The billionaire owner and president of Danby Appliances, one of the biggest brands in wine coolers and under-counter fridges in North America, has suggested Brexit could break open the tight grip that European appliance brands have on the UK market.
Speaking exclusively to ERT on a trip to London this week, Jim Estill said the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) presented an “opportunity” for the Canadian appliance maker in the UK.
He said: “Whenever there’s change there’s opportunity.
“Hopefully, the UK will be open to a Canadian brand and I think that the trade arrangements between the UK and Canada could potentially be better and stronger in the future.”
His comments come amid Danby’s official UK launch (as of October 1) as part of ambitious plans to grow in the rest of Europe too.
The firm, which is based in Guelph, Ontario – near Toronto – and has 30 per cent of the bar fridge market in Canada, has teamed up with UK technology distribution firm Exertis, which Danby said was a “safe bet” and had the scale, size and existing relationships with most of its target retail market.
Ex-Vestel managing director, John Welbourn, who will spearhead Danby’s European expansion, said that Exertis – a £3 billion company – also had the capability to hold and manage inventory for retailers, which he believed was of growing importance in today’s trading environment.
Danby has launched with a limited range of about 20 under-counter fridges – or beer fridges as they are known in Canada – wine coolers, and freezers, with more to follow. The first orders will be arriving end of November and come with a two-year warranty.
Mr Estill said the price point would be “mid-value” but that the products were premium, particularly compared with what was currently available in the UK.
Apart from Brexit, he said that he felt there was an opening for a well-designed product range in the bar fridge and wine cooler category.
“When I look at the products here [in the UK], there is a design difference. Look at the demand for Apple and Tesla. It is increasingly important to people to have well-designed, good-looking products.”
Danby’s fridge products have proprietary technology, LED lighting and feature elements, such as space specifically designed for beer cans.
“Not all retailers want to sell the same brand as every other retailer, and that also gives an opening,” Mr Estill added.
“In North America, we make products specifically for independents that are not available in the mass channel and we hope to do that here too.”
But this, he suggested, would not happen for at least a year, until the Danby brand was better established.
“The wine cooler category is fast-growing. Most people don’t have a wine cooler yet, but it’s very easy for the market to double or triple. We are hearing that it’s something people are putting in new kitchens are enquiring much more about,” Mr Estill said.
Danby’s wine cooler range stretches from entry-level up to about $7,000 (£5,400).
Other existing Danby products, like its indoor tabletop greenhouse for growing herbs, could be introduced to the UK in due course, while Mr Estill suggested that the UK would also “benefit” from a brand new “game-changing” line-up that Danby was still working on.
The next big thing Danby is likely to introduce to the UK market is air conditioners, reflecting Mr Estill’s “very pessimistic view on climate change”.
“I believe it will be hot next year and the year after and the year after and you’ll need to be more air conditioned like we are in North America and the air conditioners we sell are portable and window air conditioners, which are perfect retrofits,” Mr Estill said.
“This is my dim view on what we are doing to the planet, but I think that the climate change and the heat will be high over the coming decades.”
Mr Welbourn, who started at Danby 12 months ago, said he was “excited” to introduce the 70-year-old brand with a “recognised heritage in design and engineering” to the UK.
He said that its scale – at least half of the 3,500 independent accounts Danby has in North America order regularly – reflected its ambition in the UK, Ireland and Europe.
Mr Welbourn said: “Danby is one of North America’s most compelling home-comfort and appliance brands, producing specialist products for over 70 years. Danby has a recognised heritage in design and engineering leading to numerous design firsts.
“In being a leading supplier of products to multiple market sectors like retail, education, healthcare and hospitality across Canada and the USA. Danby has the experience, scale and flexibility to achieve significant growth.
“In appointing Exertis, one of Europe’s largest and fastest-growing distribution houses, we have a partner who offers us a proven and dynamic route to many market sectors with the relationships, capacity and desire we require to achieve our brand plans.”
Mr Estill, who bought the Canadian firm about two-and-a-half years ago, said that the firm was “entrepreneurial” and growth-oriented and would be looking to achieve 50 per cent growth worldwide within three years.
Mr Estill is well-known in his home market as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He was one of the founding directors of mobile phone maker Blackberry, taking the company from a turnover of $10 million to $15bn and launching it into the UK and Europe.
He was in the UK as a guest of honour of Citizens UK for his humanitarian efforts in Syria.