With brand names recognized by just about anyone who has ever separated dark colors from light, Whirlpool is one of the world's top home appliance makers. It manufactures washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioners, dishwashers, freezers, microwave ovens, ranges, trash compactors, air purifiers, and more. In addition to Whirlpool, the company sells its products under a bevy of brand names, including KitchenAid, Maytag, Jenn-Air, Roper, Amana, and Magic Chef. Whirlpool peddles its appliances in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America. Global competition in home appliances has heated up in recent years, with Bosch Siemens, LG, Samsung, and Haier emerging as challengers.
To stay competitive, Whirlpool continues to pump out new products and improve existing ones by investing in research and development. The company has historically devoted about 2% of its sales to R&D, and since 2007 it has boosted funding by nearly 10%, from about $420 million to $455 million in 2009. Despite the effort, revenues fell by more than 10% during this period. The company has pointed to turbulent economic conditions worldwide, especially in its largest markets (the US and Europe), regarding the declining demand. Although Whirlpool doesn't expect financial conditions to improve dramatically in the near term, it has continued to grow in Latin America, where it is a key player, as well as in emerging Asian markets, primarily India, where the appliance industry has made steady gains over the years. The company is also expanding its portfolio of brand names in 2010 by purchasing the rights to the Privileg home appliances brand from Otto, a German mail order company.
Whirlpool, whose manufacturing footprint covers a dozen countries, has been streamlining its operations in response to reduced consumer spending on its big-ticket items. To this end, the company closed its refrigerator factory in Evansville, Indiana, in June 2010 and moved production to Mexico, where costs are lower; some 1,100 jobs were lost as a result of the move. It also ceased production at a machining plant in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The two shutdowns follow roughly 5,000 job cuts worldwide from 2008 to the end of 2009 as part of Whirlpool's restructuring efforts. During that time it shuttered plants in LaVergne, Tennessee; Oxford, Mississippi; and Puebla and Reynosa, Mexico. It also consolidated its manufacturing operations in China, moving production from Shanghai to a facility it shares with Hisense-Kelon Electrical Holdings in eastern Zhejiang province. (Whirlpool formed a 50-50 joint venture with Hisense in 2008.)
In a move that may signal a strategy change, Whirlpool in 2010 put down roots in Ottawa, Ohio, after acquiring a 500,000-sq.-ft. factory from defunct Canadian appliance maker W.C. Wood. It reopened the facility, which formerly made freezers for one of its product lines, in January and decided to retain the site as part of its manufacturing network in March.
Although it markets its goods in nearly every country worldwide, Whirlpool benefits from a healthy relationship with American mainstay Sears. The retailer stocks the Whirlpool and KitchenAid brands and generates about 10% of Whirlpool's revenue.
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