Whirlpool is already the world’s largest home appliance company, with famous brands like KitchenAid, Maytag, Amana, and Jenn-Air in its stable.
Now, a major European expansion has put some of the best-loved brands of Italy, France, Germany, and the UK in the hands of the American kitchen and laundry giant.
Last year, Whirlpool acquired Indesit, a leading Italian appliance brand that’s the third-largest in Europe. Together they’ve become the single largest appliance manufacturer on the continent, surpassing BSH, parent company of the Bosch and Siemens brands.
That’s an important achievement. Though economic woes still plague parts of the Eurozone, Europe remains the world’s largest home appliance market, with twice the population of North America. Major European brands owned by Whirlpool include KitchenAid, Indesit, Bauknecht, and Hotpoint (in the U.S., the Hotpoint name is owned by GE).
According to Esther Berrozpe Galindo, president of Whirlpool EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), the company must now become the number one brand for cooking in Europe, grow the KitchenAid brand outside of the U.S., and create the most efficient industrial footprint possible.
That last goal has some folks worried, and Berrozpe Galindo confirmed that layoffs took place after the Indesit acquisition.
“We are assessing our footprint,” she said. “We believe this is an opportunity to make our footprint more efficient.” Layoffs began in Italy, where the majority of both Whirlpool’s and Indesit’s European operations take place.
According to Berrozpe Galindo, the company “managed to find an agreement that minimized the social impact,” she said.
Even as Whirlpool searches for efficiency, it continues to grow. After all, a company with $20 billion in annual revenue still needs to mitigate the risk of regional economic slowdowns and search for growth in emerging markets.
That’s another reason why Whirlpool competes in over 170 countries, with 70 R&D and manufacturing centers around the world. For instance, after acquiring China’s Hefei Sanyo early in 2014, Whirlpool has become the leading Western appliance manufacturer in the country. It now sells products there under the Sanyo, Rongshida, Royal Star and Diqua brands.
But as China’s economy slows, Whirlpool’s regional nameplates remain popular around the world. Amana, Jenn-Air, and Maytag all compete in North America. Brazil gets Brastemp and Consul, and France has Scholtés and Laden. Polish shoppers can buy a Polar refrigerator, and Italian consumers can get an Ignis washer. In the U.K., Whirlpool owns high-end range manufacturer Cannon and is also in talks to buy AGA, a niche British range manufacturer.
Of course, owning multiple brands can have its drawbacks, as Whirlpool learned after acquiring Maytag in 2005. It took the parent company almost 10 years to differentiate KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, and Maytag as separate marques with different identities.
However, it helps that the European companies Whirlpool has acquired all have years of established brand equity. Now, Whirlpool needs to make sure customers see the differences among its many brands, all while keeping any consolidation hidden behind the scenes.