Consumers are beginning to regard their vacuum cleaner as an important tool in their healthcare arsenal.
It is probably safe to say that vacuuming does not rank terribly high on consumers’ lists of favorite things to do.
Yet, short of inventing a robotic vacuum that, at the flick of a switch, cleans without the need for human guidance, manufacturers are employing a variety of technological advances to create new vacuum cleaner products that make the job as efficient and effortless as possible.
In many cases, those new technologies are being applied to products toward the upper end of the price scale, which is contributing heavily to the increased sales activity the industry is enjoying in higher-priced vacuum models.
And while each manufacturer is putting its own spin on what features are deemed most important, there are a number of key directions the industry as a whole is pursuing.
One of those is cleaning performance, which Hoover attacked squarely with its WindTunnel product line launched last year. Other companies are addressing performance, as well, through their own products designed to offer improved cleaning power, such as Bissell’s Bissell Plus, which features a twin motor system with one motor to drive the brush, and the other dedicated exclusively to the vacuum.
“The number one thing consumers want from a vacuum cleaner is cleaning efficacy,” says Jim Krzeminski, Bissell’s vice president of sales and marketing. “So first they want to know that a product cleans well, and then they look at a whole second tier of wants and needs, such as convenience, filtration, tools, and so on.”
Agrees Dave Baker, vice president of marketing for Hoover, “Performance is definitely foremost for consumers, and with WindTunnel, we’ve been able to demonstrate the benefit of the technology, to show consumers that it picks up more dirt more quickly — which really speaks to the purpose of a vacuum cleaner.
Once they recognize the performance, then they’ll look at other features, such as the quality of the hose, how far it stretches, tool storage issues, etc.”
How Clean is Clean?
Providing a method for gauging performance, a growing number of manufacturers are incorporating dirt sensors, or clean indicators, on selected models in their upright lines.
Two of Hoover’s original WindTunnel models, as well as its just-introduced self-propelled Premium WindTunnel model, feature the Embedded DirtFINDER feature, incorporating a sensor near the vacuum’s bag that “listens” for particles traveling in the dirt tube, signalling red when dirt is present, green when the carpet is clean.
Similarly, Panasonic’s new top-of-the-line Performance Plus features an Eagle Eye Dirt Sensor, using a built-in, infrared beam that “sees” the dirt as it is being picked up and alerts the user via red or green LED lights.
And Eureka’s two new Dirt Alert models also utilize an infrared sensor and red and green lights to tell the user when the vacuum is actually picking up dust, dirt, pet hair, and other debris.
“We engineered our electronic indicator with an infrared sensor, because our tests showed that a visual system detects material such as pet hair better than a system using sound,” states John Hoppe, Eureka’s vice president of marketing.
“And we think it’s a feature that people like, because it helps them know whether they need to keep cleaning any particular area.”
Another angle on the issue of demonstrating that the vacuum is picking up dirt appears in new products from both Eureka and Royal.
Both companies have announced new “bagless” vacuum cleaner lines designed with transparent dirt containers that allow consumers to actually see the dirt the vacuum is trapping.
Royal Dirt Devil’s Swivel Glide Vision, for instance, combines the ease of use of its existing Swivel Glide uprights with a patented bagless technology.
Based on the presumption that traditional upright vacuums with bags tend to lose suction power as the bag fills with debris, the Swivel Glide Vision’s design sends debris to a large dirt container where the cleaner spins it around, causing most of the debris to separate from the air stream and settle to the bottom.
The remaining fine dirt is then pulled into a separate Perma Filter to trap and retain fine dirt particles.
Similarly, Eureka’s new WhirlWind line uses cyclonic action to separate dirt in an easy-to-empty transparent cassette on the front of the cleaner, a feature Hoppe believes will offer real convenience to the consumer.
“Vacuum bags are like furnace filters — it is an inconvenience for consumers to have to shop for them, and make sure they get the right one,” he says. “If you look at most of the lightweight stick vacs that are selling so well, most of them don’t have bags anymore, and that should tell us something.”
Filtration Defines The Health Angle
Coupled with the bagless vacuums is a strong emphasis on filtration built into the vacuum system itself — of particular importance when there is no bag to help filter air and trap dust.
Eureka’s three WhirlWind models, for instance, incorporate a True HEPA sealed vacuum filtration system; and Royal’s Swivel Glide Vision features a special HEPA filter cartridge along with its porous plastic Perma Filter, which isguaranteed to last the life of the cleaner.
But it is not just in bagless systems that filtration is playing a central role in new products from vacuum cleaner manufacturers.
Virtually all the leading companies are improving and touting the filtration capabilities of their products, and appealing to the growing ranks of consumers who are interested in creating a “healthy home.”
In fact, filtration is the biggest story of the year for Bissell, which has signed an agreement with 3M to use that company’s Filtrete filtration technology in several new vacuum products, including the Pure Air Deluxe series and the Lift-Off.
“Rather than simply slap a HEPA filter on an existing vacuum, we decided to redesign our vacuum from scratch, and build in the Filtrete technology in the bag itself, as well as in the secondary filter,” explains Krzeminski.
“Nobody does filtration better than 3M, and what they’ve done particularly well is the ability to get superior filtration without inhibiting performance. So by integrating that into our design, we don’t lose any air flow even as the bag gets filled.”
Yet another area that vacuum manufacturers are addressing with new products is ease of use — in several cases, through the creation of self-propelling models.
Eureka, for example, has launched an Enviro Vac Self Propelled model; and Hoover has added a new self-propelled version of its WindTunnel upright.
“Maneuverability is a big issue for vacuuming, especially as people get older,” says Hoover’s Baker. “With the baby boomers hitting middle age, we predict that the demand for the self-propelled feature will only continue to increase.”
All of these innovations and new, highly-featured products are expected to help the momentum toward higher price points continue at retail, since many are designed to retail for $200 and up. Yet there does still remain a market for basic, no-frills, effective vacuums — a segment that manufacturers are not about to abandon.
As Eureka’s Hoppe says, “We’re not about to give up on $100 cleaners, because there is still a huge market at $100 and below. But I think we can be successful with higher price points also, as long as the products show innovation and offer the features that consumers need and want.”
What consumers want most in a vacuum cleaner:
Ease of use
Key features offered by vacuum cleaner products:
Dirt sensors/clean indicators