July 9, 2010,
The Honeywell Tower Fan from Kaz. The design and esthetics of tower fans have led them to a higher sales-growth than table fans.
By David Gill
Table fans have become elements in a home's decor.
"There is a concern for both the esthetics and the functionality of fans," said Jeff Martin, group marketing manager for fans and dehumidifiers for Jarden Consumer Solutions. "Most of them are used on an end table in the living room, or on a dresser in the bedroom, small compact areas where you don't have a lot of space.
Therefore, looks--while not everything--are playing a larger role in shoppers' decisions on what fan to buy.
"In our experience, view and sense of the market, design becomes very important," said Martin Stadler, marketing director for Swizz Style. "People spend so much on interiors in general--interior design, furniture, kitchen, etc.--and now they are looking for household appliances of all types that match their home's style."
Design is one reason why this market has seen a significant shift in the types of fans that consumers are purchasing.
"Table fans have become a flat market," Martin said. "The share is being stolen from somewhere and I believe it's going to tower fans. These are more esthetic than table fans. They have a sleeker design for the living room, and you don't use them to move high volumes of air. Consumers are also more willing to spend a little more money for a better-looking product like a tower fan."
Stadler noted that one design element favoring tower fans is the fact that they don't take up much room. "Tower fans are very space saving, and this will make the future of the fan market as a whole," he said. "Of course, on design and materials there is still much to explore."
Design is not the only reason for the market-share surge from tower fans; another is technology. Stadler noted the recent introduction of bladeless fans, "which is basically a tower-fan technology using a round ring to blow out the air."
For the fan category in general, technological innovations have come few and far between. "There is a relatively slow pace of technology and innovation in table fans," said Cheri Wright, director of marketing for air purifiers at Kaz. "A bladeless fan is a good example of old technology applied in a new way. However, this technology was introduced at a substantially higher price point than most table fans, and limited distribution is expected." Wright added that bladeless fans entered the market last year at $300, versus an average fan's cost of $20.
The most popular operational innovations for fans are those that make them work more quietly. "Innovation that reduces sound level or improves power is generally more appealing to consumers," Wright said.
With the emphases on design and technology, the fan category remains price-sensitive with consumers. This can be seen by the fact that at retail, most consumers go to mass merchants and discounters to buy fans. "Over 65 percent of total table-fan units were sold in discount channels in 2009," Wright said. "The drug- and grocery-store channels are also major distribution points for table-fan sales."
Along with mass merchants, Martin identified hardware stores and home centers are two other key stopping points for consumer table-fan sales. He also described what he called the "consumer decision tree" for fan purchases: "First, the consumer defines a need. 'I'm hot, I need air circulation.' Then he picks a fan based on the use location. Third, he decides where he's going to buy the fan. Then when he gets to retailer and looks over the products, he makes a decision. He might be looking for table fans but see tower fans at the store, and that might change his mind. Then it comes to the price/value equation."
In Wright's opinion, price will be the prime motivator in fan purchases for the foreseeable future as well. "Going forward, the market will remain price-sensitive," she said. "Technology will continue to evolve at a slow pace, and basics will dominate."
\The recovery of the economy will help the market, according to Martin. "If and when the economy recovers, the fan market will recover," he said. "It all comes down to consumers' comfort in spending money. They're choosing not to spend now because they don't know what the future holds."