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Hands on with Fisher & Paykel’s first Experience Centre

After years of investing in product development to reassert itself in the high end of the home appliance market, Fisher & Paykel has spent the last 18 months-or-so collaborating with Alt Group, Fearon Hay, and Satellite Media on the brand’s first Experience Centre in Alexandria, Sydney.

The Experience Centre isn’t a retail space (it doesn’t sell anything) or a conventional showroom (it contains only a small selection of the F&P range), but an innovative marketing tool, where prospective customers (or those prospective customers’ designers/architects) can get hands-on experience with the products Fisher & Paykel hopes they fall in love with.

Mark Elmore, Fisher & Paykel’s director of design integration says that, like nearly every industry, the appliance and whiteware industry has been disrupted by digital media, shrinking the opportunities for Fisher & Paykel to interact directly with potential customers. The Experience Centre was a way to not just show people what Fisher & Paykel products looked and felt like in person, but what they could do and how to get the best out of them.

The Experience Centre is a large, open room, designed by Fearon Hay, fitting in with their brand of new New Zealand modernism. Everything is square, solid and heavy. It’s all marble, stone and chrome. Elmore says Fisher & Paykel wanted the space to reflect the “materiality of the New Zealand landscape”.

“Our ideas centred on creating a system for the relationship and flow of space that is social, engages with design and draws on the power of natural materials,” says architect Jeff Fearon. “The centre enables direct experience with the products created by Fisher & Paykel and focuses on the highest level of design while creating the opportunity for engagement.”

You enter past a balcony with two large barbeques, through an entrance where gingernut tea is served, and into a large open room with multiple kitchens. In the centre of the room is a long dining table, designed to act as an internal courtyard, where you can sit and eat food cooked in the working show kitchen at the far end. To one side are the non-operational ovens and stoves, with benchtop touchscreens where customers can browse the entire range, sending life-size images of any product to one of the two huge 4K screens on the wall.

To the other side is an example kitchen – a huge floating island with an uncountable number of draws and cupboards and appliances hidden within. Behind the island is 12 widescreen TVs, playing a time lapsed loop of some stormy New Zealand (probably West Coast) beach. Almost hidden to the side is the model laundry (washing machines just aren’t as beautiful as stoves) that you have to know is there to easily find.

The Experience Centre has two functions: facilitate low-level planning, and showcasing the appliances. The planning is done through the touchscreens and, next to them, pads of gridded paper, pencils and true to scale wooden blocks of certain models of fridges, ovens and stoves. The aim to encourage customers to browse digitally (seeing options and comparing specs, etc.) and then, if they want something more tactile, plan their new kitchen with the paper and blocks. On entry, the customer is handed a NFC-enabled pen, which is linked to their phone number or email address. When that customer sees something they like, they can press the pen to ‘collect’ that model and when they leave, all the ‘collected’ items will be compiled into a personalised micro-site for the customer so allow them to continue their research.

Matt Thompson, Fisher & Paykel’s global experience manager, says that the purpose of the digital experience, designed by Satellite, is to “give customers the functionality where they have discussions inside the experience centre and then re-enable them to have very similar discussions based on product, outside the experience centre. From there they can have discussions with their family, their friends, their designer, their architect – who ever it might be that they might have a further conversation with.”

Thompson says the NFC-enabled pen means that customers could interact with the platform without needed any specific apps or a certain functionality on their phone. “We needed an agnostic solution around NFC, given that Apple doesn’t support it, and the pen is what we came up with,” he says.

The other function of the Experience Centre is to show off the appliances by actually using them in front of people. While the Centre is open, there’ll be an onsite cook, filling the room with perfectly baked fragrances, offering customers fresh bread and other treats as they have a look around. And if a group is interested, Fisher & Paykel can put on dinners and cooking demonstrations so when people buy their over then won’t just “always use the fan force function” as one Australian F&P employee put it.

While there are no plans to open an Experience Centre in New Zealand at this stage (the market is too small to warrant the huge investment required), smaller versions will be installed in certain appliance retail outlets, ensuring that Fisher & Paykel products are displayed and accessible in a way that is consistent with Fisher & Paykel’s brand identity.

The next Experience Centre opens in New York later this year. We hope to experience that one too.

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