By David Gill
After a 2008 that the industry would like to forget, manufacturers of floor-care products are using the ever-popular business catchphrase “cautiously optimistic” in describing their prospects for next year.
Not that the industry will automatically shift from reverse to high gear after Jan. 1, but the feelings among vendor executives are that their sales will edge upward next year. In addition, opportunities have emerged for strong growth in certain segments and price points.
“We estimate the floor-care category will see a 1 to 3 percent growth in 2009, driven predominately through the cordless and extraction segments,” said Chris Gurreri, president of TTI Floor Care North America. “As consumers try to extend the life of their carpeting due to the current economic conditions, extractor purchases are expected to increase.”
The total market “will be flat to down, but we’re bullish on a few categories,” said Mike Best, vice president of sales for Bissell. “Deep cleaning looks like a growth category, because consumers in times of tough economic conditions find it advantageous to own their own machine, rather than rent one or hire someone to do a deep-cleaning job for them.”
“We’re all cautious about what lies ahead,” said Rob Newcombe, vice president of marketing for Electrolux. “We do see premium canisters outperforming other categories, like they did this year. Premium canisters have seen a number of new introductions. Plus, those consumers, who tend to be among the upper-income bracket, haven’t been hit as hard as others.”
Zeroing in on the high end, in terms of both products and consumers, appears to be a floor-care industry consensus for 2009.
“While 2009 is shaping up to be a challenging year for everyone in manufacturing and retailing, we are hoping to grow our steam-cleaning category by 15 to 20 percent by focusing on new products at the higher end of the market,” said Robert Kahn, president and chief executive officer of Reliable Corp.
“I think we’ll experience double-digit growth next year because we’ve been concentrating on the mom-and-pop vacuum stores,” said Gino Iacovella, group manager for Panasonic’s home-appliance area. “We’re pursuing that channel with profitable products for both us and the shops, where it’s less price competitive.”
Non-price-oriented strategies will provide the charge for all of the manufacturers next year. As such, trends such as innovation, products that work well on pet hair and the “green” story, all of which took hold in 2008, will have plenty of stamina left for next year, too.
“Product innovation is always important,” Gurrerri said. “The key is to bring relevant innovation that enhances consumers’ everyday living, especially now when we anticipate an increase in home entertaining during the upcoming year.”
The types of innovations that will be important in 2009 will be those that “improve the cleaning experience for consumers,” Newcombe said. “An area we’re focused on is lightweight cleaning, meaning both light in weight and more maneuverable, along with features that allow the user to get her vacuum into a hard-to-get area.”
The brands that are investing in both innovation and marketing are winning, according to Best. “The consumer is willing to pay for real innovation if you’re willing to tell the consumer about them. It takes a little effort, though.”
Pet-oriented vacuums made a major splash in the business this year, and “pet-driven will continue to serve an important role in 2009,” Gurreri said. “Given that 65 percent of households have a pet, we will continue to bring real pet solutions to the marketplace.”
Environmentally friendly products should maintain their momentum into next year as well. “I don’t see the green story ending, not for the foreseeable future anyway,” Kahn said. “Some people may start to tune out, but my guess is that if you or someone you know is affected by the aftereffects of our environmental problems, the interest and concern will be strong for quite some time.”
As with all consumer products, the fate of the floor-care industry next year will come down to the consumer. “Our biggest concern is disposable income at this point,” Iacovella said. “We’re asking the consumer to move up and spend more on a better vacuum. Is that consumer going to be ready to step up?”