"Bill Poole knows the scale and proportions appropriate for today's homes," says Russ Barnes, Wildwood VP. "The other advantage is that he's constantly dealing with his consumers and knows what they want."
"The advantage with home designers is that they know what people go through in selecting, installing, designing, and accessorizing the furnishings in their homes."
Another differentiating point among designers is that many feel comfortable designing product, not merely offering color guides.
"The creative process is not bound by your profession - if you are a good designer," says Poole. "An architect can sit down and easily design a chair [the same way that a] product designer who understands architecture can create a house."
Another advantage is that some architects track and direct-market to the people who have bought their plans - an avenue that can be used to micro-target likely purchasers of licensed product. Poole, for instance, not only tracks his 1 million house plan buyers, but he figures he can estimate the number of homeowners who would like to live in his homes. His for-a-fee open house exhibits draw literally tens of thousands of people or more per event. Poole also springs substantially for advertisements in shelter magazines.
Home designers need to realize that providing their name is not enough, says one housewares licensee, because (with the exception of Frank Lloyd Wright) most designers do not have any sort of a true brand following.
Challenges and obstacles
Designers must keep this in mind when competing for licensee contracts with apparel designers who, with their licensees, spend millions of dollars in marketing to keep their brand top-of-mind.
Designers should examine what their brand reputation lends to the inside workings of an appliance, suggests another licensee. That said, there's no telling why a retired legendary boxer like George Foreman could brand a grilling machine made by Salton (Mt. Prospect, Ill.) and experience knock-out retail sales in the late '90s, but perhaps that's all part of the magic of Foreman's charisma. Also: appliance licensing is still in its infancy. Although Salton has dominated the niche licensed market for years (working with Foreman, Warner Bros., Taco Bell and others), few cooking makers have broached the field.
However, Franklin Industries (New York) took on Minneapolis-based General Mills' Betty Crocker brand for small kitchen appliances about a year ago and hasn't regretted it for a second.
"A few years ago, we had been looking for a brand name with immediate recognition, real staying power, and respect," says Elizabeth Floyd, Franklin VP business development. That order ruled out celebrity names, she explains, because celebrities are humans, and humans make mistakes.
Instead, now with nearly 20 Betty Crocker skus - each with a seal on its packaging heralding that it has been tested in Betty Crocker kitchens - retailers are calling on Franklin. A lot.
Franklin is building a multi-tiered distribution strategy around the currently mass-marketed Betty appliance program. Higher end, stainless steel product debuts at The International Housewares Show.
"The success of any interior designer to explore his/her capabilities in product design depends on a few things. One, the willingness and ability of the designer or architect to promote his or her name. Two, the strength of the manufacturing partner and three, the strength of the distribution partner," says Steve Nobel, principal of Nobelworks (New York), a business management consultant specializing in home furnishings. "You've got to have all three."
If retailers are as hungry for brands as they say they are, the time for exploratory kitchen branding is now. It wouldn't be outlandish to think Martha Stewart may one day replace the Kitchenaid mixer she uses on her cooking show with her own branded appliance. Whether or not Kmart could be the third pillar in the equation has yet to be seen, but it's something to consider.
Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes, it’s completely free.