The downfall of Sears has been well-documented, on our blog and in countless other places. Despite the company’s competitive and management issues, it does have a couple brand assets that have stayed strong in the face of the retailer’s decline.
One of those was the Craftsman brand, which Sears, foolishly in our view, sold to Stanley Black & Decker. Another iconic Sears badge is the Kenmore brand of major appliances.
The company appears to be doing right by this brand.
For as long as it’s existed, the Kenmore brand has stood for good quality products at a reasonable price. Like Sears and Craftsman, it was known to be solid, reliable, safe.
It wasn’t the sexiest brand ever. Not the most innovative or luxurious, but also not cheap and flimsy.
In the last few years, as we have noted in multiple articles, some of the more premier appliance brands have continually upped the ante. JennAir, Samsung, LG, and others have been introducing high-tech, “smart” appliances with whiz-bang features.
Samsung, for example, offers a refrigerator that serves as a “Family Hub.” A huge touch screen on the refrigerator not only lets you take note of what groceries you need, but also play music, watch TV, maintain your family’s calendar, and, of course, communicate with your family via their smartphones (ideally Samsung phones).
To their credit, Kenmore has been keeping pace with the trend-setting brands, though not quite to their level. But that’s okay.
Kenmore isn’t about the latest technology. It’s about value. Samsung and the like have a reputation to uphold. A Samsung refrigerator that didn’t have cutting-edge technology just wouldn’t do.
Kenmore’s innovations seem to be more, shall we say, useful and mainstream. They won’t turn your home into a model of the future, but they will do what they’re supposed to do.
The brand has focused their attention on making their products work better. Dishwashers that clean every corner of your dishes. Washing machines that offer predictive maintenance alerts. Refrigerators that can be controlled with your phone.
But the true innovations are not inside the appliances at all.
Innovation for Middle America
This spring, Sears announced a series of upgrades to the customer service offering for its Kenmore brand. These include:
- A 13-month manufacturer warranty, one more more than the industry-standard 12.
- Lifetime warranties on certain parts, including front-load washer motors, dryer drums, and stovetop burners.
- 24/7 tech support, including free video chat.
- Flexible delivery schedules and a four-hour window for fulfillment.
Those innovations, in our opinion, have the potential to really set the brand apart from its competitors.
Don’t get us wrong. We love cool innovations as much as anyone. And it’s clear that the Samsungs and LGs of the world are gaining the attention of homeowners with their leading-edge products.
But not everyone wants the coolest new refrigerator. What people want more than anything when buying an appliance is reliability. Especially people in Middle America. Major appliances are a big expense, and there are countless horror stories about appliances quitting two days after their warranty expires.
For decades, Kenmore has been relied upon as a brand that won’t let you down. With these enhancements to their service, Sears and Kenmore are doubling down on that reputation, making sure people understand they can still be trusted.
Of all the innovations you could ask for in an appliance company, these will be appreciated to a greater degree than a touchscreen.
Of course, the question of Sears’ survival still remains. Those problems are likely too big for a healthy Kenmore brand to fix.
But at least Sears seems to be avoiding the same mistake they made with Craftsman, and understanding the equity that the Kenmore brand has. They’re not trying to be something they’re not.
They’re allowing the brand to be what it’s always been. Only more.