THE KITCHEN was the center of attention in Atlanta last November, when the first Insperience Studio, a showcase for Whirlpool Corporation’s Whirlpool and KitchenAid appliances, opened the same night that Viking celebrated its newest Viking Culinary Arts Center (VCAC).
The Insperience festivities lured local chefs, who performed their gustatory magic for guests, but these showrooms are not for the pros. They are open to the public, and their purpose is to allow prospective buyers to test state-of-the-art appliances before they make a purchase.
“We wanted to create a place for consumers to see our appliances in context, with cooking classes and an opportunity to have a hands-on experience,” says Jamie Moldafsky, vice president and general manager of the KitchenAid brand. The Insperience Studio does just that, in a no-pressure, non-sales environment where product consultants guide visitors through different kitchen set-ups, each equipped with working ovens, ranges, refrigerators, dishwashers, and laundry products—even countertop favorites like the KitchenAid mixer.
Fred Carl Jr., president and CEO of Viking, became intrigued with the idea when he saw a Land Rover testing facility in the mid-1990s. “If you can test-drive a luxury vehicle,” he reasoned, “why can’t you test-drive a luxury appliance?” Not long after, in 1999, the first VCACs were launched in Memphis and Nashville. The loftlike venues mimic the commercial style of the company’s products, with an abundance of stainless steel, marble, and tile. Demonstration classes—often with guest chefs—are given in amphitheater-like settings, while teaching kitchens with as many as five Viking range stations provide the hands-on experience.
Viking plans to open 40 VCACs in all. “We are on a roll at this point,” says Joe Sherman, president and CEO of VCAC, noting that in addition to the Atlanta facility, the company has recently opened demonstration kitchens in Dallas and Philadelphia, and is planning three more this year, in Garden City, N.Y.; St. Louis; and Cleveland.
The test-drive approach has been evolving among other top appliance makers and their distributors for years. Services vary from the basic to the indulgent. Maytag went the former route at its 17 Home Appliance Centers, where you can try and buy the likes of the Neptune front-loading washer and Jenn-Air pro-style cooktop with plenty of skilled assistance.
Dacor and Miele offer carte blanche in their nationwide showrooms. The BSH group (which includes Bosch, Gaggenau, and Thermador) as well as Wolf, Sub-Zero, and Asko are available for testing in trendy surroundings at numerous distributors around the country. Even La Cornue and Aga stoves can be put through their paces. All provide scheduled events, demonstrations, and classes as well as one-on-one consultations by appointment.
“We have always felt that if individuals purchase a quality appliance, they should be allowed to test-drive it,” says Barry Cohen, vice president of marketing at BSH distributor Hadco. “And we’ve found that if they do, their decision will be a better one.”