Eclectic Curiosity

Posted on December 10th, 2003, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Uncategorized. No Comments

Pulled straight from Reveries this example of Whirlpool’s approach to new markets is a fine model of observational insight and intelligent innovation:

Whirlpool, in America and Europe, is known for high style and prices to match. But when it markets its washing machines in Brazil, India and China, Whirlpool is winning women’s hearts with inexpensive appliances that look great too, as reported by Miriam Jordan and Jonathan Karp in The Wall Street Journal. Given that most low-income women in developing countries break their backs wringing out “their shirt and sheets by hand,” one would think Whirlpool might simply have served up a stripped-down version of an existing model. But, no: “We had to innovate for the masses,” says Marcelo Rodrigues, “Whirlpool’s top machine engineer in Latin America.”

And innovate they did. First, Whirlpool created “a single-drive system by which clothes are washed and spun without switching gears.” That leaves the clothes a bit damper than with a traditional multi-drive, shifting system, but it was “good enough for the target consumers.” Based on focus groups, Whirlpool also determined that machines could have a smaller capacity — because lower income Brazilians do laundry more frequently.” That saved some money, too, but Whirlpool didn’t stop there. Because “Brazilian housewives like to wash floors underneath furniture and appliances,” the machine, called Ideale, was designed “to stand high on four legs.” And because they “said they want to see the machine operate … Whirlpool made a transparent, acrylic lid,” that also happens to be cheaper than glass.

Good enough? Not yet. Whirlpool’s research also revealed that aesthetics were important because washers are considered status symbols. In China, the looks factor is multiplied because “many families keep appliances in the living room.” There’s no place else to put them. In Brazil, Whirlpool jazzed up the control panel with bright yellow buttons and blue lettering. They also carefully selected appliance colors based on by-country preferences . Wash cycles were named on a by-country basis, too (in India, the delicate cycle is called the “sari” cycle, for example). What does one of these machines cost? Just $150 to $200 (about half the average cost in the U.S.). So happy are low-income Brazilians to have these machines that some are said to “treat the washer like a member of the family, referring to her as ‘my little princess’ and my ‘little girl,'” for instance. And maybe most important of all, Whirlpool’s “people’s washers” are expected to make their way to Europe and America. “It’s the second wave of globalization,” says Nelson Possamai of Whirlpool in Brazil.

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