In April 2012, Appliance Retailer magazine published the following feature on Glen Dimplex. This is the first time it has been published online and it is intended to provide some insights into the company’s philosophy, in light of the news that it is taking over the distribution of Morphy Richards from ASKO.

O’Driscoll (left) and Naughton cut the ribbon to open the new showroom.
Sean O’Driscoll (left) and Martin Naughton cut the Union Flag ribbon to open the new showroom.

Glen Dimplex founder and president Martin Naughton has a saying: “you can’t make love on the telephone — you have to get face-to-face to make things happen”. That’s why he was in Australia recently to meet with retailers and to launch a new showroom in Melbourne.

Naughton first came to Australia in 1978, five years after founding Glen Electric and one year after purchasing the Dimplex seasonal business. Joining the Irish national on his trip to the antipodes was Glen Dimplex chairman and CEO Sean O’Driscoll, who now manages the day-to-day operations of the company.

Both gentlemen are familiar with the Australian appliance landscape. Naughton used to visit annually before he promoted himself to president and O’Driscoll has flown down three times in the last year to oversee Glen Dimplex’s relocation from semi-regional Dandenong to the more central Mount Waverley.

This new showroom is predominantly focused on promoting Belling, with the English kitchen brand taking up the most space on the floor, plus a dedicated cooking school section for potential customers. Also on show are Dimplex heaters and electric fires, Roberts digital radios and Morphy Richards small appliances (distributed in Australia by ASKO).

A self-described “brand junkie”, Naughton said a collection of brands is part of Glen Dimplex’s diversified strategy. By having multiple brands in multiple categories in multiple countries, Glen Dimplex has been able to reduce its native Irish business to less than 2 per cent of the company’s revenue — a handy divestment considering Ireland’s parlous economy.

“Most companies will run with one brand and convert everything into that brand,” Naughton said. “We have a policy of a basket of brands, and that has served us well and I think we will look at acquiring more brands.

“We also have brands you haven’t heard of, we have French brands for the French market, we have German brands for the German market, and they are very important. We don’t regard ourselves as an Irish company or a British company or an American company or a Germany company, we’re an international business and we see ourselves that way.”

Naughton believes it takes “a lifetime and a fortune” to build a brand. Time and money are two resources that have been allocated to the Belling brand, with Glen Dimplex opening the chequebooks to fund these new facilities. Although a great step forward for the 100-year-old cooking appliance brand, Belling is playing catch-up on the likes of Miele, ILVE and Smeg, which have had operational showrooms for much longer.

Glen Dimplex Australia MD David Woodward said the need for a showroom came as a function of strong growth. And if money was to be spent, it wasn’t going to be in Dandenong.

“We’ve moved from being purely a seasonal business to an appliance business and we were very determined to invest in a cooking school and a cooking showroom,” Woodward said. “You need to have one if you’re going to be a player and Dandenong is not the place to do that.”

In addition to cutting the ribbon on this new showroom, O’Driscoll used this visit to catch up with old friends. The day before, he visited Gerry Harvey, Katie Page and David Ackery from Harvey Norman, and directly before the showroom opening he was at The Good Guys’ Melbourne office.

The Belling brand is most closely associated with these two retail groups, though O’Driscoll maintains relationships with several other dealers.

“Harvey Norman and The Good Guys are the major electrical retailers in Australia, so unless you have a significant presence with them you don’t have a business,” O’Driscoll said. “We also trade with Retravision and we trade with Winnings — we have a wide base — but by definition, two of our most significant customers would be Harveys and The Good Guys, because they have such as substantial share of the electrical retail market.”

Judging by its presence at the showroom launch, Harvey Norman is pleased to be in the Belling business. Speaking on behalf of the Victorian and Tasmanian franchisees present, Sean Dixon from Harvey Norman said, “We could not ask for a better range and we couldn’t ask for a better facility”.

In its native England, the Belling brand is synonymous with range cookers, which combine multiple oven sizes and fuels into one unit. For example, the Belling Richmond has four ovens (multifunction, fanned, conventional and slow cook) and a 110-centimetre hob. O’Driscoll said further innovations are coming.

“If we look at our cooking business, in a relatively short space of time, we’ve brought the Belling brand to the market,” he said.

“We did not have a gas fanned oven in our product range and the Australian market required that. In a very short period of time, we developed a product for the market. Wok burners are a significant requirement for the market here, we’ve developed those products. Fifty-four centimetre products — not a standard size in Europe — we developed that range of products.

“We invented the range cooker category in Europe — people aspire to that type of product — and you will see a significant display of that in the showroom.”

In addition to the showroom, Woodward said Glen Dimplex Australia was beginning to invest more seriously in after sales service.

“We’ll be launching our first man in a van in Melbourne,” he said in a speech to Harvey Norman franchisees. “He’ll be branded and he’ll have spare parts on board, with the ultimate being that we fix the appliance the right way the first time, and that’s all part of us trying to recognise that we have to make life easy for you guys [retailers]. If you want to support our brands, we have to make life easy for you.”

A key part of the showroom is the Belling cooking school, which will mirror similar schools previously launched by rival manufacturers. Retailers will be able to send consumers to the showroom to look at the complete range, touch and feel, and cook a multi-course meal under the gaze of a home economist. They’ll then be sent back to the retailer to finalise the sale.

“We certainly invite retailers to send consumers to us,” Woodward said. “We realise we have a big range – it’s hard to display all these products with limited space – so our door is open to send any consumer who can’t see the colour or fuel type they want in a retail shop.”

Finally, the launch and expansion of Belling in Australia has added yet another player into an already enormous category. By some counts, there are over 80 cooking appliance brands in Australia. O’Driscoll said this necessitates differentiation, which is why Glen Dimplex is investing so heavily.

“Every county in the world has one thing in common: it’s over populated with small domestic appliance brands or large domestic appliance brands, so you’ve got to differentiate your brand and you’ve got to differentiate your product so that somebody will want to buy it,” he said.

“You do it through style, identifying customer trends and bringing in innovation. Somebody will say, ‘I want that product in my home’, or more importantly, ‘I want it in my kitchen’, and that’s what Belling is about.”

This article was originally published in print under the heading ‘From Ireland With Love (and Money)’.