The ‘C’ factor

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Cylinders are fast becoming the nation’s favourite style of vacuum cleaner. But there is still plenty of competition. Sarah Selzer reports

Bagged versus bagless, cylinders versus uprights…, These are the battles that have been fought in floorcare for several years and while bagless has pretty much won the day, it has not been such an obvious choice between cylinders and uprights.

In true X Factor style though, it looks like the underdog – cylinders – is poised to steal the show. 

The market

Traditionally, upright vacuum cleaners have carried a higher price tag than the cylinder cleaner and the last thing the market wants at this stage is a trading down.

But GfK reports that it is premium bagless cylinders which are finding favour – they have helped the floorcare market to one of the highest rises in average price that GfK has ever recorded in the product area, up by over £12 to £99.08 year-on-year.

In the 12-month period ending March 2011, uprights sold 160,000 less units than the previous year – a fall of 8% – while bagless cylinders increased by 215,000, up over 14%.

There is still some way for bagless cylinders to go as uprights have a third of the market, with cylinders on 30%. But it is very likely on this performance that the next time we talk about floorcare in IER, cylinders really will be the winners.

This faith in the product sector is backed up by manufacturers, who on balance are developing more cylinders than uprights. But they are not neglecting uprights either, especially with bagless as this can still bring in the sales – and the profit. AEG is putting focus on both its new Ultra One cylinder and Nimble upright ranges (see Products to Watch) and managing director at Electrolux Floorcare Nick Munton says while the driving force of growth has been bagless cylinders, bagless uprights are also seeing growth at the high end of the market. “People are very cautious at the moment about spending and this has had an effect on the overall market,” he says. “When they do buy they are trading up to a product which will meet their needs and expectations.”

Consumer needs and preferences

Joe Oram, floorcare product manager at Samsung Home Appliances agrees that consumers have specific expectations and he feels this is very much in the ‘please make my life easier’ category. “As consumers’ lives get busier and the demands placed on them on a daily basis increase, they are looking for solutions that will help make their lives as simple as possible,” he says. “Ultimately, consumers want a floorcare product that offers them outstanding performance and functionality while also being great to look at.”

Joe Oram points to a combination of revolutionary technology and improved functionality as a key consumer benefit – Samsung has the FlexiSlim range of 2in1 hand-stick cleaners, combining the benefits of an upright cleaner with a hand-held cordless device.

The floorcare market isn’t just about the old rivalries between bagged and bagless, cylinder and uprights but about different methods of cleaning.

Steam or deep cleaning is an area which remains niche – and traditionally expensive – but is definitely breaking through. Polti’s Vaporetto Comfort Steam Cleaner (see Products to Watch) is a good example of a product that gains popularity with consumers who understand its benefits. Now that consumers are used to bar pressure on espresso machines and steam generator irons, it makes it easier for them to understand a product like a steam cleaner – and how it is likely to cut the time taken to do the task, just like it does with a steam generator. This product from Polti hits the below £90 mark, which also makes it an attractive option at the higher end.

Another niche product area in floorcare is the robotic category. Samsung is involved in this (see Products to Watch) and Joe Oram thinks it can only increase in popularity. “We anticipate it will continue to grow, as tech savvy consumers look more to products that offer something different that will help make their lives easier,” he says. “With price points falling in this sector, these products are also increasingly becoming more affordable.”

Health considerations

While ease of use has become a key selling point with floorcare, so too has hygiene. There has been a trend for some time for cleaners to have HEPA filters, be suitable for cleaning up pet hair and so on, but this is being perceived as ever more important in a society where so many people suffer from allergies. New moves include the Airsafe system from BSH, with a hermetically-sealed motor, filters and seals to control airflow through the cleaner.

Functionality remains important, with a whole host of accessories and options like dustbag change indicator (or on one, a ‘dustbag missing’ alert), on board tool storage and extra length cables/hose becoming as standard. So too power – many cleaners now have powerful motors and manufacturers have looked at noise levels to try and make users homes sound less like Brands Hatch.

Aesthetics

Colour is another increasingly dominant trend, begun a few seasons back with some bright and vibrant shades but turning more autumnal now, following trends on the catwalk, interior design and cars. The current vogue in floorcare is rooted in earth colours, including brown and grey with accent colours such as mustard, cassis, dark red and midnight blue. On AEG cleaners for example this has translated into the Ultra One in chocolate brown and the Nimble in cassis.

“Ultimately, consumers want a floorcare product that offers them outstanding performance and functionality while also being great to look at”

Colour, design and price all play a part in encouraging consumers to opt for one model or one brand over another. Nick Munton at Electrolux says that the market will face a tough year ahead, with spending cuts continuing throughout the UK and across industries, resulting in consumers tightening their purse strings. “Consumers will want to know they will be buying the best they can afford and know their investment will last,” he says. “I predict that we will see more and more consumers researching heavily online before they purchase. So, positive customer reviews become very important to brands to help encourage sales.”   

Sales opportunities

Perhaps a stark message, but the implication is that quality will overcome. What is heartening this year too is the advent of different brands into the market place. Charles Gordon, who spent 20 years with deep clean floorcare company Bissell, is now distributing two German brands, Nilco and Robert Thomas. He maintains that for independents, floorcare really is an ideal product platform to be involved in. “The market is stable, prices are going up and this offers independents the opportunity to extend their electrical appliance mix,” he says. “Consumers will continue to ask for a vacuum cleaner, and as the market is reliant on replacement sales, consumers will walk into your stores looking for a purchase. But, what the consumer will see after five years using their old machine is nothing really new!”

Samsung would probably quite rightly argue that robotics is new – and the brands highlighted in Products to Watch all have elements to recommend them. Charles Gordon is also right though when he asks “Where is the iPad or flat screen of vacuum cleaners? Where’s the buzz and excitement of HD or 3D? If we are going to grow the floorcare market then manufacturers need to make it happen with real innovation to stimulate today’s consumer.”

The battle between bagged and bagless, cylinder and upright may almost be won, but there will be another battle brewing.

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