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The last twelve months have been difficult for the floorcare market. “Value fell by more than 8% in the twelve months to April to £477m, the lowest levels since 2005. Cylinders make up around 2/5ths of overall sales and have been one of the worst hit with a 9% drop in value. The decline can be traced to a number of factors, including a certain level of saturation following aggressive pricing tactics over the last year, consumers delaying the replacement of their primary and often higher priced cleaner and a slowdown in initial acquisitions fostered by the downturn in the housing market. Price and innovation are both key to sustaining value for the sector in the medium term and despite some price erosion at the premium end, this has at least enabled prices to avoid a major slump and prevent value falling further than volume,” comments Anthony Williams, GfK senior account manager, Domestic Appliances.

The total market declined by 14% in volume but only 9% in value terms which shows that although there maybe fewer people buying vacuum cleaners, those who are buying are willing to pay more. In particular, uprights are down by 14% in volume and 5% in value, while cylinders declined by 9% in volume and 6% in value. “This is in line with a general trend we are seeing: those consumers who can afford to trade up are doing so. They believe it is better to invest more money once than it is to go for a cheaper option but have to replace the machine one or two years down the line”, says Jane Lee, BSH marketing and product category manager.

In fact, the market is polarising, argues Annabel Waite, category consumer manger for Floorcare at Morphy Richards: “Trade brands are increasing market share at the lower end of the market, as consumers look to save money by opting for a cheaper models. However some consumers are choosing to invest in brands with higher specifications, a more premium product offering and higher price points.”

Cylinder or upright?

Upright cleaners currently constitute 48% of sales volume and 36% of value, while cylinders take a 37% share of volume of the overall market and a 44% share of value. “Uprights are still seen as the main cleaner, but small, lightweight cylinders are bought as second cleaners to support upright – ideal for use on stairs and upstairs. Cylinders also start at lower price points, so are affordable as second cleaners. However with the recession, second cleaner ownership may start to fall off,” explains Nick Munton, managing director, Electrolux Floorcare.

Yet, customers expect both types of cleaners to be increasingly flexible. “Wooden floors have become a common choice in Britain. Cleaners that can perform well on a variety of surfaces and include a range of functions and tools, for example longer power cables and hoses, to make cleaning easier are becoming increasingly popular,” says Kate Seabrook, consumer marketing manger for LG home appliances.

Bagged or baggless?

In the upright category, 89% of vacuum cleaners are bagless, while only 55% of cylinders are bagless (in terms of sales volume). Consumer preferences are firmly divided and every year the market sees new models and product innovations in both categories.

Many consumers opt for bagless cleaners because of the convenience of not having to buy bags. “However the key to using a bagless product is to maintain the filter system, which many consumers fail to do,” warns Nick Munton. Yet, “bagged cleaners generally perform better in terms of dust pick up but also offer much better hygiene solutions, as all of the dirt and dust is trapped in the bag. On Bosch and Siemens cleaners, all dustbags are self-sealing for extra hygiene,” argues Bosch’s Jane Lee.

Dyson technology also doesn’t rely on a bag. “Instead it spins the air incredibly fast – so fast that the dust and dirt is flung out into the clear bin. A Dyson vacuum cleaner doesn’t lose suction,” says a company spokesperson.

Customers’ priorities

In line with the general societal trends, the floorcare market has become very focused on consumers’ diverse needs. Some priorities, however, are more ‘topical’ than others, such as ‘green’ considerations and low noise levels.

With these in mind Electrolux recently launched the Ultra Silencer Green, which is made largely (55%) from recycled materials. It also uses 33% less energy than the average 2,000W vacuum cleaner, and at 71dB, is one of the quietest vacuum cleaners available.

However, Dyson argues that the biggest environmental impact domestic appliances make is not caused by manufacture or landfill but ‘energy in use’. “For too long, manufacturers have claimed that bigger, inefficient motors mean better cleaning performance. The average energy consumption of a vacuum cleaner today is 1,700W,” argued Dyson’s spokesman. “The DC24 Dyson Ball machine is one of the most energy efficient vacuum cleaners on the market, and equals the pick up performance of a full size Dyson vacuum cleaner. It has a small 650W motor, with no loss of cleaning performance. This is achieved through the efficiency of Dyson’s patented root cyclone technology and compact design.”

Electrolux’s Nick Munton shares this view: “While people are more conscious now of energy efficient large appliances, like fridges or washing machines, many people do not realise that vacuuming for one hour a week with a 2,000W vacuum cleaner consumes around 60% of the weekly energy consumption of an A+ rated fridge.”

It isn’t perhaps surprising that Bosch Pro Energy became its best selling cleaner, as well as securing the title of Which? Best Buy. Due to its energy efficient compressor motor, which only draws 1,200W of power, it performs to the same level as a similar 2,400W model. Also Morphy Richards’ PerformAir has an energy saving 1000W motor which delivers performance of competitors’ 2,000W equivalents.

Vanessa Holloway, Miele group product manager, warns that eco considerations will shortly become even more important “as the government looks to introduce energy labelling to vacuum cleaners, giving the consumer more information regarding the energy rating and noise level of the cleaner before they buy. This means cleaners will need to operate more efficiently at lower wattages.”

Staying power and flexibility

Yet, reliability remains one of the most important factors in the consumer decision. “People do not want to buy a cleaner only to have to replace it again after just a short time. Especially in these difficult times consumers are becoming far more careful to spend their money wisely and look for value for money rather than price,” says Miele’s Vanessa Holloway.  Therefore manufacturers keep extending warranty periods to give consumers peace of mind. For example, now Miele offers a 10-year optional warranty for £30 and all Dyson uprights and cylinders come with a free five-year guarantee.

Also manoeuvrability is an important issue for the users, and especially a product’s ability to clean a variety of floor surfaces  and the flexibility to reach awkward places, and with variable power control to vacuum curtains and upholstery. The Miele S7 upright cleaner incorporates a swivel neck technology for maximum agility. It can lie flat to the floor to reach under furniture and its electro brush floorhead can be switched on for carpets and off for hard floors. Also , Morphy Richards ‘PerformAir Profile bagless upright’ offers a unique pivot point system on its floorhead enabling easy access to under furniture.

Special considerations

There are approximately 15 million allergy sufferers in Britain and their needs guide many product developments in floorcare. For example the Miele AllerVac comes with an Active HEPA filter, a HyClean dustbag and a mattress nozzle to help reduce allergens in the bedroom. It is also
equipped with the Allergotec Sensor floorhead which incorporates a hygiene sensor. This sensor changes colour, like a traffic light, to indicate when the floor is hygienically clean. Miele has also recently introduced a new HyClean dust bag which is made from a special fleece consisting of 9-layers which retains more fine dust and small particles than conventional bags.

Around 25% of British homes have cats or dogs, and their hair is particularly difficult to remove from carpets and upholstery. A number of manufacturers offer special cleaners such as Miele Cat & Dog Turbo 5000 which has a turbo brush for pet hair. It is also equipped with  the Active Air Clean filter, which is a charcoal casing specifically designed to absorb pet odours.

Trusted favourites

In the recessionary market a product category which performs well is electric sweepers, the sales of which increased by 18% in 2008. Home-tek has recently launched the Sonic Sweeper (HT811). This cordless carpet sweeper has a special plate fitted to the underside of the base which rapidly vibrates to beat the dirt from carpets and improve the cleaning action.

Another of Home-tek’s recently improved best sellers is new the Steam Mop Elite (HT859) which has improved steam dispersement and new safety feature which  stops the product steaming when the handle is in the upright position.

Deep cleaning

Deep cleaning is a sector which is still gaining momentum in Britain. “Massive in the USA, deep cleaning is steadily growing in the UK,” says Charles Gordon, Bissell’s international markets director. “Deep cleaning means retailers can differentiate their floorcare sales offering – without ‘cannibalising’ it. Consumers purchase deep cleaners not as an alternative to vacuum cleaners, but as an additional acquisition. A deep cleaner in a retailer’s sales portfolio means an additional floorcare appliance to sell – and to obtain good margins. And, don’t forget the excellent margins retailers can get from the cleaning formulae and accessories.”

Bissell’s’ latest product innovation is ReadyDry which, by employing the commercially proven  PowerRoller technology, allows deep cleaning and drying carpets in just 30 minutes.

Essential add-ons

Selling accessories have never been more important than in the current recessionary times. Electrolux offers new synthetic dustbags with better filtration and greater capacity, and a range of floor tools, including hard and soft floor nozzles. New packaging design makes these products easy to site in the shop.

In order to help retailers to always have in stock the relevant accessories, Bosch has ensured that its turbo brush accessory fits all manufacturers’ cleaners and it has only three different types of bags to fit all machines.

Steam cleaning products give many opportunities to accessorise. “We try to build products which create opportunities for ‘upsells’ – so in the case of our best selling Steam Mop, the product requires replacement micro-fibre pads which retail at £9.99 for a pack of three pads. We usually experience 97% uptake on an extra set of pads at point of purchase,” explains Jamie Lennox, chief executive of Home-tek.

Beyond the gloom

As cost cutting and various retrenchment measures are everyday reality for the majority of people, they forget that they have seen and survived all this before.  When the money pressures ease up they will be willing to buy the best products to help them cope with daily chores. “The first Dyson vacuum cleaner was launched at the end of the last recession. People are willing to buy technology that works well and lasts a long time, even when the economy is gloomy,” maintains Dyson’s spokesman.

Moreover, wider societal trends will work in favour of the floorcare sector: “The credit crunch has seen the development of the ‘house proud’ consumer, as people are choosing to entertain at home, since it is more economical, rather than go out. Popular programmes that focus on home improvement and various celebrity endorsements have also inspired the population to take more pride in their home environment,” concludes LG’s Kate Seabrook.

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