By David Gill
Utility closets throughout the nation are suddenly becoming crammed with a multitude of floor-care products.
No longer do consumers get by with only a vacuum, or even with a vacuum and a dust mop. Now they are shopping for products that vacuum, products that sweep, products that steam-clean and products that clean floors with special cleaning fluid (in an eco-friendly way, if possible).
The numbers are there to back this up. "Our research shows that the average household owns about 2.5 vacuums," said Richard Chapman, general manager of Electrolux Floor Care.
Culture also plays a part in this trend. "People are getting used to having different gadgets for every task," Chapman said. He noted that in consumer electronics, consumers may have two digital cameras, one a compact one for everyday use, and both an iPod for their home stereo systems and an iPod Shuffle for working out. "Consumers are becoming more willing to do the same with their vacuums," he said.
Even more important to this trend is the fact that a significant number of homeowners have more than one type of floor surface to clean. "There does appear to be an emerging trend as consumers begin to turn to specific products for cleaning different types of floor surfaces," said Doug Cahill, president of Oreck.
Cahill said the most visible example of this trend has been the emergence of steam cleaners for hardwood floors, tile and linoleum: "Our research has also shown that many homeowners find a favorite tool for specific surfaces; e.g., canister vacuums for hard surfaces and upright vacuums for carpets and rugs."
Michael Silverman, senior vice president of marketing for Butler Home Products, also cited steam cleaners as an important development in this trend. Also, "what we have seen over the past 10 years is an increase in disposable cleaning products as a supplement to the traditional mop and broom," Silverman said.
Retailers have begun to adjust their assortments to this trend, offering vacuums, steam floor cleaners and carpet sweepers, sometimes in one display. "It depends on the retailer," said Stephanie Begley, associate marketing manager for both the Hoover and Dirt Devil brands, "but I think most retailers know that consumers need products other than only upright vacuums."
Rather than looking for products that do it all in floor care, some consumers are shopping for products that specialize in different floor surfaces. "Often, all-purpose cleaners or cleaning tools aren't the best way to clean all surfaces," said Chad Nordhagen, director of marketing for Bona. "Hardwood floors, for example, require a unique balance in order to safely achieve clean and shine."
Bona feels it has addressed this need with the Bona Hardwood Floor Mop. The product comes with an attached container of hardwood floor cleaner, and the handle includes a trigger to spray the cleaner on the floor while he or she mops. The company has extended this product with recent launches of the Bona Hardwood Floor Mop-Motion, with sonic motion for extra cleaning; and the Bona Hardwood Floor Mop-Curve, which is designed to handle hard-to-reach areas such as those under low furniture.
Yet there is a market for more versatile products as well. The Electrolux Nimble, one of the brand's newest upright vacuums, is geared toward handling all of a person's floor-care needs. "It is powerful, it has several unique cleaning tools, its quick-release handle reaches up to 14 feet up or down a staircase, and at only 18 pounds, it has an easy carrying handle to travel on multiple levels in the home," Chapman said.
Other vendors of floor-care products have addressed the trend by entering other floor-care categories. Long associated with hand vacuums, Dirt Devil has expanded its product line to include upright vacuums and stick vacuums. The Hoover brand has added the Floor Mate hardwood floor cleaner. "It's a matter of educating consumers to be able to clean multiple floor surfaces, which we see more of in individual homes," Begley said.
Butler is entering this fray with disposable products, such as its new Mr. Clean "Breeze" Spray Mop. "It allows consumers to clean with the liquid of their choice," Silverman said. "The pads are reusable microfiber, so it's a greener way to clean."
Oreck is addressing the trend with new vacuums and a steam cleaner. "The Oreck Graphite upright vacuum can quickly move from carpets to hardwood floors with just a flip of its QuickSwitch (a trademarked feature)," Cahill said. "The Oreck Steam-It All Purpose Steam Wand has a unique design that allows it to clean hard-surface floors as well as above-floor cleaning for jobs like kitchen cabinets and shower walls."