Steaming ahead

In Features On

Steam generators are sustaining the growth of the irons market. Their market positioning and product characteristics give them the perfect fit for an independent’s product portfolio, suggests Anna Ryland.

For the majority of customers, buying an iron is a necessity not a treat. It’s likely to be a distress purchase because their current model has broken down, so they are unlikely to spend much time or consideration on purchasing a replacement. And yet with two and half hours a week – on average – spent ironing consumers shouldn’t need much convincing that buying a good iron is an essential investment.

Market dynamics

“Unlike most ‘must have’ small kitchen appliances markets that continued to grow throughout January, due to the on-going trend of consumers moving towards the grocery sector, irons have seen a 4% volume decline and remained virtually flat in value compared to January 2010,” explains Betty Fieve, GfK account manager.

“This does not come as a surprise. The grocery channel is really driven by the lower to mid-price segments. The more premium steam generator category has been one of the key contributors to the recovery of the irons market over the last six months and is not the primary focus of supermarkets.

“The premium steam generator segment increased by 1%, capturing 25% of the market value, whereas traditional steam irons declined in value by 0.5% compared to January 2010, but it still dominates the total market with nearly three quarters of the value share in January 2011. It appears that the trend towards the generator segment is set to continue and will be a key factor in delivering market value growth in 2011.”

The needs and the choices

To many consumers, traditional irons are still the most familiar option. “Few people in their early twenties will see an expensive iron as a priority. However, when they come to buy their first replacement iron, their considerations have often changed. At Bosch we have tried to capture the customer as early as possible, with models starting at around £25, which offer the reassurance of the Bosch brand with the two year guarantee, but at a price which is affordable,” says Jane Lee, BSH category manager.

However, as they learn – either from their friends or first-hand experience – about the benefits of steam generators and see their results – sooner or later they decide to upgrade their ironing tool. Time- pressured professionals and parents of large families are usually first to undergo the conversion.

“A pressurised steam generator delivers at least twice as much steam as a steam iron, released under pressure of up to five bars which pushes the extra steam deep into the fabric, cutting ironing time and effort in half. The larger water tank means less hassle from frequent refilling compared to a steam iron, and as water is held in the base and not in the hand unit, they are lighter than conventional steam irons,” explains Lindsay Mitchell, Philips marketing manager, Domestic Appliances.

There is also an ad-hoc, ‘casual’ ironer. “If for example, the customer has only five shirts a week to iron for work but usually irons a shirt before he/she goes to work in the morning, then the Bosch Premier Power iron with its super quick heat up time is perfect,” argues BSH’s Jane Lee.

Product developments

Product developments in the ironing category are centred on power and the soleplate. “The perception is: the more power, the better ironing. A powerful, high wattage soleplate can speed up ironing but puts garments at risk from being scorched, making them shiny, particularly dark coloured clothing. I would recommend a steam generator with a low wattage sole-plate but with a high steam output. De’Longhi’s Stirella has an 800W plate but up to 180gpm of steam for perfect results,” explains Kate Donohoe, brand manager, De’Longhi UK.

“Our patented Gemini soleplate combines a ceramic outer frame that guarantees a fast and uniform heat distribution over the entire soleplate, with a stainless steel inner soleplate providing the perfect glide on all types of fabrics,” continues Kate Donohoe.

A recent innovation from De’Longhi is Dual-Vap; a system that gives the user complete control over the delivery of steam; choosing between delivery from the whole soleplate or a concentration at the tip.

Speed and ease of use are in the forefront of thinking at Bosch that’s why the manufacturer is focusing on “high wattages (such as the Bosch PREMIER POWER iron and PREMIER POWER steam generator – the most powerful iron and steam generator in the market with 2800W); great steam outputs (as seen in the Bosch TDA range, which have huge shot-of-steam outputs up to 180g/min, and up to 40g/min of continuous steam); variable temperature; soleplate materials (Bosch’s unique Inox Glissée specially-treated stainless steel and Palladium Glissée ceramic are a prime example) for extra glide-ability, and advanced steam technology that prevents hotspots on the soleplate,” says Jane Lee.

Philips has a 18% share of the steam generator market and the company has grown this segment by 50% in the last year. The Philips entry-level Pressurised Steam Generator Iron, with an RRP of £150 (GC7420 model), is ideal for consumers who currently have a traditional steam iron and want to give pressurised steam generator irons a try. “Philips pressurised steam generators have up to five bars of steam pressure for a powerful ironing experience, enhanced by a unique SteamGlide soleplate for a smooth, effortless motion. The steam generators dispense continuous steam for fast crease removal, while a steam boost function lets consumers blast more stubborn creases with ease,” says Philips’ Lindsay Michell.

Limescale build-up is another concern. The De’Longhi dual anti-limescale system has a limescale filtration cartridge that can be regularly regenerated for up to five years of continuous use. The Auto Calc Clean function present on Philips steam generators eliminates the hassle of descaling by routinely removing build-up at the start of the ironing session every three to four weeks.

Polti UK launched its new range of ceramic-coated soleplate steam generator irons this month. The Italian manufacturer known for its Vaporella steam generator irons, enhanced its latest products – the top of the range Vaporella Forever Star, Vaporella Forever 1500 and Vaporella Forever 980 irons – with an anti-stick and anti-scratch ceramic coated soleplate.

The Vaporella Forever Star Focus Steam has a touch sensor control panel, which allows the user to regulate steam power at the touch of a button and indicates when the iron is ready to steam, when it needs to be refilled and when to add the Polti Kalstop descaler. The Star Focus Steam also benefits from an auto shut-off function, switching off after 15 minutes of inactivity for both energy saving and peace of mind. All three irons in the range have continuous refill for unlimited ironing time.

Eco considerations

Even in the area of small appliances energy consumption is a key consideration.

Last year Philips introduced its new EnergyCare steam irons, designed to deliver 100% of the steam power of a normal iron whilst automatically cutting energy usage by 20%. The new ECO steam setting on De’Longhi irons and steam generators lets the user save between 15-30% energy and up to 50% water.

Also Bosch has launched two irons specifically to address this concern: the TDA5630GB Eco steam iron and the TDS3531GB Premier Eco steam generator – each has an energy-saving button and auto shut-off offers up to 25% energy saving.

However while selling ironing products it’s key to establish the customer’s needs. The stage of their life, lifestyle and domestic situat
ion will determine their attitude to ironing and their expectations of the product. Yet in the current economic situation they are likely to be more receptive to the idea of investing in the products that will last and make their life easier, rather than ‘bargains’ that would need replacing within months.

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