Billing it as "the next generation" in cleaning technology, Whirlpool's new Aspen Green Duet Steam washer is believed to be the first appliance manufactured with a specific laundry product in mind, says a Whirlpool spokesperson. "Whirlpool is a brand based on consumer insight, and in this case, consumers were very clear," she says. "They love OxiClean."
So the new Duet Steam is designed to add OxiClean stain remover at the optimum time in the wash cycle. OxiClean has 30.1% of the stain remover market, she says, and 52% of those who use it add it to the wash. (The Church & Dwight product can also be used to pretreat stains.)
The launch, however, comes at a tough time for the industry. With real-estate woes across the country affecting both home sales and remodeling plans, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) reports that factory shipments for the "Big Six" appliances--washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, and ranges ovens--are down 5.3 % so far this year.
But washers tend to sell somewhat better than other appliances, says Jill Notini, director of marketing for AHAM. "Over a five-year period, appliance sales are up 19%, while washers are up 21%, driven by new features that stress convenience, such as specialized detergent reservoirs and energy-saving technology."
The Duet's use of steam is also likely to appeal to consumers. "Steam is a relatively new feature making its way into products, and it's definitely getting a lot of hype," says Notini. A significant change in the appliance industry has been that consumers are less likely to wait until their old machines conk out to replace them, she says. "People are trading up sooner," she says.
Color--like Whirlpool's natural-looking green in this launch--seems to be a big part of that. "Laundry is making its way out of the bowels of the home," says the Whirlpool spokesperson, with 55% of laundry rooms now on the first floor and 12% on the second floor. That means laundry appliances have to make something of a style statement, too. That's not only true in new homes, says the spokesperson, but also in remodels. She adds that both Whirlpool and its Maytag brands will begin rolling out more color products in the future to address that need.
Marketing plans have targeted home editors, and included a PR satellite tour with "Dirty Jobs'" creator Mike Rowe.
And obviously, it provides a bit of a plug for OxiClean. "When people go out to buy a new washer and see this feature, says Craig Sheehan, group product manager for Church & Dwight, "this may really interest consumers who haven't tried OxiClean yet."