New features of high-end portable vacuum cleaner

Spot those diminuitive dynamos of carpet care, are helping to fuel sales in the floor-care industry’s most rapidly growing category–extraction.

As a complement to full size extractors designed to clean room-size surfaces, portable deep cleaners such as Bissell’s Little Green Clean Machine, Hoover’s new SteamVac Jr. or Ryobi’s new version of its Soil Sport, give consumers the option of quick and easy floor or upholstery cleaning combined with easy storage.

“People who own a full-size deep cleaner have an understanding of the need for deep cleaning and may also then become aware of the benefits of the quick-pick-up approach,” said Jim Krzeminski, vice president of sales at Bissell.

And according to manufacturers and retailers alike, consumer interest in these little cleaners is only just beginning to grow. “Extraction is a growing business overall,” said the floor care buyer at one eastern regional discounter. “And the penetration of portable cleaners is nowhere near as high as it could be.”

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“It’s going to grow, but we don’t think it’s going to explode,” countered the vac buyer for another regional mass merchant. “When Hoover comes in, they’ll put a lot of advertising behind their unit and it should help the category overall. “

Prior to Bissell’s acquisition of Ryobi, the spot cleaner category was on the verge of becoming a horse race as Hoover introduced the Steam Vac Jr. earlier this month, which will be backed by heavy ad support during the all-important fourth quarter. Ryobi which had been planning an infomercial to support its Spot Cop portable cleaner, and had recently redesigned and reackaged its Soil Sport was positioned to make a play for shelf space.

And Bissell, which for the most part had the category to itself refused to rest on its laurels, introducing the Little Green Deluxe at January’s housewares show. The newest “green” cleaner offered the additional feature of window cleaning along with spot cleaning of carpeta and upholstery.

“We have to look at every surface of the home,” said Kizeminski. “Window cleaning is just one example. We have to ask ourselves, ‘what’s the next arena within the home? how can we address new needs?'”

With the acquisition of Ryobi Motor Products floor care business, Bissell will be addressing new needs with new and broader product lines. While details on the company’s strategy for differentiating, or even continuing its Singer brand floor care and extractor lines were not available, the acquisition at the very least, reduces Bissell’s extraction competition by one (see story, page 37).

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Hoover, which has made a concerted effort to be among the broadest of broad line floor care resources, introduced its SteamVac Jr. as a follow-up to its highly successful SteamVac series of upright extractors.

“We think we can enhance, what we believe, is our leadership position in the floor care industry and our strong position in extraction,” said David Gault, Hoover’s vice president of marketing.

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The new unit, like other spot cleaners is designed to focus on portability and easy storage. A large, easy-to-grip handle and a 5-foot hose assembly that wraps around the units tease for easy storage, are among the unit’s key features.

Yet while manufacturers said portability is key, some feel that mobility and convenience need to be addressed. That’s why Ryobi, in tweaking the design of its Soil Sport, added wheels to its newest model.

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“We’ve done several focus groups and one of the things we found was that the primary competition in spot cleaning is the bottle of Resolve and the paper towel,” said Robert Davis, vice president of sales and marketing at Rynbi Motor Products’ floor care division.

To better convey features and benefits, Ryobi also redesigned its Soil Sport packaging, devoting an entire side panel to illustrating/he types of dirt and residue that the unit can remove from a carpet. And to better make the case for a deep clearer versus a bottle or can of Resolve and a paper towel educational copy on the package explains a deep cleaner’s ability to reach down to the bottom of the carpet and get out all the dirt, as opposed to simply the top layer.

“When you just put a chemical down on the carpet the spot may go away, but a week later it reappears. You need the suction of the extractor to get all the way down and remove dirt,” said Davis.

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