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Byline: Gerry Beatty

LAS VEGAS-The express track on which floor care careens toward an uncertain future ran through the Vacuum and Sewing Dealers Associations Trade Show & Convention here.

Changes at leading manufacturers, Dyson's rise, growth in the premium segment and central vacs, shifts by historic door-to-door suppliers -- all were on display.

The recently appointed heads of Electrolux, Royal and Panasonic floor care made first appearances, as did an altered cast for Hoover. So did at least one vendor entering competition in the United States. Two Ningbo electric-appliance booths promoted Chinese factories.

VDTA's big event of the year is a unique place to see it all. It's the one show where virtually every supplier exhibits (Bosch, ProTeam and Karcher were seen in distributors' booths), and it's the place manufacturers get feedback from retailing's full-time pros.

More than most industries, there is a disconnect between the mass and premium markets in floor care. Other businesses maintain a continuum of product; but big chains and independent dealers in vacs usually don't even speak the same language.

Some vendors have dedicated lines or whole brands for vac shops. Many dealers actively sell against increasingly popular bagless machines.

"Manufacturers see a big polarization in the industry with big boxes and independents," observed Frank Scrofani, the former Sharp official who owns two Hillsborough Vacuum stores in New Jersey. "Where do manufacturers go" to keep profitable?

"I really see a renaissance occurring in the independent channel," he continued. " I believe the consumer wants to buy a good product and is willing to pay for it."

"People get an $89 vacuum cleaner at Target," said Dave Tremble of Door County Vacuums & Sewing Center in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When they come to him complaining about problems, he said, "I ask if Target has a service room in back." More than a few of those consumers are trading up.

Nevertheless, the independent channel is merely holding its own in the mid-single digits of market share. It's tough for a family store to outshout a Wal-Mart or Sears for a shopper's attention.

Much of the show chatter dealt with the rapidly changing landscape. Dyson is up, and something of a challenge to upscale dealers, though some carry the English brand. Hoover, with Tad Schimmelpfennig, vice president of customer development, on the scene, is attempting to right itself.

John Case at Electrolux and Paul D'Aloia at Royal presided over booths where professional brands Sanitaire and Royal, respectively, dominated. Royal also previewed some outdoor Dirt Devil machines. Panasonic's transfer of authority, from John Arganbright to Bill Soderberg, literally took place during the show.

For door-to-door, coping with consumers' fears to answer the bell and the occasional outright ban on such sales are forcing that segment of the industry to rethink its strategies. Kirby exhibited for the first time at VDTA, featuring a retail rack with all its chemicals in a 1-2-3-4 sequence for consumers to understand the cleaning process.

The Fuller Brush Co. is in its second year of a deal for the Blakeman's division at Tacony to distribute its formulations, and the first year of a license for Tacony to make and market Fuller vacs. Uprights, canisters and central systems include such features as natural bristles.

"We still have `door-to-door,' but it's not knocking on doors -- it's relationship selling," explained Dennis Brinly, Fuller's vice president of sales and marketing.

Earlex Inc., an English company, decided to sell distinctive products here: a convertible canister/shoulder-strap steam caddy, lightweight carpet shampooer, cordless stick vac with swivel head, hand vac, and cordless power sweeper with variable settings.

Caption(s): Left: Rick Farone toasts Royal's centennial. Right: Fuller Brush's Dennis Brinly, left, and Tacony's Eric Reinsfelder hail the success of their combined ventures.
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Title Annotation:Vacuum and Sewing Dealers Associations Trade Show & Convention
Comment:VDTA SHOW SHINES SPOTLIGHT ON INDUSTRY CHANGE.(Vacuum and Sewing Dealers Associations Trade Show & Convention)
Author:Beatty, Gerry
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 21, 2005
Previous Article:NEWS BRIEFS.

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