The Viking Range Phenomenon and You
Peek into the kitchen of a typical A/V customer and you might find a Viking range. A Sub-Zero fridge. Maybe a Bosch dishwasher.
These aren’t your mother’s Kenmores. These are professional-grade appliances reformatted for residential use.
What’s going on here? Is every client trained at Le Cordon Bleu? Are they leading the fabulous life, filled with friends and wine and cheese and cassoulet?
More likely, these appliances are seldom used. Viking calls these buyers “look not cook” clients. The typical Viking range purchaser uses their range no more than—and often much less than—the typical household.
From an economist’s point of view, the client who buys the fancy appliances is under-utilizing their benefit. And since these are premium-priced appliances, the average economist’s head begins to spin wildly in disbelief. Why should consumers spend a significant premium on products they seldom use?
My answer is that the word use is misunderstood.
Utility in the age of luxury
At the dawn of the industrial age, most consumers barely had enough money to buy appliances, which were considered luxury goods because they saved time and made life easier.
Times have changed, obviously. Today, consumers aren’t weighing the relative cost of having a refrigerator versus stocking an ice shed. Utility as functionality is taken for granted.
Today’s luxury buyers want to surround themselves with products that are unique, novel, well-built—in a word, luxurious. When high-end buyers consider kitchen appliances, they look past the offerings at Sears in favor of design showrooms that carry premium brands.
Look at real estate ads for higher-priced new homes. They tout premium appliances in the kitchens. Obviously, this is a selling point. The new home builder doesn’t believe he’s attracting seasoned chefs as potential buyers. He’s attracting luxury buyers.
The new definition for utility in the age of luxury must include performance (to be sure), plus perceived luxury.