Fixing items for durability – how French manufacturer SEB leads the way

rethink sustainability

Fixing items for durability – how French manufacturer SEB leads the way

Interview published on https://lombardodier.lesechos.fr/ on 15 December 2020

“We want our customers to keep our products for a long time by repairing them." That's the ambition at SEB, the world leader in electrical appliances. Durability and repairability are key for the company, which is keen to see its devices passed on from generation to generation.

SEB has changed a great deal since it started off in the tin industry in 1857. In 2019, the group generated revenue of EUR 7,354 million in household equipment with well known brands such as Seb, Calor, Rowenta, Krups, Moulinex and Tefal. A keen proponent of sustainability from its beginnings, today it is trying to reduce the environmental impact of its products across their life cycle. Four official targets were set between 2013 and 2020 - to reduce products' electricity consumption by 20%; to reduce the energy used at manufacturing sites by 20%; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 20%; and to use 20% recycled materials in new products.

Read also: How to reduce a company’s carbon footprint in the race to net zero

A keen proponent of sustainability from its beginnings, today [SEB] is trying to reduce the environmental impact of its products across their life cycle

Product durability and repairability are at the heart of what the group does. This is no mean feat when 12 SEB products are sold around the world every second. Towards the end of the 2000s, the group made a commitment to ecological design so that its products could be easily repaired.

Eco-design for better repairs

The repairability of a product depends primarily on its design. "Everything matters," says Joël Tronchon, head of sustainable development. "For instance, if we were to glue the different parts together when we make our products, it would be difficult if not impossible to repair them. But we use a large number of modules that are screwed together. Our manufacturing price is higher, for sure, but it's much easier and more economical to identify a faulty part and replace it." The group has become an expert in the area. Thanks to high-quality green materials, its products perform better and are easier to mend. Tronchon believes this commercial strategy is aimed at the long term. "Our brand image has gained considerably from our tangible commitments, like the 10 year repairability label. If customers are satisfied with a SEB product, they trust us all the more, and that's priceless.”

Since 2021, 94% of the group's products have been repairable “for at least 10 years". This means ensuring that individual components are always available, and, with nearly 40,000 products, that represents 5.7 million parts in stock across Europe. It also applies to old products components that are no longer made need to be found. “We're very proud of it. We can even replicate certain parts with 3D printers," said Tronchon.

Discover more on the circular economy: The 10 principles of circular economy

It's good to make products that can be repaired. It's even better to do it in a way that means repairs are economical for customers and for the sector as a whole

Repairs that are economical for all

It's good to make products that can be repaired. It's even better to do it in a way that means repairs are economical for customers and for the sector as a whole. "Customers often resent the fact that repairs are long and expensive," says Tronchon with regret. To remedy this, the group has set up an "all-inclusive repair package" that is very attractive for small electrical goods bought less than 10 years ago for which the warranty has expired. The price depends on the product range. SEB is committed to ensuring that the cost of repairing a toaster, a coffee maker or a vacuum cleaner does not represent more than 20% to 40% of the same product when new. "If it's less than half the price of a new one, customers tend to have it repaired. So the price has to be just right". Customers will pay €18.99 for a toaster or €44.99 for an oven, so it's much less expensive to repair than to buy a new one. "Repairs are a key activity for the group; we want our products to stand the test of time."

Repairs are a key activity for the group; we want our products to stand the test of time

There is another aspect to this desire for sustainability that is equally important - supporting independent repairers. Individual components are sold at cost, and almost all of the all-inclusive fee goes to the repairer. “Excessive margins on components would be unfair to both consumers and repairers," he said. The group has set up a network of 6,000 approved repair centres around the world, 220 of them in France. And if it's too expensive to set up shop in the city, SEB can take over. This is the case in Paris, where the first SEB repair site will open its doors in the city centre. "Since we dropped the prices of components by 30% in 2012, repairs have exploded. We know we can encourage consumers to stop throwing things away," said Tronchon.

The strategy seems to be bearing fruit: SEB has not only boosted its revenue ten-fold, it also enjoys an excellent brand image.

Important information

This document is issued by Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd or an entity of the Group (hereinafter “Lombard Odier”). It is not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful to address such a document. This document was not prepared by the Financial Research Department of Lombard Odier.

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