Is heating now a high-tech product?

By Phil Weafer February 01, 2014 Heating & cooling

As the mercury falls and winter approaches, heating products will be top of mind for suppliers and retailers. But will they be for consumers? And should heating now be treated as a technology rather than an appliance product? Phil Weafer reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in Wares magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

While summer is still well and truly upon us, it’s that time of year when stocking up on heating products is top of mind. For suppliers in the heating category, the last year brought some major successes, which was a pleasant surprise as we experienced one of the warmest winters in recent memory. 

Good marketing, advertising, raising consumer awareness and knowledge, as well as new product lines and a developing replacement market seem to be the main factors behind the sector’s strong performance.

Brett Avery of Dyson distributor Avery Robinson is delighted with the results the company had last season and feels it reflected the market as a whole: “We had an absolute blinder to be honest. The Dyson Air Multiplier heater last year went through the roof, it was awesome. The market was up.”

The last year has also been a success for BDT with Mitsubishi Electric as consumer confidence has grown: “As far as the peak heating season went, we experienced growth and we were quite pleased with that.” 

That’s the view of BDT’s Sarah Ellison, who feels that, in spite of the mild winter, the sector certainly experienced some areas of growth: “Although we had a relatively mild winter in some areas, in other areas it was cold as usual, but the great thing was that those areas that didn’t experience the cold didn’t slow down.”

Over at Panasonic, Product & Sales Manager for Heat Pumps, Darren Hayward, says that the company had a successful year, adding that heat pumps give retailers the chance to make sales in summer too. 

“We’re almost at the end of our financial year and it’s been very good, definitely up on the year before. Winter went very well, it’s obviously the key selling period but with heat pumps you get a second bite at the cherry with summer as well. Certainly winter went extremely well for us for the heating side of it. I think it was one of the warmest winters on record but sales still went pretty well, particularly in the Auckland market.”

Also experiencing success, in the convection heater market last year was Noirot and Lee James, who says customer demand has risen as more information is available: “2013 was a very successful year with consumer demand increasing as further choice is being sought as well as engagement into further research prior to purchase.”

 

A LESS REACTIVE, MORE PROACTIVE YEAR?

In the past, heating products have been seen as somewhat of a reactionary purchase, one that consumers only really think about when that first cold snap hits. But the positive results from last year’s warm winter are as strong an indication as ever that this usually weather dependant outlook is one that is not as prominent in the market as previous years.

Nicole Williams, Marketing Manager for BDT, points to the recent Canstar Blue survey that revealed heat pumps as a “must-have” product: “Consumers have got used to the idea of having heat pumps, they enjoy having them in their homes and if they move they’ll probably install another one.”

Over at Avery Robinson, Brett Avery feels that with so much information so readily available, consumers are a lot more educated about the products in the sector and this has been a factor in the reduction of reactionary purchases. 

“I think the actual turn of the season is a reminder to the consumers. I do think that people are doing a lot more research now and that they are looking at products that might be suitable for them for the coming season and that when it starts getting cold they might make the purchase but they may be more educated and ready to go.”

 

IS THE MARKET READY FOR REPLACEMENTS?

One factor behind the success many experienced in heating last year was the number of consumers looking to replace or upgrade. Speaking about the company’s electric blanket range, Sunbeam’s Christine Johnston says a lot of business stems from upgrading or replacing a model.

“People often upgrade electric blankets because you’re only supposed to use them for so long. We get people that have them for 50 years so our product is too good in that respect! The moment people feel cold at night, they want an electric blanket right away. If you’ve had a working electric blanket and it doesn’t go and it is winter, you’re going to have to buy a new one.”

The replacement factor has also been evident in the heat pump market, with Panasonic’s Darren Hayward saying: “I think we’re at that period where we’re starting to get some replacement business as well so heat pumps have been around for long enough now that people are starting to take out old ones and put in a new one.”

 

NEW HEATING FOR NEW HOMES!

It may be stating the obvious, but new homes result in new heating products. Speaking to suppliers, heat pumps have emerged as one of the most popular products for new houses. 

“I think definitely for new builds that people are considering the options and heat pumps are obviously a popular option for new builds and renovations because of the efficiency factors. When people are planning a house now they’re planning a whole solution and it’s either a ducted system or multiple units,” says Panasonic’s Darren Hayward, who also says that more consumers are investing in multiple units around the house and sees this trend especially evident in bathrooms.

Nicole Williams at BDT certainly echoes the sentiment that the growth we’re seeing in the new housing market reflects strongly on heat pumps: “If you’re building or renovating, you’re looking at a heat pump as an upgrade option and there’s certainly evidence too in rental markets that heat pumps are something that people are looking to have in the homes so there is an expectation for landlords to have them.”

 

HELP CONSUMERS HELP THEMSELVES

Like any product in the appliance channel, sales of heating products hinge on the product knowledge of retail staff. Particularly with the process of a heat pump purchase also involving installation, knowledgeable staff are key.

Nicole Williams emphasises the work that BDT does with its retail partners to ensure staff are up to date on the company’s product line: “I think it’s really important, BDT has always had a strong focus on training and with the Wi-Fi [a new model – see sidebar on page 44] it will be no different. Consumers tend to know quite a bit about our brand and what’s superior about our brand.”

Williams also feels that keeping the customer's best interest in mind ultimately serves retailers very well: “It’s really important for the retailers to really push the features that they want to, the model that will give them the best margin, but ultimately what product will best suit the consumer.”

Christine Johnston feels that it is on the suppliers to educate retailers to help them in their dealing with customers. Johnston says having retail staff well trained and up-to-date is vital. 

“It’s not a cheap purchase so we’d hope that people were getting good advice and we go to a lot of trouble to make sure we train our retailers well so they do have to be quite informed and give the right information. Our packaging gives a lot of information too, but if a customer asks a question and is given a wrong answer then they won’t be happy spending that much money on something.”

As a result of consumers up-skilling themselves ahead of a purchase, Lee James says that Noirot has begun to engage with consumers earlier in the in the process which in turn offers more chance to offer specifics on offers and answer the more in-depth and consumer or location specific questions.

Merchandising and store representation also play a big part in the performance of goods in the sector, but, says Brett Avery, it’s retail staff who are the bottom line: “If you walk into a shop and the people seem to know what they’re talking about it certainly puts the consumer’s mind at ease if they’re being told the right things, it’s absolutely important.”

Looking purely at heat pumps, Darren Hayward points out that with them being a more technical product, extra strides must be made to ensure that the correct information and practices are available.

“We put a lot of effort and resource into educating and training the retailers we well because the fact is there is a fair bit to putting a heat pump in and if it’s not right, it’s got the Panasonic name on the product. The thing we have to face is that if the product is undersized or hasn’t been installed properly, the customer just sees it as a Panasonic product that isn’t functioning properly – so it’s important that at the time of sale, the right product is sold and then it’s installed correctly.”

 

FACTORING IN EFFICIENCY AND SAFETY

When it comes to electrical heating products, the importance of safety and efficiency cannot be understated. One issue has been the emergence of cheaper lower-end products on the market. 

Darren Hayward outlines the frustrations shared by many suppliers across the market: “I think one thing that is perhaps somewhat of a bugbear for suppliers is in regards to MEPs and star ratings and things. Heat pumps are held to very strict standards and then the consumer can still go and buy a cheap fan heater and it doesn’t actually have any requirement to be MEPs rated or anything like that.”

Hayward continues: “It’s almost like the most efficient products are held to a very high standard whereas someone can buy a cheap fan heater without any worries. Probably all the suppliers feel the same about that.”

Christine Johnston also emphasises the importance of highlighting safety features on products. “All heating products are very safety-driven and as a result people are being forced into buying safer heaters, the lower-end items are not available as much as they were. Safety is really paramount with heating products.” 

 

COMING BACK TO RETAIL

There was a feeling in the market this time last year that the appliance channel had taken its eyes off heat pumps somewhat. However, speaking to people in the market this year, the impression I have is that this can change on a year-to-year basis, with last year showing strong returns for the appliance channel. 

Sarah Ellison at BDT sees consumer confidence as the most important factor: “I think with retail, we’re definitely at the mercy of consumer confidence and last year we saw they had a relatively strong performance during the peak months. Given what we’ve seen, consumer confidence is rather strong and there is a lot of confidence in the market and I see no reason why retail won’t perform just as strongly.”

Nicole Williams feels that a lack of knowledge of the product was a factor but also sees the growth continuing through the appliance channel: “I think there was possibly a move away because it’s a complicated product and there wasn’t as much catalogue focus there but that certainly came back last year to being a top of mind product.”

Williams feels that continued focus will certainly help: “The retail partners are now all supporting it and they know it’s a good margin product to be focusing on so I think they’ll continue to push with it.”

These sentiments are echoed by Brett Avery. He feels that the consumer demand for products provides a large amount of incremental turnover, sales and revenue for retailers: “I think it’s really important that they are ready for the demand so they also support with good stockholdings pre-season to maximise that opportunity.”

Enough said!  

 


 

INSTANT EXPERT – HEATING

  • Last year’s heating season was a scorcher!
  • Even those regions that experienced a warmer winter didn’t see a slowdown.
  • Can it be that the market has firmly latched on to the cooling functions of heat pumps?
  • Has the replacement market for heat pumps become significant?
  • New home starts and rejuvenated building activity have been factors.
  • Maybe heating should now be seen as a technology rather than an appliance category?
  • And, as with all categories, the heating consumer is an increasingly educated consumer.
  • So – making sure staff have their regular PK sessions is vital.

 


 

CHANGES AFOOT FOR HEAT PUMPS 

EECA introduced new specifications for heat pumps late last year. The aims of the specification are to have ENERGY STAR partners agreeing to the specifications over the next three years; to provide clear, robust and comparable heating performance information to allow consumers to choose the best heat pumps for their conditions and to align with ENERGY STAR brand values.

Changes to H1 heating (effective 1 April 2014) – Based on industry feedback that the primary focus is heating only, the products are categorised based on the H1 rated heating capacity. The focus is now on H1 and H2; AEER is no longer a requirement of ENERGY STAR.

The H1 levels will be increased as follows:

 

Changes to H2 cold temperature heating (effective 1 April 2015) – Heat pumps need to produce an acceptable level of heating at low temperatures, and an acceptable level of efficiency to produce that heat. So next year, H2 COP levels will be increased slightly and set by a formula based on a function of H1 rated capacity.

Because EECA understands some manufacturers may wish to retest products, these changes will not come into effect until 1 April 2015. EECA also notes that, due to industry concerns regarding public interpretation of H2 data, it will not be made publicly available.

The updated specifications can be found here www.eeca.govt.nz/node/6121 and here www.eeca.govt.nz/node/16291 for ducted heat pumps.

 


 

 

NIWA OUTLOOK: FEBRUARY-APRIL 2014

According to a seasonal climate outlook for the months of February to April by NIWA, temperatures for those coming months are just about equally likely to be average or above average for all North Island regions and to be average or below average in the west of the South Island and most likely to be near average in other South Island regions. 

February-April rainfall totals are equally likely to be normal or above normal in the north of the North Island, and to be normal or below normal in the north and west of the South Island, and most likely to be normal or below normal in the north and west of the South Island, and most likely to be near normal for all remaining regions.

Soil moisture levels are most likely to be near normal for all regions except the east of the South Island where soil moisture levels are likely to be normal or below normal in the north and west of the South Island, and most likely to be near normal for all remaining regions.

  


 

HEATING CATEGORY WARMS UP AGAIN IN 2013, DESPITE TOASTY CONDITIONS

Flying in the face of the category’s assertions that winter 2013 was warm as, GfK’s stats for the 2012 and 2013 heating seasons make for substantially more positive reading than the dire 2011 season which was –12.4% by value overall. 2011, you may recall, was the result of what some called “perfect storm” conditions for heating – a warm winter followed by a late cold snap.

But, in the 2013 calendar year, GfK’s stats say that electric heating showed a second consecutive year of improvement. Boasting an impressive overall 20.9% increase in total category value there is however a parallel 12.2% increase in volume which may also suggest that not as much profit was made from electric heating last year compared to 2012.

Still, the big movers in 2013 with further positive changes in value over the 2012 calendar year include Ceramic type (+57.6% on 2012; note this includes Dyson’s Hot+Cool product), Panel radiant heaters (+93.9%) and good old Electric fires (+125.6%!)

Possibly still suffering from having somewhat fallen out of fashion were Oil radiators (–11.1% value on 2012), while Convectors (+4.2%) and Bar radiant heaters (+0.9%) all showed less growth than in 2012.

Source: GfK (www.gfk.com/nz/).

 

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