Samsung’s Shane Higby, left, and Jimmy Cornett by a Bespoke Kitchen display.

Shane Higby and Jimmy Cornett speak to Bespoke

By Alan Wolf & Andy Kriege, YSN

When Samsung cracked the U.S. appliance market two decades ago, the Korean manufacturer was best known as a budget electronics brand. My how things have changed.

Today the company is the world’s largest manufacturer of televisions and smartphones, led by its premium QLED TVs and Galaxy handsets. And that appliance interloper, which first got its foot in the door in 2002? Twenty years later, Samsung ended the fourth quarter as the country’s number one home appliance brand by unit volume, according to market research firm TraQline.

Helping to drive that growth is the kind of engineering innovation, forged by Samsung’s CE heritage, that yielded such kitchen and laundry breakthroughs as the Family Hub display screen refrigerator, dual-temperature Flex Duo range and Activewash washer with a beneath-the-lid sink for pre-soaking. More recently, the company has pushed the home appliance envelope still further with an expanded Bespoke collection of customizable kitchen and laundry fare.

Leading that effort at Samsung Electronics America (SEA) is Shane Higby, senior vice president of home appliances. A 16-year veteran of Sony, Higby joined the company in 2010 on the storage products side, was later appointed vice president of product marketing for LED TVs and, after moving to the appliance division in 2014, assumed his present post.

Joining Higby on his share-growth journey is Jimmy Cornett, SEA’s vice president of retail sales for home appliances. A former Motorola engineer, Cornett joined Samsung’s mobile business in 2011, moved to The Home Depot account in 2018, and two years later was given overall sales responsibility for Samsung’s U.S. appliance business.

The two senior executives recently sat down with YourSource to discuss the past, present and future of Samsung Home Appliances and the role of the independent channel in its trajectory.

When, and how, did Samsung become a player in the U.S. market?

Shane Higby: It was maybe 20 years ago when Samsung really came onto the scene, so we’re still relatively young. It was sequential: we started with a microwave oven, which was the first product we launched in the U.S., and the French door refrigerator is what really put us on the map as an established brand. Then we moved on in the kitchen to a full collection of ranges and dishwashers. 

Samsung disrupted the industry with our pace of innovation, which really accelerated around the time of the Family Hub. Some of the competitive products out there had a shelf life of five or ten years, but Samsung came along and started introducing new products every two or three years.

At first that was uncomfortable for retailers because it’s a lot of work to change out your floor that frequently. But then they realized we were attracting new consumers to the market and giving them a reason to buy new appliances. It became more of a discretionary purchase, and we were shortening the typical replacement cycle. Rather than waiting 15 years for their refrigerator to break, people were upgrading early. I think retailers appreciated that and realized it was worth the effort.

The last 10 years have seen amazing growth, and three years ago we became the number one appliance brand. It’s been quite a journey and it’s been fun to be a part of that.

Jimmy, you’re responsible for Samsung appliance sales across the board. How to you juggle all those competitive distribution channels and still manage to keep everyone happy?

Jimmy Cornett: It’s two-fold. First, you have to have strong teams that you trust. We’re fortunate that our team that runs the independent channel is very strong. They’ve been in this channel for a while, so there’s a consistency there.

But it really comes down to building relationships. The independent channel is very unique compared to the big boxes in that dealers have generations of family that have been working in their stores, and generations of customers that buy their washers and dryers there.

The independents also bring something that we can’t get from the big boxes. It’s this very custom experience, like what we’re doing with Bespoke. We talked about innovation, and now we’re bringing customization to the point that you can pick what color and finish you want for your refrigerator. But you can only do that if there’s a sales force that can move the customer into that product. So if you look at what we’re trying to do — move mix up through customization — and what the capabilities of the sales force are in the independent channel, it’s a perfect match. We can work together to drive mix into that premium segment, vs. just taking an order.

What lies ahead for Samsung Home Appliances?

Higby: We’ve gone through three phases. There was a phase of functional, feature-based innovation, like when we put a wash basin on top of a washer [Activewash]. After that came Family Hub and Wi-Fi connectivity and our SmartThings platform that connects all the products together. And I would say the phase right now that differentiates us is customization.

When you look back over the last 10 years, stainless steel, and to a lesser extent black stainless, have pretty much been the de facto look in appliances. It’s nice, but it’s kind of a cold and sterile. If you think about all the choices consumers have with cabinetry, flooring and everything else in their homes, to offer them either stainless or black stainless in appliances is not much of a choice.

So that’s exactly the idea behind Bespoke, to introduce more choices. And not just the 12 colors we have for a refrigerator, but also a choice of materials, including stainless but also glass as an alternative finish. We’re beyond thrilled with the way consumers have reacted to Bespoke. Over 30% are mixing and matching colors on their refrigerator, which has exceeded our expectations.

That’s what sets us apart, allowing consumers to express their tastes in the kitchen and even in the laundry room, where they’re also choosing more premium-looking colors. And that’s our future, at least for the next several years — expanding Bespoke and giving consumers more choice.

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