Global Q&A Series: An Interview with Dr. Reinhard Zinkann of the Miele Group
Miele is one of the world's leading provider of premium domestic appliances for cooking, laundry care, and floor care. The company also produces dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers for commercial use, as well as machines for reprocessing medical instruments and for laboratory needs. Founded in 1899 by Carl Miele and Reinhard Zinkann as a centrifuge factory, Miele established itself as a supplier for many segments of the agricultural industry by offering dairy factory equipment, washing machines, bicycles and even automobiles. Today, the company focuses on producing durable domestic and commercial appliances that deliver superior quality, performance and user comfort.
Their products are exported to nearly 50 countries around the world, including the United States. Miele expanded their operations stateside in 1983 when the company opened a U.S> headquarters in Somerset, New Jersey. They've since relocated to Princeton, New Jersey and operate 10 different showrooms throughout the U.S. It's products in the U.S. are marketed alongside high-end competitors like Dacor, Viking Range, and others.
Dr. Reinhard Zinkann, who shares the name and family lineage with the Miele cofounder, serves as one of five Executive Directors in the company. He was gracious enough to spare some time to answer a few questions from Dealerscope. Here's a look at our conversation.
Dealerscope: What attracted you to the consumer tech world?
Zinkann: Domestic appliances are simply fascinating! Everyone uses them, they take a lot of work off our hands and they contribute towards us feeling good in our homes and in the clothes we wear. In the kitchen, our products stand for a broad range of pleasures and timeless elegance. And, of course, it gives great satisfaction to represent a brand which not only enriches the lives of so many people and is virtually ubiquitous but also to represent a brand which counts among the most desirable of all.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Top of the agenda is always our Immer Besser brand promise. For us, this means permanently striving to introduce new features which are only available to our customers from Miele – and which offer real added value. This also means consolidating our position in the smart home field. And, naturally we must continue to improve the energy efficiency of our appliances – but without entertaining any compromises where performance, convenience and results are concerned. In all, more than 1000 designers, developers and product engineers are working away on this at Miele.
What do you think is the most important thing that you are working on right now, and why?
One hugely central issue is the digital transformation of our company with all its implications. This is an issue which is bringing about changes in entire branches of the economy. This covers new functions and services relating to interconnected appliances; it has to do with the marketing of our appliances, the use of social media and the intelligent networking of production processes in the interests of greater speed, flexibility and customer focus under the heading of Smart Manufacturing. Seeing these challenges as opportunities is a prerequisite for sustainably growing our market position.
How is your industry being disrupted right now, and what are you doing to stay ahead of that disruption?
Apps and databases can never replace washing machines and ovens. However, the future will see calls for entire application environments, completely voice-controlled, with powerful image recognition, self-learning assistance systems and much more. Furthermore, new business models are conceivable in our branch of industry, starting with the share economy and payment by use. In order to be at the vanguard of this movement, Miele has set up a new business unit called Smart Home, and promising start-ups are given assistance in bringing their products to market maturity by a new subsidiary. One example of how Miele has created a completely new product category is provided by the dialog oven, which combines conventional cooking methods with electromagnetic waves to produce delectable results in the shortest of times.
Where do you see your industry heading in the next five, 10 years?
Our machines will become even more economical, although progress will come in increasingly small steps which are ever more difficult to achieve. The self-ordering fridge is as little part of our interpretation of the kitchen as is a self-unloading dishwasher. We presume that many clever and creative minds, which are not necessarily to be found among domestic appliance manufacturers, will come up with exciting applications which no-one can imagine today. The most fascinating apps for the iPhone already no longer come from Apple. Miele will provide the appliances on which all these applications run – but will also invent clever features either itself or together with cooperation partners. These, as I stated earlier, will only be available from Miele.
What advice do you have for retailers to help them better position your products to consumers?
In Germany and many other countries, our sales partners are extremely well positioned in terms of presenting goods, providing advice and delivering first-class service to convey the value of quality to their customers – and in getting the message across that quality has its price. Now, as we move forward, it is a matter of using the Internet more effectively. There are many promising approaches, say involving purchasing cooperations. And of course value-added customized services will come to play a central role, not only with respect to kitchen studios but also in the electrical retail trade. Once again, the buzzword is the smart home.