Despite a general decline in market share in 1995, canister vacuum cleaners are creating pockets of opportunity at the poles of the price spectrum.
As a percentage of overall vac sales, canisters garnered a 10.3 share in 1995, compared with an 11.3 share in 1994, according to Trendata, a Norwalk, Conn., market research firm. And while the category’s share declined, Trendata reported, the average price rose, from $394 in 1994 to $446 in 1995, as high-end door-to-door players, such as Rainbow and Electrolux, captured a greater percentage of sales.
While channels such as Sears and door-to-door sellers moving higher-priced merchandise gained share within the canister segment, according to Lou Pappalardo, president of Trendata, lower-end channels, most notably Wal-Mart, lost share.
In 1994 Sears garnered a 32.9 share of canister sales, which grew in 1995 to 34.1 percent. Door-to-door sales of cans grew from 23.7 percent in 1994 to 26.1 percent in 1995. By comparison, Trendata reported, Wal-Mart’s share declined from 4.7 percent in 1994 to 2.6 percent in 1995.
Yet while the numbers point to a steady decline of the canister segment overall and a shift toward high-end niche products, manufacturers and retailers maintain that not only is there a cadre of loyal canister customers that will allow the category to continue, but key sub-segments provide solid growth potential.
Most notably, manufacturers point to compact canisters, priced between $30 and $100, and, often used as a second or third vac within the home, as an area of solid sales and potential growth.
“We think there is enough business in that segment to expand what we’re offering,” said Bruce Gold, president of White Westinghouse. The two-year-old sister company of Eureka, which initially offered one mini-can SKU, is expanding its assortment to include 1-, 2-and 4-peak horsepower units.
“It’s not the hottest category going, but we certainly see growth potential,” Gold said.
“We’re doing very well with our Mighty Mite,” Eureka’s John Hoppe, vice president of marketing added. “People understand the variable uses that these units provide versus a full size upright and it’s helping to drive a very solid business.”
Jim Holcomb, vice president of marketing at Royal Appliance, suggested that part of the appeal of compact canisters is a shift in consumers’ decorating schemes. While a large number of American homes use wall-to-wall carpeting more and more households are devoting portions of their floor space to hard surface floors as a complement to carpeting.
“Even though most floors in the U.S. are covered in carpeting there is an increasing trend toward hard surface flooring,” Holcomb said. “But because it may be only a small area, people don’t want to haul out a big canister to clean up. The smaller size unit can be handy for quick and easy cleaning.”
And while sales of traditional canisters continue to shrink as a percentage of total sales, manufacturers and retailers contend, there remains a solid core of loyal customers that will keep the category afloat.
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“Canisters are a very viable category,” affirmed David Gault, vice president of marketing at Hoover. “Unlike uprights, there are products that hit a range of price points from $60 to $400, that will do bare floors or carpets, or any combination of jobs that might be expected of them.”
“There will always be a segment of the business that will want the better and deeper cleaning that you can get from a canister that you can’t get from an upright,” said Clayton Bond, electrics buyer for Tops Appliance.
However, while they see the category as one that’s unlikely to be completely replaced, most industry suggested there is little likelihood that canisters could or would be revitalized by major new product introductions.
“Innovations on canisters have been pretty well tapped out,” said Bond. “You have a lot of machines that basically do the same thing.”
Pointing to one potential “twist” however, he noted that, “You could do something like Hoover’s Twist N’ Vac, if you had a head like that on a canister that would allow you to clean more easily in tight spots.”
However, manufacturers noted, the highly competitive nature of the vac business and the potential of faster-growing categories such as extractors and hand vacs, could restrict the resources devoted toward canisters.