A seven-model line that utilizes a dual-tank system for cleaning

As the full-sized vacuum market reaches 99-percent saturation, Hoover North America is positioning itself for the number-one spot in the small but growing extraction and wet/dry categories.

Hoover realizes that its future success depends its ability to drive underdeveloped floor-care categories, and has put its resources behind its wet/dry and extractor lines, from developing patented products features to setting aside millions of dollars for advertising and promotion.

“We are going to buy the leadership of this industry,” Hoover North America president Brian Girdlestone explained on the eve of the March 6 Steam Vac launch. “We are in this market for the long run.” Similar comments were made during the October unveiling of Hoover’s wet/dry line.

A leading vacuum manufacture since Murray Spangler first assembled a fan and pillowcase suction sweeper in 1907, Hoover has grown into $1.1 billion worldwide empire. Hoover North America, with a 30-percent-plus share of the 13-million-unit full-sized domestic market, has been aggressively proclaiming its ability to enter–and dominate–ancillary floor-care markets.

Hoover’s disclosure last May that it would roll out a wet/dry line and an extraction line within a year put the floor-care industry on the edge of its seat. Interest was further piqued when Girdlestone promised that the introductions would possess “unique features to ensure” the products would control their markets.

The stage was set for Hoover’s fall entry into the 2.7-million-unit, $205-million wet/dry category and the late winter entrance into $234-million extraction category. Both markets are currently controlled by family-owned companies with interests beyonf dloor care. Shop-Vac Corp., whose sister company produces McCulloch chain saws, currently leads the wet/dry category, which claims a household penetration of 25 percent. Bissell Inc. has a large stake in the American flag market while boasting leadership of the extraction market, which has a household penetration of 10 percent.

“Our clear objectives is to be the leader in both markets,” Girdlestone said. He explained that without a strong position in both ancillary markets, Hoover will not be able to continue claiming its leadership of the floor-care market.

Hoover’s patented seven-model wet/dry line is distinguished by its dual-tank system, which allows quick crossover between wet and dry pickup. Most models feature on-board tool storage and leaf blowers, some of which are removable. Retail price points, ranging from $39 to $139, are higher than category-leader Shop-Vac Corp,’s assortment but in line with runner-up Sears’ Craftsman models. Retailers who have received their shipments–Hoover has followed a staggered release pain–said features, overall unit quality and the Hoover name are keys to their sales.

While distribution of the wet/dry continues, Hoover has widened its focus to encompass its fledgling extractor. Formally introduced through Macy’s East, the Steam Vac, which also has a number of appearance and functional patents pending, looks and operates very much like an upright vacuum. Market leader Bissell Inc. has made its name with a string of canister models, striking gold with its Big Green and Little Green Clean Machines, Sears, Singer and newcomers Eureka Co. and Royal Appliance Mfg. Co. also boast canisters.

“People will relate to it,” said Bill O’Donnell, vice president of housewwares for Macy’s East. “It’s not a canister. There’s no tank to pull around. It cleans forward and reverse and it’s easy to get the solution in. When we first got it on the floor and pushed it around, we were amazed at how light it was.”

Buyers noted that the forward and reverse action is new to the extraction market, which has traditionally relied on hose and nozzle attachments for liquid dispensation. Steemer models by Regina Co. — which has the second largest share of the extractor market–sit upright and dispense liquid through spray nozzles at the base of the unit. Steener units put down and pick up solution only when dragged backwards.

Units in the three-SKU line have a 1-gallon clean water tank and slightly smaller recovery tank, which enable users to clean a 12-foot-by-16 foot room. The 11-inch-wide nozzle is aided by a built-in scrub brush. A 10-foot hose and upholstery nozzle is included with the mid-range and high-end models. A bare floor attachment and accesory rack come with the top-of-the-line unit.

Retail prices range from $129 to $289, slightly higher than Regina’s low-end $99 model but in line with the $300 initial release price of the Big Green Clean Machine.

Pre-cleaning, bare floor and carpet liquids are being produced by Hoover for use in the machines. Hoover also offers consumers a toll-free help line. The number is printed on each machine’s UL plate, in the Steam Vac instructional booklet and on hang tags.

“If Hoover didn’t enter this market and our competition did with other canisters, there wouldn’t be explosive growth. Growth is going to come because of the style of the machine,” Girdlestone predicted. “I can truly see 40 to 50 percent market penetration and see tremendous growth–fast growth–as it gets there because Steam Vac takes it to a commodity as opposed to semi-commercial.”

He said he believes that the similarities between the 3-SKU Steam Vac line and upright vacuums, particularly in the ease of use, will enable consumers to purchase the extractor for quick pickups. They’ll become like a second vacuum; the typical upright will be used to pick up dry dirt while the Steam Vac will come out of the closet for spills and stains.

“We’re not trying to drive and create a business; it already exists,” said Donna House-Caryer, the new floor-care buyer for Macy’s East. “People find it such an inconvenience to rent cleaners and bring them home or to pay industrial cleaner. The price conversion is obvious.”

After a reportedly slow mass merchant launch of its wet/dry last fall, Hoover looked to a department store that would support the introduction of the extraction machine with advertisements and other promotions. Macy’s East was right there, primed from its successful post-infomercial rollout of Bissell’s Big Green Clean Machine.

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