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Kenmore Air Conditioners: Brand Reputation and Who Makes ‘em?


According to the Sears archives, there never was an actual Kenmore, at least not a manufacturer by that name1. So how to explain the fact that one in five U.S. households owns an appliance with that brand name prominently displayed?

It goes back to 1927, when Sears first established the Kenmore brand for a washing machine. The idea caught on, and Sears ended up using the brand across the board (as recently as 1977 bringing out the Kenmore version of a refrigerator – made by Frigidaire, which is owned by Electrolux2). In an interesting flip-flop, the core brands of Sears: Craftsman, Kenmore and DieHard, first gained their reputations because they were sold by Sears; then, when Sears itself suffered a loss of market share, the brand names were separated out as having a value all their own.

In 2007, Sears “sold” their three killer brands to a shell company and then licensed the names back to Sears3. The point? Two, really. The first was to protect these valuable brands should Sears go bankrupt. The second was to generate revenue from the intellectual property. This is why Kenmore is sold at, for instance, K-Mart, even though the product name used to be reserved for Sears alone.

So who makes Kenmore AC?

Because the name is licensed by Sears, there are no set restrictions on who could make the products. Sears is free to purchase from whomever they like. According to Consumer Reports, the manufacturing arrangements change all the time4. Currently, Kenmore air conditioners are made by at least five different manufacturers for Sears: Whirlpool (Fedders), Electrolux (Frigidaire), Keeprite, LG and Friedrich.

The only way to actually tell is to look at the model number and decode it. Information on how to do so can be found here5.

Why does it matter? It matters because Kenmore air conditioners come at a premium. The brand name is leveraged, along with Sears reputation, into something consumers value as a better product. It also matters because one item under the Kenmore brand may be excellent, while another item (made by a different manufacturer) may have problems.

Savvy consumers will examine a Kenmore model number, determine the real manufacturer, and then investigate buying the item directly – sometimes at a substantial savings.

Products

The window air conditioners (sold at Sears and K-Mart) range in price from $100 to $600 dollars and have a good reputation. Most of these (at this writing!) are made by LG, a South Korean manufacturing group6 (the LG stands for “Lucky Goldstar”). They have a good reputation, but this may be one case where buying an extended warranty is advised. At this price range, consumers who seek a warranty fix are likely to get a new machine rather than just a repair. In either case, if a store-based warranty is offered, this should be considered (rather than a manufacturer’s warranty).

For a single room, window installation, the Kenmore brands are not all energy star rated, but this is to be expected at the lower prices. The major complaint is shared among similar discount window units – noise. Proper installation will help avoid this problem.

All of the Kenmore air conditioners are window installations; however, they can be adapted to a through-wall configuration. Sizes range from their lowest priced ($100) unit, the 5,000 BTU model. This is rated to cool a 10 ft by 10ft space. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the 25,000 BTU, single room air conditioner, at about $600.

Kenmore Central AC

As mentioned above, the name Kenmore has a value. Consumers recognize it and generally think well of it. For this reason, Sears extended the use to a line of professionally installed central air conditioners. They also market under the Carrier nameplate.

These units come in standard sizes and use existing ductwork, either for cooling or heating. They are installed and serviced by technicians under contract with Sears. Reading some of the customer comments, this seems to be the main source of aggravation7. While consumers appreciate the 10-year warranty offered by Sears (in addition to manufacturer’s warranty) they find getting good service a problem.

The reason for the failure in the repair and maintenance department seems to be a reflection on who Sears contracts with to do their installs and repairs. Because Sears doesn’t have an in-house repair operation (they aren’t a manufacturer and the volume doesn’t justify it) they contract out to local businesses. This makes it essential for anyone purchasing a Kenmore central air system to not only evaluate the product, but look into whatever company will be installing and servicing the unit. It isn’t possible to blame Sears across the whole nation for complaints due to local service technicians.

The best advice, gathered from the professional HVAC forums, is to choose your installer with as much (or more) care than the system installed. This is especially so because Sears is actually a middleman between several manufacturers and the consumer. Only an experienced HVAC technician will be able to see past the nameplate to the value underneath.

 

References:

1) http://www.searsarchives.com/brands/kenmore.htm

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frigidaire

3) http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_16/b4030071.htm

4) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/news/who-actually-makes-all-those-appliances/overview/

5) http://www.appliance411.com/parts/sears.shtml

6) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/heating-cooling-and-air/air-conditioners/air-conditioner-buying-advice/air-conditioner-brands/air-conditioner-brands.htm

7) http://www.furnacecompare.com/air-conditioners/sears/reviews/

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2 Responses to “Kenmore Air Conditioners: Brand Reputation and Who Makes ‘em?”

  1. Collin Kelley says:

    Actually Sears owns K-mart, which is why they sell Kenmore there. The K-mart brand was going down hill (not that Sears isn’t) and so they swooped in to expand their footprint. It is the reason that many/most Sears brands are sold at K-mart.

    • ACboy says:

      Collin,

      Thanks for the comment. You are correct, Sears did buy Kmart and now both companies are run under the Sears Holding Corp. name. Here’s a link to a Washington Post article detailing the merger: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56358-2004Nov17.html

      My earlier point, though is still valid about Sears securing their intellectual property, mainly the big three names: Kenmore, Die Hard and Craftsman. Here’s a quote from Business Week: “Sears has created $1.8 billion worth of securities based on the brand names Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard. In essence, it has transferred ownership of the brands to another entity, which it then pays for the right to use the brands. The deal, carried off last May, was the biggest “securitization” of intellectual property in history.” This quote via: http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2007-04-15/the-new-alchemy-at-sears

      Sometimes when you start to investigate who owns what, things get murky and circuitous fast. –acboy

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