The floorcare market certainly experienced a squeeze on pricing in recent seasons, with some sectors falling out of favour and seeing sales dip accordingly. But the signs are that consumer’s – and retailer’s – confidence has picked up, with total value and volume both rising by around 9% in the early part of 2007, with sales worth over £515 million and around 6.5 million units.
As with many improved performances throughout the industry, the key to success is usually innovation – or massive price reductions. But that is largely unsustainable and if manufacturers focus their efforts on strong product development, the rewards tend to speak for themselves.
Hot topics – allergies and pets
One of the most vibrant sectors within floorcare currently follows more of a theme than a specific format such as ‘upright’ or ‘sledge’ – the two largest categories of floorcare. The theme is allergies, with one of the latest incarnations being products aimed at pet owners.
There are an estimated 15 million allergy sufferers in the UK and companies have for some time offered products featuring HEPA filters (these trap microscopic particles including pollen and pet allergens for safe disposal). Some products, like these from SEBO or Morphy Richards (the PerformAir Light range), have been tested by the British Allergy Foundation and carry its seal of approval.
But with around 25% of homes in the UK now owning cats or dogs (and more cats than dogs apparently), the introduction of products aimed at that sector of the population seems more than a smart marketing move!
Morphy Richards has the PerformAir Light Pet model, with a second beater bar and turbo tool for removing pet hair and fine dust from carpets and upholstery.
It comes with a pet guide with hints and tips from the experts in pet care – Battersea Dogs Home.
Electrolux has the Vitesse and Velocity Pet Lover models, with Riser Visor turbo nozzle (a rotating turbo brush to groom stairs and upholstery, reaching deep into the pile). Electrolux Floorcare managing director Nick Munton says: “A question on the ownership of pets is now a must for shop staff making a sale.”
German manufacturer SEBO has the K1 Pet in black and silver, with a 2100 watt motor and S-Class filtration, while Russell Hobbs has actually chosen pet-focused products as its entry into the floorcare market. Daniel Daly, product manger for Russell Hobbs, says the company has worked tirelessly on getting the offering just right. “In order to stand out in an already crowded marketplace, we identified the need to introduce products which offer a high performance but also add a touch of fun and personality to the market.”
The result is the Pet Cyclonic range, with a black and white Dalmatian dog pattern. The novelty factor may well work in pulling in sales – but function too plays a part. Each of the four bagless models (three cylinder, one upright) features a turbo brush and a HEPA filter plus motors ranging from 1800 watt (the upright) to 2200 watt. Prices too may be encouraging – the cylinder model starts at £99.99 rising to £129.99 for the top cylinder model. This compares with say £149.99 for the Morphy Richards PerformAir Light Pets and £184.96 for the SEBO K1 Pet.
Pets and allergies may be the current hot topics in floorcare but other consumer-focused features are also getting plenty of attention. Lightweight models are now appearing throughout the market, whether cylinders or uprights, as well as those offering ergonomic or functional benefits.
The Electrolux Loopie features an ergonomic ‘O’ shaped handle, so wrists and hands move naturally along a circle for continuous comfort and the handle also adjusts and locks into one of eight positions. “This means less bending for tall users and more control for shorter users,” says Nick Munton. “Comfort is a top priority for consumers, so it’s top of the mind for Electrolux designers too.”
Dyson has found its recent entry into the handheld vacuum cleaner market is finding favour with a certain section of the population. “Our DC16 has been a big hit with the guys,” says head of UK marketing Adam Rostom. “We’ve seen a distinct increase in registrations from men compared to our regular vacuums. In general, consumers want innovative products that work well. Our recent innovations include a new range of cylinders – the CD19 has a Flatout head that’s thin enough to get under furniture and appliances, while the DC20 Stowaway has a telescopic hose which can be wrapped around the machine for easy storage.”
Changing demographics have certainly had an impact on the floorcare market. Panasonic has seen an increase in demand for cleaners that take up less storage space, according to Ian Griffiths, product manager home appliances at the company. “This is due to the rise in apartments and smaller homes, and in response we developed our Fold & Go range, offering all the benefits of an upright, while the fold away handle means less storage space is required. Ideal for fitting in understairs cupboards.” Panasonic also has a bagless upright model with a quick adjust handle for easy storage.
Morphy’s floorcare category consumer manager Gemma Chappell says it is crucial for manufacturers to respond to consumer demands, but with no compromise on features and performance. Two areas Morphy concentrated on with PerformAir Light were weight – at 6.5kg it is claimed to be 30% lighter than the top selling cleaner in the UK – and in response to growing environmental concerns, it uses less power (1000 watt motor) but combines a floorhead with a direct air path and an additional beater bar motor, to maximise pick up.
“Our research revealed several recurring gripes with existing floorcare appliances, such as weight and storage,” says Gemma Chappell. “We live in an aging population. There are currently 20 million people in the UK aged 50 and over, and maneuverability and weight are two key issues for older consumers. Meanwhile, HEPA filtration and storage were raised by many younger people, especially those with families.”
Powerful products are still a key element in some areas of floorcare. Dyson’s DC21 Motorhead has a powered brush bar to delve deeper in the carpet, as well as a flexible steering head for easier maneuverability.
The latest product from Electrolux focuses heavily on power. The company is so sure of its success it’s heralding the Intensity as “the biggest breakthrough in vacuuming since the late 1980s”. The Electrolux Intensity has over 50% more suction power than the leading upright. “In fact it is so powerful,” says Nick Munton, “it can even lift five sixteen pound bowling balls off the floor. This is because it has a mere 3in air path from nozzle to dust bag, so dust and dirt travels a fraction of the distance compared with other vacuum cleaners.”
Hoover has launched three new products for 2007 – Freemotion, a cylinder focusing on manoeuvraibility in cleaning; Freespace, a cylinder for easy storage (and including a pets’ model) and Jovis, a handheld cleaner using the latest battery technology. The key features on each put “customers’ needs at the forefront,” says marketing director Mark Barrett. On the Freemotion, a ‘Front & Side Clean’ nozzle has the suction channel at the front and the brushes at the back, so the cleaner can get up right to the edge of room or awkward surfaces. A ‘Navigator System’ means all the controls are located at the handle. The Freespace does just that – frees up about 50% more storage space than conventional cylinders, claims Hoover.
Another new product unveiled this year is from Bissell, proponents of the burgeoning deep cleaning market. Another grand claim – this time that it is the first truly all-round home cleaner and the “next big thing in floorcare”. The Proheat All-Rounder launched in May vacuums, washes and dries different floor surfaces. Features include water filtration system for wet vac; a dry vac; on-board heater; integrated hose; turbo cleaning head and a five litre tank capacity.
Versatility of steam
Steam cleaning is another niche area which is gaining interest. Kevin Hearn, Domotec’s sales & marketing director, says the sector has had very little real innovation for the last few years but that the company has started to revitalise the category with completely new products from sub £80 (handheld steam broom) to £400 (Simac Triplomatic range, with water filtration).
“Consumer awareness for steam products continues to be at a low level,” he says. “This is proven time and time again when independents carry out in store demonstrations of steam products. Seeing is believing in this case and consumers have always been bowled over by the power and versatility of steam cleaners.
“The introduction of steam cleaners combining vacuum functions has further enhanced the added value nature of this valuable niche market. Many retailers have learnt that it takes no more effort to sell a £300 steam cleaner than it does to sell a sub £100 DVD player or bottom end refrigeration unit.”