Tag - appliances

CES 2024: Innovation is Back

Robert Coolidge, CEO

CES 2024: Innovation is Back

I have been attending CES for the past 15 years, and we have seen the same, if not very similar things for all these years, so much so that it seems quite rote. CES 2024 was a very different story…the show truly rebounded from the COVID years, and innovation is back in full force.
CES is a portal into the future; it’s a portal into where we need to go as a company and in the residential environment. VR, AI, IoT – used to be just cool buzzwords. They are now very much here in the present and the future. Manufacturers, as well as consumers, are excitedly embracing this future. Those pushing the envelope will be the innovation leaders, challenging others to dig deep to remain relevant. At the core of all of this is the question: how will this innovation provide value to the consumer and open the door for after-sales support?

Using Technology for Cleaner and Safer Homes

No doubt a byproduct of the pandemic, home sanitization products were abundant, utilizing steam and UV light technology. This has led to families taking more notice of cleaning and sanitizing their homes, from removing shoes upon entering their homes, to wiping down doorknobs and other surfaces, to disinfecting and finding disinfecting cleaning supplies, all of which will be an important factor in the marketplace. It has given us food for thought and new insight into the cleanliness of our homes and business places. It is imperative that we have peace of mind, especially when it comes to our health and that of our families.
The all-in-one technology has also massively improved, with new technology wherein one machine washes and dries laundry. While we have had these machines for some time, the mechanics were not nearly as advanced as those coming to market now. This not only cuts down on time doing laundry, more importantly, it cuts down on utility consumption, saving the average family hundreds of dollars per year. Also with the new technology, the washer/dryer combo can text the consumer to let them know the load is finished and ready to fold! Ideally it would fold the laundry too… I think that will have to wait until the next generation!

3D Printing in the Parts Ecosystem

Based on the products and technology we saw at CES, I am sure that 3D printing will be part of the service parts ecosystem. It may never get to the point where a consumer would print a part at home, CAD requirements are significant. However, I think distributors or manufacturers could potentially print a part on demand. Plastic items like gears or knobs, a handle for your microwave or a range knob could easily be printed on these futuristic printers. While still in its early stages, I think 3D printing will be in the parts environment as a viable service repair option.

Nurturing Relationships in the Aftermarket Services

There were so many opportunities for supply chain at CES this year. There are new companies that need to move quickly to try to capture their share of the US market. Often, when at CES, we will see exceptional amounts of new brands that have innovative technology, and they are usually laser focused on the design, build, manufacturing and distribution of the product. That said, it seems that the after-purchase service is an “after-thought.”

The obvious questions for these consumer product startups:

“What are your ideas for the aftermarket? What are your plans to support your products, as well as other important questions, which is where we can assist these companies in educating them about after purchase support.
Think for a moment, of a customer purchasing the product that you have innovatively put hours or months or years into creating, and that product fails; what is the backup plan or support? That consumer is going to be much more forgiving if they buy a product that the manufacturer stands behind. A good service solution, with a qualified technician, good parts source, a good original new part that will not fail is imperative to providing a good quality product. On top of which, the support base will also provide feedback about the service experience. This could be the most important part of the brand building experience.

That’s where Encompass comes in, providing that kind of structure and insight, and the full-service solution for supply chain logistics.

We have a consumer direct platform with fully integrated API’s with most all service claims administration companies. We integrate with a multitude of claims management systems, field service networks, home warranty companies, and extended contract firms. For these startup companies that might be entering the home appliance, consumer electronics, personal care, power tools, lawn and garden, and/or the computer marketplace, we can provide an even stronger support experience. Encompass will provide the same full service, with all the bells and whistles, right out of the gate, very similarly as do the core manufacturers.
This is why we always make CES a priority to attend. Not only to meet with current customers and existing vendors, whom we already support and nurture, but to also seek out new companies entering the market that may not know that they need the excellent quality service that we can provide. We look forward to seeing everyone at CES 2025.

It’s Time to Prepare for the Right to Repair

Robert Coolidge, CEO

Robert Coolidge
President & CEO

‘Right to Repair’ is a term that most of the readers of this blog will be familiar with, given the media attention it has received in recent years. For those less familiar, Right to Repair refers to the movement to expand consumer’s options in repairing their personal property. Tactically, this means providing both consumers and independent third-party providers with access to the same tools, parts and documentation, made available to in-house repair teams and authorized third party repairers. The Right to Repair movement spans multiple industries (automotive, agricultural, medical devices, consumer electronics), with state-level laws passed across these industry verticals in the past year (Digital Electronic Equipment in New York, Wheelchairs and Agricultural Equipment in Colorado). In this post, I will focus on Right to Repair legislation for digital electronic equipment (including mobile, laptop, gaming), which will significantly impact some of our OEM partners at Encompass, and how we can be proactive in the solution.

Legislative Action to Date

While the Right to Repair conversation has been active at both the federal and state level over the past 2-3 years, states are leading the way by translating this conversation into legislative action:

New York’s Digital Fair Repair Act – New York’s Digital Fair Repair Act (N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 399-NN) is the first US state law to broadly protect a consumer’s right to repair their own Digital Electronic Equipment[1]. The law states that in the event that an OEM makes the Documentation[2], Parts and Tools[3] required for the diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of digital electronics available to its own employees or authorized providers, that OEM is required to make the same Documentation, Parts and Tools available to independent repair providers and consumers on fair and reasonable terms. These materials can be distributed either directly through an OEM or via an authorized provider.

[1] Legislation states that ‘Digital Electronic Equipment’ “means any hardware product that depends for its functioning, in whole or in part, on digital electronics embedded in or attached to the product for which the original equipment manufacturer makes available tools, parts, and documentation either through authorized repair providers, its own employees, or any authorized third-party providers.” Exempt industries include home appliances with embedded digital electronic products (including HVAC refrigerators, ovens, and microwaves), motor vehicles, electronic bikes, medical devices, security devices / alarm systems, off road equipment including power tools and garden equipment, commercial and industrial electrical equipment, and enterprise devices (B2B sales, B2G sales)
[2] Legislation states that ‘Documentation’ includes “any manual, diagram, reporting output, service code description, schematic diagram, or similar kinds of information required for effecting the services of diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of digital electronic equipment.”
[3] Legislation states that ‘Tool’ includes “any software program, hardware implement, or other apparatus used for diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of digital electronic equipment, including software or other mechanisms that provide, program, pair a part, calibrate functionality, or perform any other function required to repair or update the original equipment or part back to fully functional condition.”

The Digital Fair Repair Act will go into effect on December 28, 2023; the law will apply to Digital Electronic Equipment manufactured and sold in New York on or after July 1, 2023.  The law will be enforced by the New York Attorney General.

Beyond New York – With the passing of the New York Digital Fair Repair Act, Right to Repair Legislation has started to build renewed momentum across other states. As of February 2023, 20 states had filed Right to Repair legislation across multiple industry verticals. Of this group, 14 states filed legislation applicable to consumer electronic devices or appliances, including: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Vermont.

Federal Action: Federal authorities, including the FTC and President Biden, have voiced the need for Right to Repair protections. However, as of March 2023, no federal Right to Repair laws had been passed, prompting attorney generals from 27 US states to deliver a letter to Congress highlighting the lack of progress and calling for lawmakers to advance expansive Right to Repair federal legislation targeted at automobiles, agricultural equipment, and digital electronics.

What This Means for OEMs

Now is the Time to Prepare: When the New York Digital Fair Repair Act becomes effective in December 2023, Right to Repair will no longer just be conversation. OEMs need to be prepared now to meet the extensive go-to-market requirements of this law.  Some OEMs are already preparing; Apple, Google and Samsung, have started to provide the public with access to repair manuals, tools, and parts on a limited scale (eligible for select models and a limited set of parts) – likely as a pilot in expectation of future legal requirements.

Right to Repair Creates Significant Risk and Complexity for OEMs: Given that Right to Repair has a heavy legislative pipeline at the state level, OEMs will need to be flexible to accommodate differing state-level (or potentially federal-level) requirements as new legislation is passed.  Alongside this complexity, supplying new customer groups (DIY, independent repair providers) who have less repair experience than traditional in-house, authorized repair teams will require heavier OEM investment in hands-on user content and training. OEMs will have to address increased intellectual property risks in making repair Documentation, Tools, and Parts, publicly available, and both OEMs and warranty providers will be confronted with greater complexity in navigating future repair claims.

Finding the Right Partner is Critical: Given the OEM exposure to risk and complexity described above, finding the right partner to navigate the rollout of Right to Repair laws is paramount. Right to Repair will require the creation of new content and go-to-market models. OEMs should lean on solutions-oriented providers that can offer agility, flexibility, insights, and resources to lighten the OEM load.

Right to Repair Support from Encompass

Commitment to our OEM Partners – With 70 years of experience, and a deep commitment to brand support, Encompass understands the needs of our OEM partners. Our work across ~20 repair industry verticals allow us to act as a thought partner to OEMs, bringing cross-industry best practices and learnings to the table. In addition, our commitment to selling OEM-only parts ensures that each customer receives a quality product and repairs the first time, eliminating confusion and dissatisfaction caused by generic substitutes.

Leading Data & Technology – We are actively investing in leading technology to improve the customer and partner experience. Our spin360 technology creates detailed 360-degree photographs of parts, helping ensure that customers are selecting the correct replacement part for their device. Our reporting and analytics capabilities enable us to provide our OEM partners with a complete view of demand and trends for both parts and customers.

Custom Solutions – Finally, at Encompass we work with our partners to design custom solutions to meet their needs. Whether it is creating virtual parts repair toolkits or bespoke user content (repair how-to videos, training guides, etc.), we are committed to the correct and safe repair of your branded products.

Evolution of Parts Distribution

It’s said the only constant in life is change – a sentiment that is certainly a given in the business world.  Companies form, merge with others or disappear for lack of innovation against startups or competitors. Industry disruptors have been a prevalent part of commerce for thousands of years since cattle trading gave way to coins as currency.

Just when it seems impossible, something new comes out of nowhere to upend the status quo. From online retailers usurping brick and mortar retailers to mobile phones replacing landlines, answering machines and cameras, it’s not a matter of if a better mousetrap will come along, it’s when.

While a disruptor may be inescapable, it’s not all that dire. In fact, a study conducted by Strategy& (PwC’s global strategy consulting team) found that the “fear of disruption can be more damaging than actual disruption.” Additionally, existing businesses typically have plenty of time to respond to new trends before they are impacted, according to the study. Examples cited were Amazon and Google, which each took at least 10 years before dominating the web and ecommerce.

When facing a threat, established businesses that try to rush out ill-conceived strategies are just about as ineffective as those that do nothing, the study found. Instead, incumbents are more likely to succeed when they focus on continually accentuating their own core strengths and forming tighter customer connections to build loyalty.

Distribution is no less vulnerable to disruption than any other industry. As a middleman, distributors are always at risk for disintermediation. In turn, they must continue evolving and innovating to provide increasingly value-added services. The question that should be asked repeatedly is “how can we help our customers be more successful?” This is the difference between a partner and merely an order-taking vendor and a disrupter and an incumbent.

In parts distribution, it’s all about keeping critical components in stock and getting them to the customer the same or next day. This requires a massive effort beginning with forecasting what customers will need and ending with the right parts quickly in the hands of the customer. In between, every step of the process must be optimized for efficiency, accuracy and maximum throughput.

With decades of parts experience, Encompass is heavily investing in the latest AI and predictive technology to arm customers with vital data. Helping customers troubleshoot repairs and identify the right parts for the job are just a couple of ways we’re serving as more than just a supplier. Working directly with customers, we also develop creative tools that address specific pain points and help them be more successful.  Along with product repair training, video content and matching tech skills with those needing to strengthen service networks, Encompass is deploying a host of resources for the benefit of the entire industry.

We’re also targeting warehouse management solutions and automated functionality with the goal of expediting parts delivery. Backed by the resources and best practices of our parent company Parts Town – the global market leader in foodservice equipment parts distribution – we’re better positioned than ever to turn our customer-centric visions into reality.

While technology is at the heart of many of our innovations, we still believe in good old-fashioned people skills. If you want to interact with a real person, Encompass has the channel for that. Our teams are always out visiting customers in person all over the country or we’re calling them with information on important new services or just to find out if we can do anything to assist.

In 2023, Encompass will celebrate its 70th anniversary. We could not have survived in a competitive industry this long without continually raising the bar for customers. While we mark this important milestone in our history, we will forever be looking forward and exploring how we can offer more.

To the market disrupters out there, we say: our resolve to be best-in-class is only getting stronger.

Musings from CES 2022

Although the pandemic clearly impacted attendance at the Consumer Electronics Show held earlier this month, innovation and the “wow factor” remained on full display (pun intended, read on).

Not Your Great-Grandma’s TV

Just when you think the television market has plateaued for good, Neo OLED televisions have arrived to blow your mind with displays so bright and crisp you can see the fuzz on a tennis ball.  The latest TV technology unveiled at CES is meant to fully immerse viewers into the entertainment experience. With screen sizes ever increasing and/or curving, users are enveloped more than ever before.  Even at dominating sizes, new models aren’t necessarily eyesores. Some display realistic-looking art masterpieces when in standby mode, while others roll up and are hidden from view entirely.

Mobility Space Accelerating at CES

Beyond developing more lifelike (and size) futuristic gaming and television displays, some electronics manufacturers are remaining relevant by jumping to completely new verticals. One such example is Sony. Alongside crystal LED, professional drones, gaming, virtual reality and other CE exhibits, Sony unveiled VISION-S 02, its second battery-electric car prototype. With focus on electric power, autonomous mobility and safety features, this year’s show drew 185 auto manufacturers in the growing vehicle technology category at CES.

Sony’s concept battery-electric VISION-S 02

Sony calls its car a “new SUV-type prototype vehicle that accommodates diverse values and lifestyles.” Meanwhile, Panasonic debuted new electric vehicle battery technology that substantially increases storage capacity to extend range. The manufacturer, which supplies TESLA batteries, is also making the motor/battery system for Totem USA’s first eBike, Zen Rider.

Sony’s first prototype VISION-S is now undergoing road tests, and the manufacturer is creating an automobile division. Although there is no guarantee the vehicle will ever be mass produced, hats off to Sony – and Panasonic – for diving into a new product pool. If Sony’s vision ever becomes reality, it may one day be perfectly fine to sleep in the back of your car while it takes over. Plus, with Sony’s ingenuity, the onboard display system is sure to shock and awe.

Appliances Getting Smarter & Snappier

Nearly all manufacturers showed off products embedded with smart technology. From dryers that send notifications when laundry is done to refrigerators that offer recipes based on existing contents, appliances are being made to do a lot more for consumers than simply heat and cool.

Appliances are also being designed to free up space in the home. Stackable laundry units provide ample capacity while providing enough room to add a sink or more storage. Vibrant colors are replacing the white, black and stainless steel of most standard appliances. Samsung introduced a line of French door refrigerators available in 12 colors from pink to emerald green.

Robotics was another theme on display with upgraded floor cleaners, self-filling baths and other automated functionality to assist you in daily home life. Here’s hoping the robot chefs that duplicate famous chef dishes make it into the home in my lifetime.

                       Robert Coolidge
                       President & CEO

Opportunities for Repair Industry

By now, savvy, ambitious servicers have evolved their skills and business models to meet market demand and stay current. Those still relying on 42” TVs for repair work are likely close to retirement or have a lock on their service area.

Electric cars are going to displace gas powered vehicles – it’s not if, but when. What does this mean for electronics gurus? Could their skills transfer to this technology and displace standard auto repair shops? What about robotics, e-bikes and next-level gaming consoles? These types of electronics are sure to hold their price points much longer than LCD TVs, which should help drive repairs vs. replacement.

It’s often hard for businesses to anticipate future trends and adapt their operations accordingly when balance sheets are healthy. But no matter how comfortable you are today, it can all go horribly wrong if you refuse to be forward thinking.   Look no further than Blockbuster, Sears, Kodak, Borders and the like. Turns out there’s no such thing as being too big or successful to fail.

If you’re not paying attention to tech news and looking for new opportunities to provide aftersales service, you will eventually get left behind. It was a long time before mobile phones replaced the ubiquity of landlines, but once they took hold, that was the end for all kinds of businesses. Remember pagers? When’s the last time you used a phone booth or bought an answering machine?

Displacement is just around the corner from the next innovation. Watch where we’re going and don’t fall flat on the pavement.