Opportunities at the floor level

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Although sale of niche products, such as handheld ‘sticks’ and steam cleaners, are growing fast, the real opportunities for the independent remain at the premium end of the market, concludes Anna Ryland.

Even in the recession the floorcare market is showing some positive growth. In 2011, its sales value increased by 8%, and although the sales volume didn’t rise at the same pace, with average price growing at by almost 9%, the sector delivered welcome news to the independent sector.

“Floorcare is more resilient than other electrical goods sectors, because of the replacement market. It’s a ‘must-have’ in the home, if the current cleaner breaks down then a new one is quickly needed,” says Charles Gordon, managing director of whatvacumm.com, an online source of advisory and testing information.

Market statistics show that although customers are more likely to delay their replacement purchases they are looking for quality. “The floorcare market has grown by 1% for the twelve months to March 2012, with the total value increasing to over £530m. Growth was sustained as price inflations and a shift towards more premium appliances helped counter balance diminishing volume sales. Upright and cylinder cleaners continue to drive value, together contributing towards 86% of the overall category. Upright value sales remained flat over the year, accounting for just below £250m, whilst cylinder vacuum cleaners fell by 2% and are now worth just over £210m,” comments Richard Allen, GfK account executive.

People leading increasingly busy lives not always have time for a major cleaning session every week. However they have to deal with daily accidents around the house for which they need flexible, easy to operate and to store tools. This trend is reflected in a growing demand for smaller lightweight cleaners, ‘handsticks’,  that grew by 86% in volume and staggering 254% in value in 2011. “The need is primarily being driven by more purchases of second and third vacuum cleaners for homes, the rise in smaller families and smaller living spaces. The older generation also finds compact cleaners more manageable,” explains Victoria Blasdale, floorcare marketing manager at Miele.

“While UK homes used to be furnished almost exclusively with carpet, we’re now seeing the adoption of multi-floor homes. Because of this, consumers are increasingly looking for multi-surface cleaning solutions, an intelligent purchase that can save valuable storage space and provide excellent value for money due to the adaptable nature of products currently on the market,” says Annabel Waite, category consumer manager, Household Cleaning, for Morphy Richards. This trend is reflected in the growth of the steam cleaner category, which enjoyed a 129% lift in value in 2011.

“Steam cleaners have grown rapidly in popularity in recent months and we’ve seen significant growth in sales of all our steamers,” confirms Vax’s director of new product development, Paul Bagwell.

Another niche product category showing good growth are robotic vacuum cleaners. Although they are currently produced only by a handful of manufacturers, their volume sales was up by 17% and value by 27% in 2011. “Products with time saving features that make life easier are increasingly being favoured by customers. Robotic vacuum cleaners are one example of this. Still a premium product, improvements in design and all round performance mean it is an increasingly attractive option,” argues Nick Osborne, product manager, Floorcare, Samsung UK & Ireland.

Charles Gordon issues a word of warning: “While robotic vacuum cleaners feature innovative technology, such as sensors which prevent the appliance falling down stairs, and they go back to their base to be charged up. These are great if you have a flat where you want a quick clean going on when you are at work, but not so good for heavy duty cleaning.”      

Cylinder vs uprights and bagged vs bagless

Meanwhile the battle for customers’ loyalty continues between the makers of cylinders and uprights, and bagged and bagless products.

Sales statistics show that bagless cleaners are becoming the more popular option because of their convenience, and sales in both upright and cylinder bagged models are down. Upright models have historically been the more expensive and having the larger share of sales. 2011 has seen bagless uprights drop slightly in volume but rise 8.4% in value.

Cylinder bagless cleaners have improved in both volume (3%) and value (8.7%) and their volume sales are higher than uprights (by about half a million units), although in value uprights still have the largest share. This performance from cylinders is characterised by strong sales at the premium end of the market, with prices up an average of 11% across both bagged and bagless models. 

Cylinders are lighter and easier to manoeuvre and clean harder to reach areas like the stairs or the car, although uprights are now equipped in a range of tools to do exactly this. Uprights, although heavier than cylinders in general, require less effort to move around the floor, they are easier to store and they don’t have additional hoses that come with cylinders. They also benefit from a larger dust capacity.

Meanwhile bagless cleaners save a consumer from spending money on bags and the inconvenience of running out of them. However bagged vacuum cleaners allow for a more hygienic disposal of dust and they are an ideal option for allergy sufferers. For example, Miele vacuum cleaners are not only equipped in the advanced filtration system but they also have the unique HyClean dustbags retaining the majority of dust particles.

Product development

In response to consumer demand for lightweight compact products that could be used for instant cleaning, a number of manufacturers launched a new generation of hand-held sticks. For example the new AEG ErgoRapido 2 in 1 BRUSHROLLCLEAN is cordless making it quick to use, although it is equipped in a powerful motor and cyclonic cleaning system. The handheld attachment is ideal for cars, cleaning crumbs from the furniture and spills on the work surface.  As colour is coming to its own in floorcare this year, the new ErgoRapido comes in seven different colours to make a statement. 

Also Samsung has developed the FlexSlim hand stick that works as both an upright cleaner and a detachable hand-held vacuum.

A different concept catering for similar needs has been launched by Morphy Richards. “Our Never Loses Suction Lift Away Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner is the first vacuum cleaner in the UK to boast a lift away detachable canister combined with Never Loses Suction technology. Providing a versatile two-in-one solution and powerful pickup performance, the product provides a premium solution at a price point that undercuts other models in its category,” explains Annabel Waite.

The Electrolux AirExcel Lite is the manufacturer’s most compact and lightweight, upright vacuum cleaner. It is equipped with
the multi-cyclonic technology that separates dirt and dust from the air path so filters don’t get clogged and ensures powerful constant suction. AirExcel Lite has also been designed specifically to eliminate pet odours

Although vacuum cleaners are currently exempt for the EU labeling regulations, the similar scheme for floorcare is going to be introduced in the near future. The leading manufactures are already developing energy efficient products that don’t compromise on performance. For example, Panasonic’s range of Eco Max vacuum cleaners has top energy efficiency thanks to the unique Eco Max Motor. Providing optimum levels of cleaning with 200 air watts from only a 1000w input power, the Eco Max Light Motor offers excellent carpet and bare-floor cleaning with the minimum amount of energy.

“Retailers should look out for sales opportunities from premium-end, well-engineered cleaning appliances offering quality and performance,” advises Charles Gordon. “Especially those new to the UK such as machines from Thomas, the brand leader in Germany and European countries. Such multi-usage appliances vacuum carpets and hard floors, and wash them to a premium standard. Also Nilco produces a quality range of tank cleaners, cylinders and hand-held cleaners, which are robust and hard working products.”

Sales of steam cleaners have significantly increased during the recession “as more homeowners realised the cost savings that can be made from washing their carpets themselves,” says Vax’s director of new product development, Paul Bagwell.

“Featuring the latest deep cleaning and quick drying technologies, Vax Rapide Ultra 2 carpet washer was designed by Vax’s team of British engineers to provide a quick and easy way to get professional cleaning results, even on cream carpets. The average living room takes just 20 minutes to wash, and is dry enough to walk on again in just a couple of hours,” he adds.

Meanwhile Bissell, has just launched its new steam range which includes a Steam&Sweep and Lift-Off Steam Mop. “These are unique products in the market providing much needed innovation in this category. We have also introduced Microban into all of our carpet cleaners as well and gained the Allergy UK accreditation for them. Our consumable formulas for machines have doubled in volume with retail prices remaining almost static offering consumer’s best value for money,” comments Gary Clowes, Bissell’s trade marketing manager.

For customers interested in robotic cleaners, Samsung has recently added the NaviBot S model to the NaviBot range. “Improved sensors and design make it faster and slimmer, meaning it can fit under lower furniture. Furthermore, the model has an auto dust sensor and auto dust emptying feature. When the cleaner is full, it returns to its charging base and empties into a 2 litre dustbin,” comments Samsung’s Nick Osborne.

“There is still room for innovation in terms of dust disposal, for example, through compression and easier, cleaner, ways of disposal, and even more efficient methods of vacuuming and washing hard floors,” says Charles Gordon.

Selling floorcare

Floorcare products are often distress purchases, however previous experience of vacuum cleaners teaches customers a number of lessons and the replacement purchases are likely to be made with a number of considerations in mind. “For this reason it’s imperative that retailers effectively communicate the features and benefits of their products so consumers have all the information they need to research and make an informed decision on a product,” advises Annabel Waite at Morphy Richards.

Also in this product category seeing is believing. “Successful demonstration is an all-powerful sales tool, as is the way that the product is displayed. A range of products targeting differing market segments is very important as consumers all have very different needs, reminds Miele’ Victoria Blasdale. Therefore prepare a small area in your store for demonstrations, making the carpet and hard floor suitably dirty, and let your customers put the products through their paces.

Sales tips

•        Start from asking where your customer lives. In a small house, flat or bungalow a compact cylinder or a lightweight upright would perform best.

•        Do they have a mix of carpets and hard floors? Steam cleaner would be a great help in this case.

•        Do your customers have pets or suffer from allergies? There are plenty of ‘pet’ models on the market with good turbo brushes. For allergy sufferers bagged cleaners are an ideal option.

•        Don’t forget about accessories. While bags are still present but offer diminishing future opportunity, additional brushes and cleaning formulas are good sources of additional revenue.  Place all accessories close to the vacuum cleaner – this will ensure they remain at the forefront of customers’ mind.

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