Planning to market hand vacuum cleaners to compete

Royal’s red, Eureka’s black and Bissell’s green cordless hand vacuums could be battling it out this summer at retail.

Whether there’s enough room for all the newcomers to survive in this category, which has been dominated by Black & Decker’s 16-year-old Dustbuster, remains to be seen. The majors believe they can pick up sales in a a business that averages 3 million units a year. Their renewed interest in rechargeable vacs is causing retailers to look at the segment for year-round sales and not just for promotional peaks. “We’re going after hand vacs in a bigger way than we have,” a department store buyer says. “We’re going to treat it like a day in and day out business.”

The retailer will be promoting hand vacs with more ads, instead of pushing it only for Christmas gift giving. The store promotes Black & Decker models regularly.

A mass merchant will be pushing the new hand vacs in the floor care section instead of the hardware department. “We’re really moving into cordless in the traffic electrics side,” the buyer said.

Royal started a new wave of cordless vacs when it came out with the Dust Devil by Dirt Devil line at the housewares show. Eureka countered with its Boss.

Bissell joined in at the Gourmet Products Show with its 4-cell battery-powered unit, which comes with a crevice tool.

Both Eureka and Bissell are hoping to spur sales with deep discount prices, which could go as low as $19.99. Royal has positioned its versions at the higher end, $24.99 to $34.99, with the Black & Decker models.

Retailers like the low prices. They’re betting the Dirt Devil name – combined with a television media campaign – will push the Royal machines. Eureka also is promoting the category with network commercials.

“I’m looking forward to the Eureka piece,” says Janice Westlund, owner of Bob’s Ace Hardware in Rockland, Ill. “It’s an exciting price point. The Eureka name, for us, will be a real plus.”

“The Royal piece is great,” she adds. “It’s a logical step-up. It looks well designed. TV will drive Royal’s.”

A mass merchant will pick up the Eureka and Royal machines. “We’re talking about two different price points,” the buyer says. “Eureka will sell at $19.99. Dirt Devil in my stores has a name.”

A catalog buyer sees potential for the Bissell model. “Bissell markets well,” the buyer said. “That’s one of the strengths. They’ll be able to carve out a little niche.”

The buyer, however, doesn’t see the cordless hand vac segment growing. It will just be cut up differently with the increased competition, the source predicted.

Sales of cordless hand vac sales are about half their 5 million to 6 million unit peak in the mid 1980s. The major players have made generally unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the business Black & Decker established in 1978.

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But the timing could be right to reposition the business, according to suppliers.

Bissell decided to launch its model earlier this month at the gourmet show “in the midst of great enthusiasm for the category,” said Jim Krzeminski, vice president of sales.

“We were in it and we took a nap like everyone else,” he added. “Now, we’re awake. We decided to come back with a product that’s better than the competition.”

Eureka says low pricing, a branded franchise name and television support will make the difference for its product. New offerings by the major suppliers also will enlarge the category, according to the company.

“Anytime you have the major players promoting the category, it will expand the category,” said Tony Ritter, Eureka’s vice president of advertising.

An industry observer said more than low pricing is needed to increase sales of the category. Suppliers have to communicate a need to buy and re-educate the consumer that the newer models are powerful, lightweight and convenient.

If retailers have any concerns, it’s that the new vacs aren’t hitting their shelves soon enough. Production delays caused Eureka and Royal to miss the key Mother’s Day gift-giving period.

Meanwhile, Black & Decker promoted the Dustbuster for the holiday with radio ads and plans to run similar spots for Father’s Day.

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