies, pies, and pasta.
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Lifshey, Earl. The Housewares Story: A History of the American Housewares Industry. Chicago: National Housewares Manufacturers Association, 1973.
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Rees, Clifford, Jr. "Good Year to Follow Great Leap Forward." Appliance, January 1997.
"Small Electric Appliances." InterCenter Company Web Site, 1997. Available from http://www.intercenter.com .
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