A Clean & Healthy Outlook
By David Gill
It's not your typical gift item--few people expect to find a vacuum or steam mop under their Christmas trees, but the holidays are an important selling season for this category, according to executives in the industry.
To some executives, it's a matter of rising store traffic.
"Vacuums do perform well during the holidays due to the busy retail environment and the increased number of shoppers in stores," said Richard Chapman, general manager for the Electrolux brand. "Consumers get exposed to new products and innovations in the floor-care department that will trigger a purchase decision."
To others, it's the current economic environment. "We believe more practical gifts for the home will become more commonplace, boosting sales for upright vacuums," said Jim Krzeminski, executive vice president of sales, marketing and product development for Bissell. "Portable deep cleaners such as our Little Green also do very well as gift items for the holidays."
Gino Iacovella, group manager, food service and vacuums for Panasonic, identified vacuums as "a key holiday gift for many households. Families are now looking for gifts that will improve the quality of their lives. Why spend money on a fad appliance that will be used once or twice and then stored in the attic, when you can buy and use a quality appliance? Consumers are looking to buy useful and practical gifts that can be used year-round."
Given what consumers want in a floor-care product, they will be seeking out products with features that speed up their cleaning time. "Customers are looking for features that improve the quality of their life," Iacovella said. "In this high-speed world, customers are looking for gadgets that do things well and quickly."
The timing of the holidays presents an opportunity for the floor-care category as well.
"What we'll see is a lot of pent-up demand from the first and second quarters," said Shae Hong, president of Sensio, which offers the Bionaire branded line of steam mops through a sister company, Star Elite. "People will be out shopping, chasing values from national retailers."
Because of this, he added, Sensio/Star Elite is in the midst of a heavy advertising campaign for Bionaire products, which began in September running through December.
Hong also said the company will ramp up on product introductions going into 2010, including a rollout at retail of vacuums in the first quarter. "We see a positive outlook for next year," he said. "For us, 2010 will be a continuance of building market share. I would anticipate our competitors will push new products as well. Because of the eco-friendly trend, the flu scares and concerns about what your children are touching, the whole steam category will expand over the next two years."
Concerns over swine flu and other health problems have become a crucial selling point for the floor-care industry, which has spurred demand for steam mops and for vacuums that offer anti-microbial and anti-allergen benefits. "The severity of the past and current flu seasons is changing the consumer's perception of what a cleaning appliance should do," said Ryan Douglas, chief executive officer of Verilux. "I believe those products that offer anti-microbial features are going to compel consumers to purchase, thereby fueling a higher than anticipated increase in sales in this segment."
Along with features that enhance the home environment, innovations will continue to address quality.
"We know it's important for consumers to have the tools that offer quality cleaning performance at an affordable price, and our future product introductions aim to address these needs in functional, inventive ways," said Brad Hoare, general product manager for the Eureka brand.
Improving quality will be a driver for other floor-care brands as well. "Products with relevant innovations that improve the cleaning experience will continue to be in demand," Chapman said. He added that Electrolux has adopted a "thinking of you" mentality in product development. "We will be launching an unprecedented number of new platform designs that will create excitement in all categories," he said. Chapman also predicted that the whole floor-care category will experience small gains in both unit and dollar sales next year.
Consumer attitudes provide a strong reason for the floor-care industry to feel "bullish" about 2010, Krzeminski said. "The macro-trends suggest that consumers are entertaining at home even more, and that bodes well for increased frequency of cleaning," he said. He added that the outlook is good for uprights--the midprice range in particular, in which consumers opt for value in place of simply price.