Despite the success of China’s technology industry in recent years, the country’s manufacturing companies are still working their way up in the value chain. After many years of supplying foreign brands, very few of them have managed to rise above the market and become reputable brands unto themselves.
Fotile is one of those few. Not only it is now a household name in Chinese kitchen appliances, it competes with foreign brands in product and service, rather than simply on price. Since its founding in 1994, Fotile’s Chairman, Mao Zhongqun, has made it his goal to “do nothing but build a high-end Chinese family brand.”
Fotile’s commitment to research and development enabled the company to break into the premium category—traditionally dominated by foreign brands—with a range hood optimized for Chinese cooking. Fotile soon realized that the success of their hood was driven by Chinese families’ desire for safer and healthier kitchens. Following this insight, the company understood that to become a primary brand, they needed to evolve beyond one revolutionary product toward a suite of products that respond to China’s specific consumer demands.
We have to go beyond what the consumers are asking. We need to lead the market.
Mao Zhongqun, Chairman of Fotile
In looking to diversify beyond the hood, Fotile found that young Chinese families lacked an efficient way to wash dishes while cooking meals. Dishwashers were relatively uncommon in Chinese households, as the typical kitchen didn’t have space for a standard appliance.
Fotile recognized this opportunity and spent four years developing a prototype dishwasher that would fit into a kitchen sink. In 2014, Fotile had a working prototype at hand, but they were not confident enough yet to put it into the production line. Fotile came to IDEO for advice on whether the product would be something Chinese families would pay for. By that time in China, many manufacturers had failed in bringing dishwashers into the market.
IDEO and Fotile have had a relationship since 2009, working together on projects including a unified design language for product offerings, retail environments, and IoT strategy. For the dishwasher, IDEO and the Fotile research team came together and shadowed Chinese families in different cities, preparing meals from start to finish. The teams found that unlike in Western cooking, where several kinds of cookware are used for different dishes, Chinese cooks tend to use the same cookware to prepare all of their dishes.
What this means is that the cookware needs to be cleaned several times during a single meal preparation, rather than once at the end. In this context, the sink serves different purposes over the course of cooking—it’s a place to wash and store prepped ingredients, rinse the cookware, and deep clean cookware and dishware.
Based on this insight, IDEO made a list of product design recommendations that became Fotile’s Sink Dishwasher—a counter-level, multi-purpose appliance that specifically suits Chinese cooking habits. IDEO’s design guidance gave Fotile the confidence it needed to launch their product into the market and served as a blueprint for the future iteration of Fotile’s Sink Dishwasher.
On March 25, 2015, six months after the project ended, Fotile launched the world's first sink dishwasher designed for the Chinese families. Eight months after the launch of the dishwasher, its market share exceeded 30%, setting off a wave of innovation in the Chinese dishwasher category.
In 2016, Fotile introduced a three-slot dishwasher with an added compartment for cleaning fruit and vegetables—a direct response to the research finding that Chinese families have a concern for food safety. When this model hit the market, Fotile dishwasher market share jumped to 41.1%.
Fotile is now synonymous with the “sink dishwasher” in China and has a widespread reputation among consumers as a symbol of a safe and healthy Chinese family kitchen.