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Stores upbeat on vacs; all signs point to 4th-quarter gains.

NEW YORK -- Floor care retailers are optimistic that sales this fourth quarter will top those of 1995; they say new products, heavy television advertising by vendors and higher-end vacs will drive the business through the end of the year.

A strong fourth quarter will finish off a growth year, despite a lull in the third quarter, according to vac buyers.

An East Coast mass merchant buyer commented that floor care has proven to be the chain's largest sales growth category in household appliances this year.

"Everything's up," the retailer said. "The biggest dollar increase is uprights -- which are up 50 percent. That is a trending category. Plus, we're devoting more advertising to it."

Consumers at this regional chain seem to be spending more per purchase, the buyer noted. The growth has been in the $129 to $269 price range for uprights, not $69 and $99 opening-price vacs, he added.

Roy Ragsdale, senior buyer at Incredible Universe, said the chain typically does well with mid- to higher-priced vacuum cleaners and pointed to strong sales with such models as the Hoover DirtFinder and Fantom's uprights.

Buyers said new products on the shelf, combined with the high exposure created by vendors' TV advertising, should help create momentum for the fourth quarter.

"In general, it's going to be the TV items from each of the manufacturers that are going to drive sales," said a floor care buyer from a Western regional chain.

"Floor care is positioned with some good items that weren't there last year, such as the Royal Broom Vac," said another floor care buyer at a large mass merchant. "Hoover has both Steam Vac Jr. and the Twist 'n Vac. Eureka has its new upright steam cleaner. Bissell is doing some things with the Little Green. Also, Royal has their new hand vac.

"There just seems to be a lot of items that weren't really there last year to help drive sales," the buyer said.

Merchants said extractors are the star category, and they expect new models and strong advertising support to take floor care to new heights in the fourth quarter.

"Basically, I think we're going to do well with extraction," said Jerry Schutz, housewares buyer at Pergament. "We've also purchased a great number of closeouts that are going to drive the business."

Ragsdale of Incredible Universe said he expects the fourth-quarter business to be up 5 to 10 percent over last year's, propelled solely by the burgeoning extractor business.

"Both Hoover and Eureka are putting a lot of advertising dollars behind the category," he said, "and by doing that, they're creating a lot of awareness. Whenever this happens, usually you see a nice improvement in sales in the particular category segment."

In contrast to an expected strong fourth quarter business, vac buyers said the third quarter was soft.

"I don't think there was much advertising from floor care vendors themselves," said the vac buyer for a large discounter. "It's sort of the lull before the storm" for consumer advertising, he said.

In addition, the buyer said slower retail business overall and lower foot traffic in September affected the category's third-quarter per-formance.

Ragsdale characterized third-quarter floor care business as flat, adding that extractor sales were increasing while uprights and canisters were declining "a little bit."

"The third quarter was probably the smallest increase we've had in several quarters," said the buyer at a Western discount chain.

Not all retailers gave the third quarter the thumbs down. Schutz of Pergament noted a 14 percent comp-store increase for the period. The growth came from "strong promotions and a lot of strong closeout buys."
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Title Annotation:vacuum cleaners
Author:Hill, Dawn
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Nov 25, 1996
Words:600
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