Gearing up for the important fourth-quarter selling season -- and in the midst of a back-to-school period that grows stronger every year for the category -- floor care manufacturers gathered in Chicago last week for the annual National Hardware Show to display their latest vac technology.
Executives of the major vac firms had reason to be in a good mood at the show: Industry sales and retail sell-through have been strong so far this year (see related story at right), and a growing consumer preference for upscale, high-tech floor care products has skewed the average selling price in the most popular category -- uprights -- upward as well.
As in the major appliance retail channel, the hardware chains, large and small, and home centers that flock to this show have focused their attention on higher-priced, more fully featured floor care products.
The household extractor segment, in particular, appeals to this market segment, given its historic role in sales of wet/dry vacs. And while floor care manufacturers are quick to differentiate between the market positions of the traditional wet/dry models and the new crop of extractors -- a category projected to sell about 3 million units this year -- suppliers have been working to add enhancements such as expanded water capacity and reduced operating noise to broaden extractors' use in the home.
"Steam cleaning" is a key buzzword in the latest vac lines, with manufacturers stressing the hygienic benefits of steam cleaners as well as their cleaning efficiency. At the Hardware Show, suppliers showed off their latest advances in this technology, some of which were first introduced at the May Gourmet Show in New Orleans, as well as other new vacs just hitting retail pipelines.
Hoover, for example, has extended its SteamVac line with two new Widepath deep cleaners that offer wider cleaning heads and six multi-speed rotating brushes. The top-end unit features an additional round-bristle scrub pad that can be attached to the powered hand tool to clean hard surfaces.
Also new in the Hoover line are a canister version of the firm's popular Wind Tunnel vac, the Floor Max for hardwood floors, and new Quik-Broom stick vacs.
Eureka is highlighting its new Boss Cordless upright for the fall selling season. Also new in Eureka's line are six Smart Vacs, four with true HEPA filters, which bring popular features to lower price points than previous models, and its Self-Propelled Cyclonic upright.
A key new model for Royal Appliance is the Dirt Devil Easy Steamer, that company's entry into the upright extractor market, which is just beginning retail distribution.
Royal Appliance also showed off the Power Stick with triangular cleaning head that it previewed at last year's Hardware Show, as well as its corded Swivel Glide Vision with sensor, available soon.
In keeping with its tradition of sneak-previewing some new floor care products via direct sales before they hit retail stores, Royal recently began offering its new Power Lite upright through an infomercial and on its web site. The unit is not expected to begin retail distribution until next year.
Bissell has extended its extractor line with a new Power Steamer that heats the cleaning solution. In addition, the company has developed a next-generation Steam N' Clean unit with wand and cleaning head for hardwood floors. Consumers with bare floors to clean are also the target for Bissell's Easy Vac and Easy Vac Plus three-in-one units.
Along with steam cleaning, another key floor care feature expected to be promoted this fall and winter is quieter operation.
Some companies, such as Sharp Electronics with its Library Quiet models and Samsung with its Quiet Storm models, have given their vacs names that deliver the message right up front. These suppliers and others have been working to reduce operating noise, particularly in cyclonic-action uprights, by beefing up insulation around motors and controlling internal vibration during the cleaning process.