The Euro-Pro Shark 2-in-1 Vac-then-Steam provides a two-step process in cleaning bare floors.
By David Gill
Americans are allowing their floors to go bare, and floor-care manufacturers have responded.
The nation's homeowners have turned away from the time when wall-to-wall carpeting was king. In many recently built homes, bare floors have become popular not only in kitchens and bathrooms; many homeowners have chosen to leave their living-room, great-room and family-room floors exposed--or featuring only an area rug, rather than totally covered with carpet.
According to floor-care vendor executives, the choice of leaving a floor bare is not just one of esthetics; there are a number of reasons homeowners may choose uncovered over covered. "Bare, hard floors create a healthier home environment (i.e., carpets hold allergens and bacteria) and are easier to clean and care for," said Romi Haan, president of Haan Corp. "It's also a better investment for homeowners. Hard surfaces tend to not show their wear as often as soft surfaces."
As a company that is dedicated to the steam-cleaning category, Haan has taken advantage of the bare-floor trend. The company's line has evolved recently to include the Duo, a combination product that both sweeps and steams bare floors.
Kimberly Szucs, director of marketing for Reliable Corp., said these reasons for favoring uncovered floors are linked together. "It is easier to keep hard-wood/ceramic-tile/cork-and-stone floors clean than that of carpeted surfaces," Szucs said. "Allergy sufferers have long abandoned carpeted floors for health reasons, and consumers in general have chosen bare floors over carpet for esthetic reasons for a number of years now."
Reliable has also gone the combination route in addressing this trend. "Our current and soon-to-be-launched steam canister machines have a steam/vacuum machine that not only steam cleans, but also extracts soiled steam residue and has the capacity to be used as a stand-alone vacuum," Szucs said.
Combination products have emerged in floor care because of demands by consumers for greater convenience and effectiveness in handling bare floors. "The macro trend is that more people are entertaining at home," said Jim Krzeminski, executive vice president of sales, marketing and product development for Bissell. "In these cases, the kitchen becomes the hub. So people want their floors to be clean before and after the party."
Bissell's entry into this category is the Steam and Sweep model. "This is an obvious innovation in that it saves time in enabling you to steam-clean and vacuum all in one product," Krzeminski said. "It combines convenience and effectiveness in that it solves the problem of both cleaning and scrubbing."
Another product along these lines is the Shark 2-in-1 Vac-then-Steam from Euro-Pro. Described by the company as a "complete hard-floor cleaning system," the 2-in-1 Vac-then-Steam provides a two-step process in cleaning bare floors--first the vacuum, then the steam--that cuts the time of floor cleaning, according to the company.
The 2-in-1 is an example of how important versatility, which is another aspect of convenience, has become in floor care, especially considering the increasing number of bare floors. Another is the Ergorapido line from Electrolux. "The Ergorapido is accessible and versatile for getting under tables and chairs," said Richard Chapman, general manager for Electrolux and its aftermarket business.
And a key element in versatility is the ability to switch brush rolls--a capability found on both the Ergorapido and another Electrolux product, the Ultra Active cyclonic system. "These products have to be versatile in handling all sorts of floor surfaces," Chapman said. "Consumers worry about damaging the bare floors, so we offer brushes made of horse hair which are easy on hardwood surfaces and on ceramics."
Meanwhile, Electrolux's Eureka brand has been offering steamer products since 1998, when it introduced the Enviro-Steamer, which is still a part of the company's product line. "We're now considering combination units, steam cleaners with vacuums, which could have interchangeable heads as well," Chapman said.
Vendor executives believe that not only do bare floors afford them with an opportunity now, but will continue to do so in the near future. "Bare-floor cleaning is here to stay," Krzeminski said. "Some retailers have already increased their bare-floor assortments, and others are going to down the road. They are going to get more sophisticated in telling the story about bare-floor cleaning to shoppers as well."
In fact, this product segment could become a core offering on the floor-care aisles. "We like to think that the floor steamer/sanitizer is to hard floors what the vacuum is to carpets," Haan said. "And we look forward to increased interest and growth in the category as the homeowners continue to look for easy, fast, efficient solutions to caring for their floors."