‘Heritage, technology and design – all in one brand’
Chinese-owned appliance giant Hisense has opened a new R&D centre at its site in Slovenia. Chris Frankland went to see it and learn more about the latest built-in cooking range that is targeted at the kitchen studio market
Hisense is a name that may be familiar to you thanks to the Chinese electronics and appliance giant’s high-profile sponsorship of major sporting events such as the Euros in 2016 and 2020 and the Fifa World Cup in 2018 and 2022. It also sponsored the Red Bull Formula 1 team in 2015/16/17.
Better known perhaps for its TV and consumer electronics, the company has been investing in a big way in building its major appliances business, buying up factories and brands to acquire their expertise in those areas and, significantly, acquiring Slovenian MDA specialist Gorenje in 2018.
It has serious plans to sell its appliances through kitchen studios with a new range of built-in products released in the UK last month and also being shown at the IFA show in Berlin.
UK vice-president Howard Grindrod says it is “a multinational business focusing on local markets”. Although its parent is Chinese, Hisense in Europe is also a European business.
In Europe, Hisense has more than 9,800 employees, a turnover of €2.9 billion (£2.48bn) and factories in Slovenia, Serbia and the Czech Republic producing some 14 million products a year.
To underpin its commitment to major appliance manufacturing in Europe, Hisense has just opened a large showroom near the Slovenian capital Ljubljana and a new R&D centre and European headquarters on its site in Velenje, where the Hisense Gorenje factory is also located. It is the biggest employer in Slovenia, with a total of 6,000 employees, with 500 in R&D.
The site is huge and occupies 63 hectares – that’s 117 football pitches. The factory produces 3.5 million units a year and employs 5,000 people. Its warehouse has 11 floors and has a capacity of more than 264,000 units.
Hisense invests 5% of its $30bn top line – around £1.1bn – in R&D, and €45m of that is in Europe. Grindrod says: “R&D is incredibly important. We are a driven brand. We are not a follower of markets, we want to be the best we can be with our products and we put a massive investment into that.
“We have a huge R&D facility in China, but the focus of our investment over the past years has been making sure that we put substantial R&D facilities into our areas of operation, whether that be Europe, the United States, Africa or the Middle East.
“We want R&D to be relevant to the territory that we are operating in and employ people who understand how those communities work and how products need to function in those areas. Velenje is the major R&D centre for cooking in Europe, and it will be expanding in the near future and we will be moving into refrigeration.”
The R&D Centre in Velenje opened earlier this year and the opening was attended by the Slovenian president.
Speaking at the ceremony, Hisense Europe CEO Hanson Han, who is based in Velenje, said: “At Hisense Europe, we are steadily increasing our investments in R&D, technology, education and recruiting the best talent, because to achieve our goals we need competent, innovative and motivated employees. With the R&D Centre, we provide them with
a modern, stimulating environment where they can develop their potential and even better products.”
The new facility is Hisense’s major R&D centre for cooking in Europe. Director of product management Simon Kumer told kbbreview that they work with groups of consumers and professional research companies to help in product development. Hisense also carries out its own market field studies to find out exactly how people are using products in their own homes.
Hisense’s MDA market share in Europe is around 4.6% and growing. It is the No1 exporter of refrigeration in China. And while its MDA products have been available through electrical retailers in the UK, the kitchen market is a key focus moving forward.
Grindrod tells kbbreview: “The kitchen market is very important for us. We need to be a brand of choice that will be specified into premium kitchens. We want to appeal to kitchen designers, high-end kitchen studios, and we want for them to have the confidence to specify Hisense products. We know our products are fit for purpose in that premium sector, but it won’t be true until other people tell us, and it is our job to appeal to those professionals who built their businesses around designing kitchens, and for them to say Hisense is the brand you should be having in our kitchen furniture. It is a priority for us at the moment.”
Grindrod explains that the Hisense brand will position itself as ‘affordable premium’. “In the mid-to-premium sector, we believe that people should get the best design they can possibly get for their money,” he says. “Through our R&D and design we will be offering more and more design-led products. The product offer will go more premium as we develop in the sector and we want to be recognised as an MDA manufacturer of choice for a consumer’s ideal kitchen.”
Spearheading its offering to kitchen studios will be the Hi6 Black Line built-in ovens, which launched in the UK at the end of August. As our picture shows, they have a sleek, black finish with jet-black glass and a black handle subtly embossed with the Hisense logo for a very European aesthetic. They offer large capacity (77 litres), LED touch-control panels, even-bake technology for consistent temperature throughout the entire oven, plus steam and air fry functionality, pizza mode and pyrolytic cleaning. There is also a matching combi microwave oven and warming drawer also planned. They feature wi-fi smart tech through Hisense’s Connect Life platform.
In refrigeration, Hisense is big in multi-door and side-by-side with a 25.3% UK market share in January to June 2023 in multi-door and 31.7% in 4-door. It is also launching its Kitchen Fit option in multi-door and side-by-sides, with a slim 5mm gap between them and the furniture and are 600mm deep and do not protrude beyond the furniture.
So, what exactly does Hisense bring to the table for kitchen retailers? Grindrod sums it up: “Intuitive design and technology. Quality of build and through our purchase of the facility in Slovenia, it gives us heritage in cooking. If you put all of that together, we’ve got cooking heritage, technology and we’ve got design and it’s all in one brand.”
UK divisional sales manager Dermot Delaney adds: “Because of the CE business and Connect Life, we also have the infrastructure for a smarter way of life. Just having the interface on your TV screen with the ability to start your oven cooking from there, are facilities that only manufacturers with CE and MDA capabilities can offer.”
Hisense is serious about the kitchen market and the support it intends to offer retailers. Says Grindrod: “We want the opportunity to work with key kitchen channel retailers. We’re not a brand that is everywhere and so we should take advantage of that to support the business partners that we strike up relationships with. This is a market sector that is very well experienced in what they do. We have to learn from them.
“We have recruited a new head of training and we have a team of field-based trainers and that will evolve over a period of time, but the framework is already there. We have our own call centre that is heavily connected to the factory, which is very important for cooking products, so that they know about the products and their functionality and spares availability.”
It has also invested in a new brand experience centre in Leeds where retailers can take their customers and Hisense can provide retailer training.Grindrod says: “We want to build relationships with key partners and will work closely with those who want to work with us and develop our infrastructure to support them.”
Hisense also says that it’s had no major problems with its supply chain during or after Covid.
Hisense will be exhibiting at the kbb Birmingham show in March next year, where it will be showing the Hi6 range. A more premium Hi8 range is also due for launch later.