Your Private Brand Food Is Probably in a Kenmore

Modern packaged goods retailers – grocery, drug and big box often believe that they own the Private Brand conversation – that their history of generic to label to brand is the history of the entire Private Brand industry. However frequent readers of this blog know that I love to expand the conversation well beyond the “me too” nature of packaged goods to include any and all retail channels. That in fact, earlier this year, I even rolled out the site Prêt a Marque that focuses on licensed, exclusive and Private Brands in health and beauty.

This post looks at the history of one iconic Private Brand outside the realm of grocery and drug and big box: Kenmore from Sears. Despite Sears continuing troubles it continues to be a impressive player in the appliance market.

The modern highlights:

  • Kenmore is the number one player in the appliance industry.
  • Kenmore’s market share is extraordinary – 50% higher than its closest competitor.
  • Kenmore is the best-known name in appliances.
  • It is ranked one or two in every major appliance category.

The History:
In 1927, Kenmore first appeared on a Sears laundry appliance, an agitator type, wringer washing machine. By 1936, Sears had already sold 1 million Kenmore laundry items. Its popularity hasn’t slipped. Today, nearly one in every three American homes contains a Kenmore appliance. You can see why, when you look at Kenmore’s history. The Kenmore brand boasts a long list of firsts in automatic appliances, energy efficiency, and stylish, modern designs.

The first appearance of the Kenmore brand washing machine almost escaped notice. The Kenmore washing machine did not show up in the venerable Sears catalog that year, and no known photograph of the 1927 washing machine with a Kenmore brand on it exists. The origin of the name Kenmore is equally vague.  One suggestion is that Kenmore came from Kenmore Avenue, a prominent street in Chicago.

With nearly 99% of urban homes wired for electricity by the end of the 1920s, Sears recognized the huge untapped market in household appliances. To reach this market Sears offered a wide assortment of Kenmore appliances.

After the Second World War, Sears helped revolutionize home décor with the introduction of the Kenmore Harmony House line of appliances. Kenmore Harmony House appliances featured the latest designs and technology for washing machines, dryers, and ranges. These appliances came in bright colors including Sunshine Yellow, Malibu Coral, Aquamarine, and the standard white finish.

Over the decades new Kenmore products reflected consumer demand. Kenmore dishwashers, garbage disposals, and trash compactors joined ranges, washing machines and dryers. Kenmore added countertop appliances to the product mix.  The Kenmore product line included everything from sunlamps, and electric baby bottle sterilizers, to vacuum cleaners, and electric blankets. Sears also sold a Kenmore 3-piece barber set and hair clippers, and a Lady Kenmore electric shaver. In 1977 Sears put the Kenmore brand name on refrigerators.


1913: The Kenmore name first appears on a Sears product, a sewing machine

1927: Sears first applies the Kenmore brand name to washing machines

1932: Kenmore vacuum cleaners debut

1933: Kenmore is officially registered as a Sears trademark. The Toperator washing machine centralizes wash, drain, and wringer controls for the first time

1936: Sears sells its 1 millionth Kenmore laundry appliance
Materials are rationed — Kenmore appliances sold only to customers with demonstrated needs

1947: Sears sells the first automatic, agitator-type Kenmore washing machine

1957: “Wash ‘N Wear” cycle debuts for Kenmore washers

1971: Sears offers Kenmore microwave ovens and trash compactors

1984: Kenmore with Ultra Wash dishwasher is introduced as “America’s Best Dishwashing System” among leading brands

1987: Kenmore becomes America’s best-selling brand for ranges and canister vacuums

1993: Kenmore “Super Efficient Refrigeration” surpasses federal energy standards by 29 percent

1995: Sixty percent of American homes have a Kenmore product

2000: Kenmore Elite appliances generate more than $500 million in hard-line sales since their introduction in 1999

2001: The HE3t washer is the latest in revolutionary laundry product from Kenmore. Superior cleaning, sleek design and energy-efficient performance make the Kenmore HE3t America’s best front-loading washer among leading brands, based on overall performance, including cleaning, capacity and water and energy usage.

Source:            Sears Archives

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.