The slew of Asian companies attempting to carve out a chunk of the floor-care market continues to bolster their presence in the category.
The primary strategy of many of these companies is to build on the national retail bases from which they’ve garnered significant sales in other categories — such as microwaves, air conditioners and VCRs.
Well known in consumer electronics and appliances, these companies — including LG Electronics/Goldstar, Matsushita, Samsung, Sharp and Sanyo Fisher — are attempting to leverage their brands to build their vac businesses in the United States.
The manufacturers recently received a boost at the International Housewares Show in Chicago, where for the first time they were housed in the same building as the major vac vendors under a show reorganization that grouped all electric products together.
“Everybody gets recognized” with the new format, noted Peter Bellman, product marketing manager, floor care, for Sharp Electronics.
These vendors have their work cut out for them. Industry sources note that the top four vac vendors comprise perhaps between 80 and 85 percent of the market. Bissell, Eureka, Hoover and Royal are strong brands that have been around since the early 20th century — if not earlier. Then there is Fantom, which has steadily been bolstering itself with product innovations.
Nevertheless, vac vendors from the East are not giving up. They are, in fact, ramping up their product offerings and doing their part to further push the technology envelope.
Sanyo Fisher is attempting to get its vac product into the national retail accounts that sell its other products. Its previous strategy had been primarily to focus on the specialty stores.
“We are ready for the next step,” noted Richard Miller, national sales and marketing manager, home appliances division.
LG Electronics/Goldstar has a similar strategy. The company last year targeted mom and pops with high-end vacs; this year, it is attempting to target the mass market. “We’re very important to retailers,” said Sonny Marak, vice president of sales, home appliances division. “Our air conditioners are strong sellers, which emphasizes the quality of our products.”
He noted that LG Electronics/Goldstar is a major player in the canister markets of Europe and South America.
Paul Kennedy, marketing development manager of Samsung’s home appliance group, said there is room for companies in the vac business because “a lot of retailers are looking for something new to add to the top guys.”
Indeed, Chuck Bacon, floor care buyer, Sears, told HFN he was going to the Housewares Show “looking for people I haven’t seen before, new colors, new products.”
Something new — product differentiation — is certainly a key aspect of what many companies are offering. This was seen in the products on display at the Housewares Show.
In vacs, Sanyo Fisher is not offering “me-too products,” said Miller. “That is how we are trying to crack the market.”
He noted that the company is offering on some of its vac models a dust container that releases dirt from the bottom, “which is unique and much more convenient.”
Additionally, Miller said, the company is utilizing a dirt-compactor system that allows the container to hold more dirt.
Sanyo is shipping three Dirt Hunter uprights with the dust containers and dirt-compactor system; of the three, one is for specialty dealers only.
Samsung is looking to its Explug technology, which is designed to generate heat in the vac bag to kill dust mites. Products featuring this technology are now sold in Europe and Asia and are due in the United States by the end of this year, Kennedy said.
At the show, Samsung debuted lines of both uprights and canisters.
Panasonic unveiled a beltless vacuum cleaner that has an agitator that is 30 percent larger and includes a motor, the company said.
“Belts have a tendency of stretching, which reduces cleaning optimum,” noted Robert Zangrillo, general manager of Panasonic’s home appliance group.
The unit also features an overload protector that stops the motor if an obstruction is encountered by the vacuum.