Hit Parade

Dec. 21, 2004
Innovative, high-margin new products drive Maytag growth.

One of the first manifestations of new innovation at Maytag Appliances is the Neptune horizontal-axis clothes washer. Opening from the front and cleaning clothes by tumbling, the unit has superior stain-removing power, uses 65% less energy, 40% less water, and extracts 30% more moisture on spin dry than conventional clothes washers. As a result of this superior performance, Neptune commands $1,099 at retail in an industry where the average cost of a washer is $429, according to Maytag. To develop Neptune, Maytag began with a small European horizontal-axis washer and doubled the capacity. "Dont build it," was the message that came back from consumer research. "We hadnt identified [consumers] needs in laundry, but instead started with existing technology and guessed what they wanted -- more capacity," says Beer. In redefining consumer need, Maytag applied 40 market-research tools, including ethnographic techniques, logging nearly 100 hours just watching people load and unload the washers. This resulted in a machine with a larger opening, and a tipping of the washer axis up 15% to improve visual and physical access and reduce the need for bending when loading and unloading. By observing patrons in commercial establishments, operating unfamiliar machines that required setting changes, Maytag learned about settings and controls. It opted for standard knobs, "hiding" the sophisticated electronics embedded in the machine. Six months after its introduction in March 1997, Maytag doubled its Neptune production capacity, ramped it up another 50% during the following three months, and currently is adding even more. Other innovative appliances blossoming from the new Maytag Corp. include the Intellisense dishwasher, designed to eliminate prewashing by sensing the turbidity of wash water and adjusting the washing cycle accordingly; the Jenn-Air cooktop utilizing induction heating to evenly heat a pan, while the "burner" itself stays cool to the touch; and the Hoover upright SteamVac Ultra extractor carpet cleaner, which has defined a new category of floor-care products.

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