Sunday, July 10, 2005
Maytag: Washing a brand down the drain
On June 1st, Haier, the top Chinese appliance maker, together with equity giants Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group, offered $1.28 billion potential bid for Maytag, the nation's No. 3 appliance maker. Haier's strategy, according to CNN/Money, is to use the Maytag brand to create brand equity for its products outside of China.
That's funny, because in the U.S., Maytag has virtually washed itself down the drain. As Michael V. Copeland describes it in the May 2005 issue of BUSINESS 2.0(prior to the Haier offer),
So what happened to all that good Maytag quality and dependability? The Neptune front-loading washer. It started out as Maytag's flagship washer, but soon became an albatross. The Neptune didn't deliver on the Maytag brand promise; hell, it didn't even know there was a brand promise. I know this because our son bought us a Neptune for an anniversary present. We were all convinced from years of watching the Maytag Repair Man on TV that this was the top of the line, the best of the best. Maytag even gave us a special toll-free VIP number that only Neptune owners could use to call Maytag with questions or problems. Little did we realize that we would come to know that phone number by heart.
"In nearly all of its product lines, Maytag's market share has hit all-time lows. Its stock price fell 55 percent between April 2004 and April 2005, and customer satisfaction surveys rank Maytag near the bottom of the appliance heap. With sales flat, retailers starting to drop its products, and debt load weighing the company down, one analyst figures Maytag "is a 2-inch putt from bankruptcy."
It started with the mildew smell; it nearly knocked you over whenever you opened the washer door. Then the mold showed up around the vinyl gasket. We called the special number, and they came out a changed something, cautioning us to only use powdered soap and to dry the inside of the washer with a towel when you're finished using it. Somehow, those didn't seem like factory-approved solutions. So we called the special number again, and they sent out another repair man who put another little part in. The mold and mildew grew steadily worse. I knew we had to take our problem to a higher level at Maytag.
I set my sights on CEO Ralph Hake. I looked for email addresses on the Maytag Web site. That gave me their email address protocol. Then I just plugged Ralph Hake in, and sent him a plea for help. I got a call that afternoon from one of Hake's "personal customer service" people. This time they were sending a big part to be installed. It didn't fix the problem. So eventually Maytag gave us a brand new and IMPROVED Neptune washer (prorated, of course). I must say, it has preformed better. But that didn't stop me joining a class-action suit against Maytag for inflicting the Neptune on unsuspecting American consumers.
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