“What’s In It for Me?”

posted on Jun. 11, 2019, at 9:00 a.m.

NKBA Staff

When consumers ask, designers must clearly define the benefits and value of luxury appliances to meet their lifestyles. By Dianne M. Pogoda

Nestled among the mountains and lush, vineyard-covered valleys of Napa, Calif., current and past members of NKBA’s elite Thirty Under 30 club reveled in a two-day experience that was at once high-tech and tradition-rich.

The high tech was courtesy of Signature Kitchen Suite, the new luxury brand from LG Electronics, and its stunning new Experience & Design Center,

The main demonstration space at the Signature Kitchen Suite Experience & Design Center in Napa Valley, Calif. Photo by Kristianne Koch Riddle for Signature Kitchen Suite

featuring an array of advanced appliances operational in a massive showroom center in Napa. The tradition bubbled up in the heart of wine country, with a tour and tasting at a local winery, learning about the history of winemaking in the valley.

SKS general manager Zach Elkin said the company elected to open its EDC in Napa Valley because it represents a specific luxury lifestyle at “the intersection of technology and culinary excellence.”

“Our Signature Kitchen Suite embodies the spirit of expert craftsmanship, innovative design, excellent performance, enhanced utility and premium service,” said William Cho, president and CEO of LG North America, who welcomed the group. “This center will provide us the opportunity to serve our industry partners like you with a unique and active experience.”

The purpose of the visit was to expose the young professionals — mostly designers or builders in the luxury space — to the world of SKS and its high-performing appliances. Signature Kitchen Suite is a sponsor (along with Wilsonart) of the 30s program. The program also included a panel discussion on how to design with and communicate the benefits of such luxury products to today’s “technicurean” — admittedly a made-up term, Elkin laughed.

“We have a unique opportunity with Signature Kitchen Suite because LG is a technology company that makes appliances — not an appliance

SKS general manager Zach Elkin shows off one of the many working ovens at the Experience & Design Center. Photo by Dianne M. Pogoda

company that’s getting into tech,” Elkin said of the three-year-old division of LG. “We start with shared values of being ingenious and bold, offering authenticity, purposeful design for practical application and integrity. We aim to build differentiated product, a selective distribution network with profitability for our partners, solid relationships and trust in the industry.”

He defined technicureans as affluent, experience-driven Gen-Xers and Millennials, generally 35 to 54 years old, homeowners, married or living with a domestic partner and with household income of $150,000 or more. They’re socially conscious food consumers for whom cooking is a passion.

“This is also the first generation of tech-natives — they don’t look for technology as an option, they expect it. And they expect it to work.”

Signature Kitchen Suite strives to cater to this mindset with sharp customer service, even after purchase and installation, with a five-day repair or replace service. “All our product is Wi-Fi enabled with real-time monitoring and diagnostics,” he said. “This allows for remote health checks of the product, evaluation of what’s wrong and what is needed to fix it. If the customer opts in for this monitoring, it automatically extends the standard two-year warranty to three years.”

Elkin introduced a number of products, including a 48-inch dual-fuel range with built-in steam and convection oven functions, sous vide, gas burners and induction cooktop. Column refrigeration units boast sleek design with large capacity, a French-door unit features full adjustability and a convertible drawer that can be set to fridge or freezer at precise temperatures. The models also have dishwasher-safe easy-in-and-out bins, and field-reversible doors for simplified installation. Wine columns feature SKS’ “Wine Cave” technology to maintain constant light, moisture and temperature control; a linear compressor offering what Elkin called the lowest vibration in the industry, and triple-pane UV protection. A compatible True Sommelier app can manage the collection and recommend food pairings. This was a winner of a 2019 “30s Choice” award at KBIS.

Leading the panel discussion on designing for today’s technicurean was Carisha Swanson, market director of House Beautiful. Joining her was HGTV personality and lifestyle tech influencer Carley Knobloch, of carleyk.com; Matthew Ferrarini, kitchen designer/remodeler/owner at Ferrarini Co. in Philadelphia; Kevin Brown, ceo and cofounder of the Innit food app, and Gino Martinez, SKS Pacific Northwest sales manager.

The overarching themes were educating the consumer — which starts with educating the design community — and simplification — which sounds like an oxymoron, because the apps, tech and connectivity are anything but simple. The aim of all of it, however, is to make consumers’ lives easier; to let them enjoy the entire meal experience, from shopping to food prep to eating, and ultimately to save time and money.

“Technicureans are in time debt,” said Ferrarini. “They’re managing careers, families, finances and more. They’re typically searching for solutions to their perpetual time crunch. We help by providing a service that can relieve that time debt.”

Swanson said a critical point is getting people who don’t necessarily love to cook, to love their kitchens. “Regardless of cooking ability, everyone still wants their kitchens to look great,” she said. “The products being created for today and tomorrow are built to encourage success in the kitchen. And as with anything, as people gain confidence, they like the activity better.”

To this end, Martinez said Signature Kitchen Suite strives to make user-friendly control panels, to minimize tech frustration and make it fun to use the appliances. “We manufacturers have to do a better job of educating the consumer on using the product and its benefits. Once consumers understand all of that, the joy comes.”

In his experience, Ferrarini noted that it’s best to demonstrate a high value proposition. Some tech is more valuable to some clients and not to others. He suggested that designers emphasize how tech serves the individual, noting that design is very nuanced and specific to particular clients. “I start by figuring out the client’s lifestyle and then prescribe the right appliances for their needs. I focus on behaviors, determine how they like to cook, what they cook, how they buy — and then I figure out the design that’s best for them.”

Knobloch added, “Tech and beauty are not mutually exclusive, and I applaud companies that offer product supporting that notion.”

Brown explained that the Innit app is, in a nutshell, a simplifier. The app is integrated with SKS appliances, “sort of like a GPS for the appliances.” The app helps the homeowner learn how to use and enjoy the appliances, helps them plan, shop and prepare dinner.

“We build customized meal planning around what you want to do and help you buy it. It gives you the recipe, sends the ingredient list, provides step-by-step instructions, sends the recipe to a connected oven and gives the oven instructions too, so the food isn’t overcooked. It gives them the confidence to cook well, and this inspires them to want to cook more.”

The key to all the technology, he said, is articulating what the product actually does for the client, what benefits they’ll actually realize — for instance, that they’ll get an alert when food is cooked so they won’t burn their dinner, or that produce will stay fresher in the fridge, giving them a longer window to cook it. This saves money and time.”

Knobloch concurred that there’s nothing worse than giving someone a pile of tech that they can’t use. “What’s important is finding the tech solution that makes a difference in their particular situation.”

She pointed out the difference between “smart” and “intelligent.”

“‘Smart’ is being able to preheat the oven when you’re leaving the soccer field. That’s a small convenience and saves a little time,” she said. “‘Intelligent’ is getting an alert that the washer or dryer cycle is finished so I don’t have to deal with a huge pile of wrinkled clothing, or possibly have to rewash a load because it’s been sitting in the machine. This saves time, energy and money.”

Swanson concluded that while this new generation of appliances has great technology built in, they don’t need “smart” to sell them. They perform on their own, even without connectivity. “It’s great that your oven can communicate with your phone, but it’s not necessary to make the product perform its function at a high level. If your Wi-Fi goes down, your appliances don’t fail.”

Photos By Kristianne Koch Riddle for Signature Kitchen Suite

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