Canister U.S. Sales Boosted By Imports

CHICAGO–Canister vacuum cleaner sales are continuing to play a game of catchup with uprights–the most popular cleaner category in the country. But this year, the sales gap between the two categories has narrowed to 4.3 million uprights sold vs. 3.2 million canisters.

The growth in canisters, especially in the high-end market, industry experts agree, is the result of the determination by foreign producers to capture a share of the American market with a strategy that is based on what they do best–the manufacture of canister cleaners.

Importers who have already established a solid base in this country with canisters include Sharp Electronics, Toshiba and Miele Appliances. Americans joining in the surge of canisters include The Eureka Co. (with its Express line), The Hoover Co. (Dimension canisters) and Whirlpool Corp.

Companies planning on canister introductions next year include Bionaire Corp.–which will introduce units at next Spring’s NHMA Show, and distribution by Schawbel Corp. of Rowenta canisters.

David Allen, division vp/marketing communications for Whirlpool, explained that high-end canister introductions by U.S. and foreign manufacturers is the result of the growth potential of the category. “If anyone enters this market (canisters) they’re not going to come in at the low-end. The high-end is where the profit is.

“I think as any group of companies begins to look at the international marketplace, the U.S. is a market that’s relatively stable economically, and large enough to accommodate anyone who’s interested in expansion,” Allen added.

Perry Clay, general manager of Sharp’s Appliance Division, agreed with Allen. “We felt the market was right for us to make a vacuum cleaner introduction. Our strategy is to continue distribution of our canisters, then develop the balance of our line with uprights.”

Clay added that canister introductions by other foreign companies is the simplest and easiest method for them to get in to the U.S. market. “Canisters are what we (foreign manufacturers) do best. It’s the most popular category of cleaner outside the U.S., so each of us is coming to the U.S. with what we do best. Even though canisters are the tough end of the business because it’s so price sensitive.”

Hoover’s Marketing Services Manager Cliff Wood also noted that foreign van manufacturers know the U.S. market holds tremendous potential, “and high-end canisters are what their (foreign manufacturer’s) strengths are, so that’s what they’re coming to this country with.”

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Wood added that domestic producers will maintain the upper hand in the high-end canister market. “Foreign producers won’t cut into our sales. They will help stimulate the market. But the ones that don’t have a broad range of product and distribution could run into problems here.”

At Panasonic, Bob Falzone, national marketing and merchandising manager, noted increased interest in high-end canisters from domestic and foreign producers is due to consumer’s demands for improved features and power. “But canisters will never be the bulk of the business in this country,” he said.

Miele Appliances, a German-based manufacturer, has been distributing its high-end canisters in the U.S. for 18 months. Distribution has been aimed at independent dealers, but according to Charles Seibert, vp/general manager at Miele’s U.S. headquarters, “We wanted greater exposure so we went to B. Altman’s for placement. We will stay where we are for now in terms of distribution.”

Seibert also attributes the growth in high-end canisters to the consumer’s desire for a better quality product. “Manufacturers, foreign or domestic, have to respond to that desire the same way automakers have had, by manufacturing a more technologically desirable product.”

Eureka’s VP/Marketing Gil Dorsey remarked that foreign producers have found a good niche to exploit in the U.S. with their high-end canisters. “We think Americans want an easy-to-use, high-end product. But imports have made us (U.S. manufacturers) all aware of what the competition is doing. I think it shows a good, strong industry that’s willing to spend money and time on tooling and marketing to offer the consumer a good, American-made product.”

T.R.E., Inc.’s Marketing Director Bob Sullivan said that high-end canisters are attracting more sales “because more consumers are trying to get the best value.”

He added that consumers are increasingly attracted to these units “because they’re like toys with all their lights and whistles. They fascinate people. But the attraction of most manufacturers to this market is their desire to replace some of the direct sell market.”

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