Air Treatment – Keeping your cool

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In general, the air treatment market continues to put in a steady performance, down to several strong sectors such as humidifiers – an area which is growing, due in part to the introduction of technology such as Ultrasonic from Bionaire – and air purifiers, drawing in some good custom at the higher end of the scale.
Dehumidifiers have probably become the best area for growth in recent years, while mobile air conditioners are finding favour, particularly those which offer dual functions such as dehumidification or heating.
Energy issues
An interesting aspect which is increasing in influence is energy efficiency. This has long been a key benefit pushed by white goods manufacturers as they vie for consumers’ interest. But air treatment has been something of the poor relation and only recently have its energy-saving properties been given prominence.
Ebac manufactures dehumidifers “designed specifically for the UK climate” says brand manager Rachel Appleby, and during the last year the company has seen a definite trend towards consumer interest in energy efficiency. “Everybody is talking about energy efficiency – the Government, electricity companies and white goods manufacturers and it is only natural this trend has spread across the rest of the electrical product market,” she says. Ebac’s patented Smart Control system electronically monitors the humidity content of the air and switches itself on and off accordingly. “This can save customers money off their electricity bills and offers maximum energy efficiency – and what’s more, our customers can turn down their heating by a couple of degrees too as it costs more to heat a damp house.”
De’Longhi’s range of dehumidifiers includes a function which allows the consumer to select the exact moisture level in a room and keep it consistent, thus saving energy.
Weather considerations
Traditionally air treatment has been subject to the unpredictable nature of the British climate, particularly fans. “Last year was a difficult year for the fans market,” says Bionaire product manager Alice Mariere. “This was a result of the awful summer. Temperatures were much lower than expected and it was really wet, which made it a very tough time for the sales of these products.”
Micromark, which supplies a broad portfolio of air treatment from basic white fans to air con units and dehumidifiers, had a similar experience with fans last year. But, according to product marketing manager Jonathan Lim, the constant downpours and extra humidity during the summer meant that sales of dehumidifiers were strong. “The challenge that the retailer and manufacturer will always face in the air treatment sector is forecasting the weather,” he says. “But we can help educate the consumer on the additional benefits of these products – air conditioning units can do more than just keep a room cool. They can also heat a room during winter (ideal for conservatories), have additional filters to reduce allergies and remove humidity from a room. Many air treatment products are not just for the summer, but make an ideal all-year-round purchase.”
There is undoubtedly still some way to go before there is universal acceptance of the features and benefits of each sector in air treatment. In fairness, this is not down to a lack of effort on the part of manufacturers. Recent promotions include a £1m national ad campaign by Ebac on dehumidifers; Bionaire’s campaign to raise awareness of air purifiers during Indoor Allergy Week (November 2007), working with Dr Chris Steel, resident expert on ITV’s This Morning; and De’Longhi’s media placement of air treatment products during the season as well as the offer of a BTU calculator on its website for retailers and consumers to work out exactly what air conditioning they need. The website also gives a guide to the benefits of air conditioning and dehumidifiers, the two sectors De’Longhi is active in.
The independent’s touch
Air treatment is probably one of the best areas in household appliances where independent retailers can really capitalise on their personal approach. Jonathan Lim at Micromark says independents can respond to demand much quicker than the large multiples and can include more detailed information and knowledge on a technical product. “Dehumidifiers are a good example, as consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about health issues associated with excess moisture, as well as the practical need to protect their property from damp.”
Tanguy Rochcongar, senior marketing manager at Bionaire says consumers trust independents and go to them for advice. “Independents need to work with the market leaders in this sector, who know what consumers want and develop products accordingly,” he says. “Retailers need to avoid having too many products at the same price point; a wider price range offers consumers a greater choice and the opportunity to trade up.”
An issue of price
Price remains an issue in certain areas within air treatment, most notably ‘distress’ purchases like fans and those products which are seasonal like air con. To combat this, some manufacturers are adding more versatile features to their air con, to allow an extended season, for example De’Longhi’s air con units include dehumidification or heating functions.
Ebac sees cheap imports from the Far East as the main pressure on price and Rachel Appleby says because the company is competing against these lower priced products, it is important to convey to consumers the benefits of paying that bit extra. “Chinese manufactured products are cheaper than those from the UK but they are not optimised for the UK market and therefore do not work as effectively in UK climes,” she says. “This means less moisture extraction and reduced efficiency. But there is room for both price points in the market, as there will always be customers who want the cheapest product and likewise those who are more forward thinking.”
Bionaire on the other hand doesn’t see price as an issue. Alice Mariere says with fans, consumers tend to look at the product as a piece of furniture “and expect it to match their lifestyle. They are prepared to spend more money and buy a product that is well designed and fits their interior décor. It’s a similar story with air purifiers and humidifiers, as consumers are ready to pay for good quality products that will bring real benefits to their home.”
Future directions
Looking to the future, the focus will continue to be on a combination of design and functionality. Jonathan Lim at Micromark points to air filtration improvements in air con and dehumidifiers and the appearance of this technology on entry priced products too. For Rachel Appleby, it’s satisfying the requirements of design-led consumers who also want a practical product that fits in with their home. “Space is at a premium too, so a space-saving product that looks good is definitely where the market is heading,” she says.
Alice Mariere at Bionaire says despite the weather continuing to be a factor in the sales of fans, consumers are proving willing to trade up. “To purchase a product that has been well-designed, they will often spend over £50 to get exactly the right fan for their home.”
The last word can go to the cutest launch – and Bionaire putting a different slant on the phrase ‘the elephant in the room’, with the launch this May of an elephant-shaped Ultrasonic humidifier, designed for use in a child’s room.

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