Don’t wait until it’s too late!

By Phil Weafer February 01, 2015 Heating & cooling

The hot weather is dissipating slightly which means heating products should be top of mind for retailers, if not consumers quite yet. Still, we are hearing that people are looking to get in earlier to buy heating products and be proactive rather than reactive in fighting the cold. Are you ready for them? 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.

Looking at recent GfK statistics (see sidebar  at the bottom of this article), sales of heaters are growing in terms of volume. Interestingly, while volumes have increased, there has been a slight decrease overall in value in New Zealand. Sounds familiar…

Single Source data from Roy Morgan (for November 2013 to October 2014) says that just 1.7% or 162,000 New Zealanders intend to purchase a heater in the next 12 months. In the previous 12 months however, 5% or 180,000 New Zealanders actually purchased a heater. 

Simx is one supplier that has experienced strong growth over the last 12 months. Ventilation & Extraction Product Manager St John Vuetilovoni explains that continuing growth is partly due to new packaging and the greater in-store presence of Simx systems.

“In particular last year, through some of the promotions we ran, we had really good pull-through in terms of sales. The increased presence of our HeatTrans product in the marketplace is driving more visitors to our dedicated website to learn more.”

Vuetilovoni feels that because the products are more visible to consumers, a greater awareness of the benefits they offer has resulted in some good growth.

Offering an intriguing perspective on what could have been is WeissChris Ahearn. After entering into a voluntary recall last year, things on the heating side of the company were slightly stalled. 

“It was unfortunate because we were a little late getting some new products out. They are great products and actually sold really well in that summer period. We missed the mark but I believe if we had have been able to launch when we wanted, we could have had a great year.”

 

EFFICIENCY ON THE BRAIN

What are Kiwi consumers thinking at the moment? It’s clear that these days they are far more aware of the efficiency benefits of having more advanced heating systems in homes. 

EECA, for example, has made a concerted effort in recent years to promote energy efficiency to the public and, from speaking to suppliers, this has resulted in a pickup in the market for heating products across the board. 

According to a recent survey, over 90% of Kiwis want a sunny, warm and energy efficient home but only half want to build it with sustainable materials. The annual Homestar / Realestate.co.nz survey talked to nearly 1,000 homeowners around New Zealand. (See page 12 in the news section for more.)

For an international perspective, B&Q owner the Kingfisher Group has been publishing its European Home Report since 2012, looking to provide an idea of how Europeans view their homes. 

One big takeaway from the latest (2014) iteration of this report in relation to heating products is that rising energy costs are an increasing concern for Europeans. Asked to name their biggest fear regarding their home, 65% of respondents said rising energy costs. 

Interestingly, 35% of respondents identified renewable heat as the best eco-friendly/energy efficient investment for the home. Across the board, awareness about energy efficiency measures has risen since 2012, with those in Ireland and Poland being the most aware of the energy efficient options available to them.

Back home, a survey conducted by Canstar Blue in September of last year also confirms that energy efficiency is a big factor in consumers’ purchase of heating products. 

The survey shows that 90% of Kiwis who have purchased a heat pump in the last two years have chosen an energy efficient option, consumers from the Bay of Plenty lead the way (93%), with half of those surveyed saying having a heat pump has reduced their power bill. 

Says Derek Bonnar, Canstar New Zealand’s General Manager:

“New Zealanders are really reaping the benefits of easy heating. Many are even seeing improvements in their health (53%), even if their homes were insulated prior to the heat pumps installation.” 

Their motivation? “More than a third of Kiwi heat pump owners are feeling the economic pinch, having to resort to reducing their spending on other items so they can afford to pay their power bills.” 

Will this remain the case in a more positive economy and will vendors have to change their pitch to suit and changing marketplace? We’ll see.

 

EFFICIENCY IN THE WALLET

Alongside this push for energy efficiency, heat pumps have continued to see growth. Despite what we’re hearing of a slight year-on-year fall in the total market during the depressed year of 2012, sales strengthened again in 2013 and reached all-time highs in 2014. 

Fiona Harris, Marketing Manager for Fujitsu General, says it’s no surprise that heat pumps can be found in over 25% of Kiwi homes:

“They have become a ‘Kiwi must have’. Because of the convenience of instant, clean, green heat is hard to ignore. Also, the terrific efficiency they offer in times of rising power costs.”

Harris continues persuasively: “In fact, some of the better, more recent products can deliver five times the heat per dollar than other heating systems. That means you can be paying only 20% of the cost of heating your home than using other heating.”

With heating accounting for as much as 40% of winter power bill costs, new technology in heat pumps which reduces power usage must be attractive. Indeed, to hammer the point home, EECA states that higher efficiency heat pumps save Kiwis as much as $58m per year in electricity every year. 

Julian Liew-Young at Glen Dimplex is just one supplier to have seen the impact of this greater sense of energy efficiency in heating products:

“Consumers have a better understanding of the long term costs and energy usage of products. Along with that, energy prices have gone up in recent years, so more people are thinking about how much the product is going to cost them over the lifetime in terms of usage as well as the upfront, initial cost.”

 

NO LONGER WAITING FOR THAT COLD SNAP

In the past, heating (and cooling) products have been viewed by consumers and retailers as a reactionary purchase.

People wouldn’t even consider looking into a heating product until they felt that first cold snap – until recently. 

But now, we are hearing, these reactive tendencies are on the wane and, it would seem from gauging the opinion of people in the sector, the consumer may even be getting a little proactive! The reasons behind this vary depending on who you speak to.

Speaking to suppliers, one influencing factor is a greater level of knowledge and awareness amongst consumers around the negative effects of condensation on their home. As a result, consumers are also more aware of the benefits of having a warmer home can combat any issues that arise. 

Chris Ahearn at Weiss says that it comes down to the education of both retailers and consumers in beating the rush for heating products. He says the company’s aim is to get that message of being proactive across as suppliers to retailers and consumers.

“More and more consumers are being proactive, people are still buying winter products during summer, trying to get it sorted early.”

Julian Liew-Young over at Glen Dimplex is another who sees indications that fewer consumers are waiting for that initial “cold snap” to hit before they consider buying heating products. But, he tempers, even though the Kiwi consumer comes into the store better prepared and informed, there are still reactive elements to their purchasing habits.

“There are more people coming into stores saying, ‘I’ve looked it up, this is the one I want’. People are more certain and informed as to what it is they want,” he says, however adding the caveat that: “Primarily it is an impulse-based purchase based on the weather.”

 

INSPIRED BY INNOVATION

Continuing to look at heat pumps, new innovations were the big pull factors for consumers in the last two years.

Over the last year, we have seen some big advertising campaigns on both commercial and consumer fronts, ensuring everyone was aware of these exciting innovations. 

Specialist brands Daikin and Fujitsu General introduced a new thermo-dynamic system into their lead products in 2014. These systems made products significantly more efficient than traditional products. 

Fujitsu General’s Fiona Harris explains the benefits: “These new models are also far more environmentally friendly, as they have zero ozone depletion as well as reduced global warming potential.”

As we go to press, it is noted that other brands such as Panasonic and Mitsubishi are developing these new systems in Japan, in the hope of launching in New Zealand sometime in the next two years. 

Other innovations clearly pushing the market along have in recent years come to include the control of key functions via smartphone. Why have Kiwis jumped on board with such enthusiasm? 

Mitsubishi Electric distributor BDT’s Marketing Manager Trish Stenzel explains:

“Part of this success is the way New Zealanders interact with mobile technology, specifically smartphones. In this day and age it seems as though everyone has one. In fact it’s estimated over 60% of the New Zealand population aged 18 and over use smartphones in one way or another, with this figure increasing almost daily. 

“Furthermore, over 42% of these users browse the internet on the go and they also continue this habit at home. Every time a meeting is to be set, an email is to be sent, a bill is to be paid, a question needs an answer, or we want to catch up with our friends and family abroad, New Zealanders are reaching for their smartphone.”

That’s a global trend, all well and good, but Trish Stenzel further explains that one of the biggest reasons behind Mitsubishi Electric Wi-Fi Control’s success is the fact that it has been designed locally to specifically meet the needs of New Zealanders. 

 

TRAINING DAY, EVERY DAY?

Speaking to suppliers, one topic that is constantly brought up is staff training. This rings true with heating products stronger than with most categories – and with good reason.

Speaking about the heating systems that Weiss supplies, Chris Ahearn, clearly with the last year’s recall in mind, continues to push the necessity for consumer education and professional installation.

Explaining the measures the company has taken to ensure this process is followed, he says:

“We have made it clear that it has to be installed by an electrician but we can’t stop Joe public from buying a unit and installing it themselves. 

“So, moving forward, we have put a big sticker in the middle of the join that says that if this has been cut by anyone aside from an electrician, the warranty is null and void. So if an electrician comes in and sees that has been cut they won’t install it.”

The heating market offers an interesting look at the habits of consumers. It is not just one homogenous group, the market has different segments within that. To simplify it: a low-end and a high-end. 

Julian Liew-Young at Glen Dimplex says the company is not looking to operate in the lowest ebb of the market, so in-store knowledge is of the utmost importance to help consumers understand the pricing of products.

“We rely on our training and our retail partners to explain why the price is so different. Such as the testing we have done, because of the accuracy of the thermostat for instance and the heat-up time you will be saving more money; or this one has so much warranty; or this one is one of our Norwegian-made products. So we rely on our retail partners about what the technology is and the emphasis and hard-work we put into our products.”

In keeping with the emphasis placed on training, Fujitsu General has recently been taking pains to remind retailers that the company offers free training to customers. Follow this link (www.tinyurl.com/fujitsutraining) to see what training options are available. Of course there are some fine details; while training sessions run by Fujitsu General New Zealand are free, sessions involving 3rd parties may involve a cost.

 

KEEPING EVERYONE IN THE LOOP

When asked about how key the relationship between supplier and retailer is in ensuring the consumer gets the best service, Rinnai’s National Marketing Manager, Kathryn Geck, feels that supporting retailers is of the utmost importance for suppliers.

“This relationship is key and we are continually looking at ways to support both the trade product knowledge and also the merchant product knowledge. We know it’s important to visualise a fire in particular in the purchase process and as a result have developed tools to enable our customer to do this.”

“When we launch a new product it is important to ensure that our sales reps are out on the road, and training the product champions in the stores to help consumers with the knowledge they need to select a suitable system for their home”, says St John Vuetilovoni at Simx. 

He feels that getting the message across to retailers is imperative to ensure that consumers are getting the best offering from the company’s systems. 

Julian Liew-Young at Glen Dimplex also feels it is of the utmost importance for suppliers to work with retailers so a common ground and understanding can be reached to help consumers. 

“For us, in-store knowledge is really important because our products cost a little more and we believe that they are worth the price. But people have to be willing to understand why products are priced differently. So we rely on our training and our retail partners to explain why the price is so different.”

With the consumer on the front foot, armed with more knowledge than ever but seemingly also willing to invest before they start freezing, how will the heating market fare in 2015?

One school of thought is that the winter season will be a hot one – so long as no-one gets cold feet about the educative role the channel still needs to play…  

 


 

INSTANT EXPERT – HEATING

  • Heating is one of the categories where the consumer can benefit most from being informed correctly and in detail.
  • Heating is also a category on which consumers will spend more for real benefits, if they’re explained.
  • Will the 2015 heating market flatten out compared to previous years which have spiked to match the cold snaps?

 


 Hot stats highlight changing marketplace

GfK has released to us appliance channel-related figures looking at the performance of the electric heater market comparing January-December 2013 to January-December 2014. 

Overall the electric heater market saw nearly a 10% increase in volume, but slightly decreased in value (–0.6%). 

Bar radiant heaters saw the highest volume growth at nearly 60% followed by fan heaters, at 17%. 

Electric fires however have seen a huge drop in both volume (–84%) and value (–76%) which is a very different story to the previous year, according to GfK.

 


 

WHAT ARE CONSUMERS BEING TOLD TO LOOK FOR?

Looking at what is being suggested to end users, Consumer NZ has an article in its electric heaters section offering consumers advice on what features they should be looking for in electric heaters. 

So what does the site recommend? Is it common sense or does it offer an insight to the minds of consumers to help retailers and suppliers provide better service?

  • Controls: The controls should be clearly visible, easy to access and easy to use. Markings should be easy to read with good contrast. The more heat settings the better – you’ll have more flexibility to control the room temperature.
  • Timer: With a timer, you can warm up a living area before you get up in the morning or arrive home from work. You can also have a bedroom heater turn itself off after you’ve gone to sleep.
  • Fan: A fan is an effective way t o break up the layers of cold and warm air in a room. While noisy, you don’t have to use them continuously. Just switch them on for a few minutes, to warm up the room.
  • Mobility: Oil-filled heaters are heavy and can be difficult to move around because of their size and shape. Try moving the heater around in the shop. There is usually a recessed handle at the control panel end: it should give a good grip. Some models have four castors, others a combination of castors and wheels. Some have a single pair of large wheels at one end, so you have to lift the handle end to move the heater. Weight then becomes important.
  • Clothes drying: Clothes must not be draped over a heater. Some heaters come with a detachable drying rack that spaces the clothes away from the heater. For others, you can buy a separate drying rack.
  • Thermostat: This maintains a desired average room temperature (as long as it’s within the heater’s capacity), and should have a control that’s easy to read and set.
  • Cord storage: This allows you to stow the cord neatly when the heater is not in use.

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