By Ian Neubauer

MELBOURNE: Maytag celebrated its 100th anniversary at Melbourne’s Hyatt Park hotel last night with a gala event hosted by comedian Julia Zemiro, celebrity chef Michael Lambie and former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett.

Renowned among earlier generations of Australians for the durability of its products, Maytag all but dropped off the radar screen until white goods giant Whirlpool acquired the business unit early last year. The centenary celebration was therefore seen by many of the 160 appliance retailers who attended the event as Maytag’s official re-launch into the Australian marketplace.

“I think any brand that gets bought by a company will go through a rough patch,” said Domayne Kotara franchisee, Adam Luker.

“And from the look of the products they’re showing tonight it looks like they’ve done a light-speed leap from making white boxes with knobs on the front to sophisticated electric appliances. It’s good to see them back.”

On display was Maytag’s new kitchen range of washers, refrigerators, coffee machines, rangehoods, microwaves, cooktops and ovens. The range features identical design lines to create what the company claimed to be “the first premium integrated range” offered in Australia.

“No expense has been spared tonight and our products reflect that,” said Maytag product manager — specialty refrigeration & dryers, Marc Jarvis.

“For example, the handles on a lot of other washers are plastic, as are the lids. But we use porcelain lids so you could scratch it with a coin and it won’t dent or even mark the paint. And the handles on our machines are not made of polyurethane plastic but from ABS—the material used to make bicycle helmets.”

Keynote speaker Jeff Kennett compared Maytag’s evolution to the economic turnaround Victoria experienced in the 1990s under the reform agenda implemented by his administration.

“In 1992 our level of activity was declining and we had a challenge of trying to restore confidence. We told Victorians we were going to change the way we thought and the way we did business. We attacked on all levels and at all times,” Kennett said. “So by doing this we … restored confidence levels in our community.

“When you look at where you are today in retailing, have you ever reflected on the role of passing confidence onto customers? People will spend today if they feel confident in their future. So tonight Maytag is saying, ‘we’ve been here for 100 years and we will be here for another 100.”’

In closing, Kennett warned retailers to expect their businesses to be adversely effected by additional interest rate hikes and the impact of economic development in China and the US.

“The only thing that will lead to security is investment,” he said.