The Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association

The Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association has decided to implement a hang-tag system on vacuums, which would describe the various features of each product and then assign a rating to those features.

At its annual meeting, attended by a record number of vendors, one of the chief topics was the controversial standardized power level ratings.

Hoover, Eureka, Royal, Regina, Kirby, Electrolux and other companies attended the meeting, and provided input on the tagging issue. Finalization of the system should be completed by next year.

Earlier this year, Hoover implemented its own rating system for its uprights. President Brian Girdlestone said the company has not yet decided about implementing the VCMA tags. “We’re trying to stay on top of our own system,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll start using the VCMA tags.”

According to Dave Evans, a member of the executive committee of the association and senior vice president of sales and marketing at Hoover, the VCMA has been struggling for quite some time to devise a method of standardizing the cleaning power of a vacuum. Right now, there is no “product format” for comparing different products, Evans said.

“Some manufacturers rely on amps to describe the power of a unit, others use horsepower, and those measurements really have nothing to do with the cleanability of the product,” Evans explained. “Every manufacturer is running off in different directions, and consumers are confused.”

To settle the dispute, manufacturers at the VCMA meeting decided to develop a uniform tagging system for the vacuums, which would list the various features of competing products in the same language.  best upright vacuum reviews

Evans said the finer details have not been settled, but the tag will list the various features of each vacuum, with a rating system for each features. The ratings will range from one to ten points.

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“This is something we’ve been working on for about a year,” said Regina president and VCMA president David Jones, “it’s not completely settled yet, but it’s going to be a good step for the industry.”

The VCMA has included a variety of cleaning issues, including the weight of the cleaner, the bag capacity, maximum cleaning distance from the outlet, sound level, and other features. Carpet cleaning ability on embedded dirt and surface litter, ease of moving the nozzle back and forth, ability to clean bare floors, and the durability of the motors.

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The ratings will be assigned from members of the VCMA, and outside consumer interest groups, such as the Good Housekeeping Institute and others. Although use of the tag will be voluntary, no substitutions, deletions, or additions are allowed on the tag, and no company logos will be permitted, the group agreed.

Cliff Wood, executive secretary of the association, said the tagging system will be a great improvement in the industry, because consumers will have a “common measuring system” when purchasing a vacuum.

“We’ve been working on it a long time. I think a unified fact tag is rather advanced for such a small industry,” he said.

The tags should be ready early next year. Although implementation is voluntary, and Wood thinks the program will start out gradually, he said he expects it will eventually become successful. “Once a major company starts to use the tags, the other vendors will also.”

Retailer response has been somewhat mixed. Ron Pastore of Alladin Vacs in Long Island, said specialty stores will probably not have much use for the tagging system. “I don’t think this will be beneficial to any independent vac dealer,” he said, “Customers in a small store want a lot of sales help. They want to actually use the product before they buy it.”

“Also, I don’t think you can generalize across the board with vacuum cleaners” he added. “And if you do, I think you’ll end up confusing customers.”

Vacuum cleaner sales set third quarter record

including several in common — have cooperated for years on matters of mutual interest to both industries. However, some of AHAM’s members initiated the development, said Joe McGuire, president. The board changed the bylaws to permit the addition, and “established a long-term plan” for standards and regulatory work this year and a “full range of trade association services thereafter.”

McGuire said several of his member companies “requested services related to technical product standards similar to those we currently provide to members of our Major and Portable Appliance divisions. The synergies among vacuum cleaner manufacturers and our current membership, including our Supplier Division [of product components] are great.”
Two years after a convulsive transfer from Chicago with a new staff, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers convened its Annual Member Meeting here in an unusually harmonious mood.

Internal commonality of purpose and some favorable external conditions left participants smiling despite the usual array of problems and issues. “I have not seen all the divisions — Majors, Portables and Suppliers — so united,” observed Kent Baker, Maytag Appliances’ vice president of strategic business development, after AHAM’s board meeting a week ago concluded the event.

Rebellious talk by Portables members is ancient history. Balanced representation and budget-sharing, along with a strategic plan, have smoothed over differences. In addition, “we found some excellent common issues on which to work together,” said Wayne Morris, the vice president who heads the Portable Appliance Division.

Leading the list of these universal subjects was growing interest in the networked home and in business-to-business electronic commerce. There was also interdivisional talk about certification for efficient air cleaners, and the desire to expand the Web site.

If there was one word to describe the aims of this meeting, it was “standardization.” The idea is to agree on a common approach to interconnected appliances, B2B e-commerce and international regulations. The latter was advanced on the eve of the member meeting by the first universal forum of AHAM’s sister associations from around the globe.

A Smart Appliance session dealt with AHAM’s search to determine the association’s role in setting standards. Gwen Wisler, president and chief executive officer of Sunbeam’s Thalia Products, said commonality was essential because “the retailer is going to force it. No one brand is going to dominate.”

Thalia found consumers want relief from repetitive tasks. Wisler reiterated that Thalia’s strategy is first to license Sunbeam products and then any appliance with low data transmission for connection.

Of course, any AHAM convention is dominated by government relations. For the first time, the group’s Political Action Committee conducted an open raffle as a fund-raiser. For the first time, more than a dozen executives met with members of Congress or staffers on Capitol Hill.

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Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, delivered a nonpartisan analysis expressing some surprise at the administration’s initial strategy. As loser in the popular vote, George W. Bush and his team might have tried to build a consensus from the center out, he said. “But looking at the experience of his father the center has collapsed,” Mann said.

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Instead, the Republicans are acting as if they won a landslide.

“That’s just breathtakingly bold” because a right-center coalition without even talking to the Democratic leadership may not be sustainable, Mann said.

He said he was surprised the administration picked fights on issues it didn’t need to pick, such as the environment. “It now seems the theological conservatives are gaining the upper hand over the market-based conservatives,” he noted. Such a development would affect the appliance industry, with its market orientation and negotiated agreements on energy standards. But Mann qualified his assessment by noting he expects that the policy-makers “will back off and adapt.”

One policy-maker is Rob McNally, special assistant to the president for national economic policy. He spoke in place of the secretary of energy, unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts.

In the context of the energy issues the administration has raised, some of them controversial, McNally’s maiden public speech was off the record. He did say he expected the president to unveil a comprehensive energy policy this spring that will include conservation.

Mary Gall, vice chairman and the lone Republican on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, praised AHAM representatives “for the terrific job they do” on behalf of the association and for promoting safety.

AHAM, Vac Makers Continue Talks

The longtime quiet courtship between the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association became a public affair a week ago. Both parties remain the model of discretion.

Austin Vacuum Cleaner Gilbert takes down-home approach to business

A family operation in business since 1951, Austin Vac hires “home-grown” people, not college graduates; handles its own television ads; and finds out everything possible about its customers’ home and lifestyle before selling them a vacuum cleaner.

“We don’t try to be anything we’re not, and the customer appreciates us for it,” Gilbert says.

At the same time, Gilbert goes after the vac business with a vengeance, constantly looking to the next venture that will keep his operation as successful as it can be.

“You have to keep changing or you’ll just die,” he says. “Every so often the business reaches a plateau. When we see the grass, we have to do something else.”

Austin Vac currently consists of three stores–13,000 square feet, 4,000 square feet, and 3,000 square feet, plus a 10,000-square-foot warehouse facility. There are also plans to open a fourth store within the next year or two. Each unit has 201 different vacuum cleaners, representing all major brands. A janitorial supply section is also included in each store that covers the gamut in cleaning supplies, from floor polishes to glass cleaners. upright bagless vacuum cleaner

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It’s no wonder Austin Vac is such a dominant force in its community, representing 40 percent of all the floor care business in the Austin metropolitan area, according to Gilbert.

Company sales will exceed more than 3 million this year, Gilbert said, adding that about 30 percent of that business will come from the janitorial supply products.

Superior customer service and superior quality are the backbone of Austin Vac’s success. The company strives to offer the absolute best–the best product lines, the best repair services, even the best floor polish. (“Nothing is watered down,” Gilbert says about the polish. “You pay a little more, but you put that wax on your floor and it lasts.”)

In helping customers select a vacuum cleaner, Gilbert says, “We work very closely with people. We ask them where they live, what kind of home they have, if they have pets or children. This eliminates a whole lot of mistakes (in selecting the right vac).”

Austin Vac’s top-selling unit is Royal’s metal upright, which Gilbert describes as “the best one made in the industry.” Austin’s business with Royal is so good, in fact, that the store is among the top 10 Royal dealers in the nation. The second selling unit is Panasonic, followed by Eureka.

“We are slowly getting away from selling as many of the major brands as we did in the past because they’re everywhere; there’s no profit in them anymore,” Gilbert says. Instead, he explained that he focuses on companies like Oreck, Royal, Panasonic and Simplicity, and on upscale models from companies like Hoover and Eureka.

Gilbert doesn’t believe in having price tags marked on his vacs because “the price marked isn’t always the price that the customer pays.” Like most vac shops, Austin Vac will match the sales price of its competitors.

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Advertising is another important vehicle behind Austin Vac’s success. Gilbert is a firm believer in promoting his business through television, radio and full-page newspaper ads. He writes all his own television scripts and sometimes appears on local talk shows.

Gilbert, however, doesn’t take all the credit for Austin Vac’s success. He attributes a lot of it to his father-in-law, Bill Ebert, who founded the company, and to his 25 employees.

See more: Best quarter ever for full-sized vacuum

Gilbert joined the business in 1959, a time when door-to-door vac cleaner salesmen dominated the market, and vac shops weren’t yet a major factor in the business. By developing niches like in-store service and repair work, the business steadily grew over the years.

Austin Vac’s three store managers have each been with the company for about 15 years. Gilbert’s family is also actively involved in the business–his two sons, Kenneth and William, and his wife, Margie.

Austin Vac’s balance between personalized service and sophisticated business techniques can be seen in the way Gilbert computerized the stores. “Fifteen years ago I decided to modernize our system. I computerized everything but the cash register because I didn’t want customer to be greeted at the door by a machine,” he says. “That one-on-one with the customer is the most important thing. When a customer buys a machine, we carry it out to the car for them. You don’t get that kind of service anymore.”

Best quarter ever for full-sized vacuum

The Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association is turning over its management to a professional organization for the first time in its 88 years of existence. Members voted here at VCMA’s annual meeting last week to retain Cleveland-based Thomas Associates, effective Jan. 1. Thomas, which is said to run day-to-day operations at numerous associations, already handles the vac makers’ statistical program and has begun working on the next annual meeting, said Bud Kirkpatrick, VCMA’s new president.

He said his members wanted the group to be more proactive on some issues facing the industry and with other organizations, just as some of its key leaders were aging.

“It’s just backup and bench strength,” he said. “It’ll help bring to us what other associations are doing. We will aggressively go after new members.”


There are currently about 20 enrolled companies among dozens of manufacturers in the industry. Trade associations usually speak about strength in numbers when dealing with government agencies and private institutions.

The board will continue to set policy, and Thomas will execute its wishes, he added.

Chuck Stockinger, Thomas Associates president, was away last week and could not be contacted.

Participants in the annual meeting voted to establish a standing committee on air quality with Hoover’s Dave Gault as its chairman. Plans to change the statistical program are under consideration and will be analyzed at VCMA’s February meeting.

Kirkpatrick, president of H-P Products, which makes central vac systems, succeeded Mike Merriman, Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co.’s president and chief executive officer, as VCMA’s head. Other officers elected to two-year terms were John Arganbright, Panasonic Home and Commercial Products Co., as vice president, and Joe Nazm, HMI Industries, as treasurer. Cliff Wood, the association’s longtime executive vice president, will become a consultant.


The annual meeting, which originally was scheduled to be held in New Orleans beginning Sept. 14, was postponed after the terrorist attacks. VCMA’s board usually convenes once or twice more during the year. When the September event was abandoned, the 2002 annual meeting was quickly scheduled for New Orleans.
After a two-year hiatus, Royal Appliance Co., the $280 million manufacturer of Dirt Devil brand vacuum cleaner products, is set to return to membership in the Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association
The vac maker was scheduled to send three executives to VCMA’s Jan. 31 meeting and was planning to report its January 1996 figures for inclusion in the VCMA’s monthly report of industry vacuum cleaner shipments.

“An association like the VCMA plays a valuable role in setting standards for engineering matters and for helping our industry speak with one voice to the government and consumers,” said Jim Holcomb, Royal’s vice president of marketing. “It’s tough when the number-three company is a non-participant in the association. From our perspective we’re claiming our rightful place as one of the leaders within the floor care industry.”

Royal is currently the third largest supplier of vacuum cleaners in the U.S. market behind Hoover and Eureka. Under former chief executive John Balch, Royal resigned its membership effective January of 1994. At the time, no reason was given for the resignation, however, according to Holcomb, “my understanding is that the old management did not want to report,” its shipments.

Makers say smaller units, greater distribution

Manufacturers, while optimistic, says the explosive growth that many predicted last year will not be realized unless the industry steps up consumer education.

“Last year there was a lot of enthusiasm over how fast this category would grow,” said Bennett Rubin, vice president, marketing and sales of Genie. “The category is not growing as fast as everybody anticipated, but there is enormous growth potential. We as an industry need to step up consumer education.”

While the VCMA (Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association) does not track the category, industry sources place the deep cleaning market at approximately $180 million in sales with an excess of 1.4 million units annually.

Bissell, considered to be the industry leader, recently completed a promotion of its new, smaller CM machine with Kmart. Bissell markets five deep cleaning units ranging in price points from $99.95 to $299.

Dennis Dorn, senior buyer at Kmart, said the promotion met sales projections. “We did very well with it. These lower priced, smaller units are ideal for emergency clean ups, and that’s the appeal they hold for consumers.”

Introduced this year, the CM unit was promoted in Kmart at $99.95, considered to be a benchmark price point in floor care. Dave Merten, product manager at Bissell, is pleased with the unit’s initial outing, but “we’re expecting a much better second half as we step-up advertising and consumer education efforts.”


In department store accounts, deep cleaners perform well because salespeople can take more time to explain the products. In self-service mass merchant channels, sales are starting to pick up as consumers become more familiar with the units, but growth is still slow, said Merten.

Merten said catalog showrooms are also helping to educate consumers. Showrooms, he said, are “giving more exposure to the units in catalogs and are doing a better job of explaining what the units do.”

See more: Some say featured uprights in direct competition

Dorn said advertising and consumer education drive the category: “The key to this category is advertising that explains the cost-saving benefits of owning a machine over renting a machine.”

Rubin from Genie agreed. “We have to show the benefits of owning a machine over renting or having a professional service come in. Professional services are expensive, but consumers are using them, because they want someone to blame if anything gets damaged,” he said.

Genie markets two deep cleaning units and two conversion kits for wet dry vacuums. The two deep cleaning units include the SH600, a 6-gallon carpet shampooing machine and the SH859 and 8-gallon total floor care system. The SH859 can be used for carpet shampooing or as a wet dry vacuum.

Another obstacle to growth in the category, notes Dorn, is the lack of commitment by major floor care players. “Eureka is the only major player out there with any units,” he said.

Eureka’s four-way Home Cleaning System cleans both wet and dry spills, as well as upholstery and carpets. Shampoo attachments include a 50-foot water hose, faucet hardware adapter set, pistol grip handle and carpet shampooing and upholstery nozzles. The unit also has an eight-piece wet dry attachment set.

Dorn said he is pleased to see Regina recommitting to the category: “Regina’s new units and the heavy promotion behind them will create a lot of excitement.” Regina has redesigned its upright deep cleaning machines this year to address perceived quality problems. The units are expected to hit retail shelves this fall.

“Consumer research showed a number of perceived deficiencies with out former product,” said Mark Normyle, Regina’s director of marketing. “We’ve widened the wheel stance and struts as well as put on larger wheels. We also put a more ergonomic and stronger handle on the units.”

Regina’s redesigned deep carpet cleaning line includes three models, the Steemer, Steemer Plus and the Streemer Ultra. The units retail between $89.99, $119.99 and $169.99 respectuvely. In addition to upgrading its Steemer units, Regina has also improved its three cleaning formulas, said Normyle.

Department stores see vacuum growth

Although department stores command only about 10 percent of all vacuum sales, many see the chance to expand their vac business in 1991 as mainstream suppliers step up efforts to woo that channel.

Department-store buyers contacted by HFD say increased vendor competition has translated to more products and programs targeted toward their needs. This, in turn, has made it easier for department stores to compete with mass merchants, who are still the dominant channel for the category with about 26 percent of the business.

Bruce Frizen, buyer at Atlanta-based Rich’s, said his business is up significantly this year. “I see the floor-care category as strong and getting stronger,” Frizen said.

“We’re planning for a flat year with small increases,” said a buyer from another Southern department store chain. “From what I’ve heard about other channels, department stores have obviously benefited during the [recent economic] downswing.”

Buyers say four factors necessary for driving successful vacuum cleaner sales in department stores are: differentiated features, adequate price points, sufficient margins, and, as with all upscale products, commitment to in-store demonstrations.

Department store buyers mentioned such lines as Royal’s Signature Series, Hoover’s Legacy and Eureka’s Boss Plus and Ultra-Boss as being the kinds of highly featured products that do especially well in upscale stores.

A buyer from a department-store chain in the Mid-Atlantic States acknowledged that Royal’s new product features had turned his business around in recent months. “Royal has really been positioning themselves for the department stores,” he said. “Our February was a lot stronger, and a lot of that was due to Royal.”

Jenny Fischback, national sales manager for Royal, said, “We made a concerted effort to differentiate every product by category of trade. Our Signature Series offers department stores upgraded features, a nice margin and they’re protected from competition from mass merchants.”

Royal’s Signature Series is a complete upscale line of vacs targeted specifically toward department stores and mail-order catalogs. The line shipped in March. It includes a hand vac, broom vac, canister vac and an upright in distinctive black with soft cloth bags in either black or gray marble tones. The Model 7300 upright has a 7.5 amp motor, 35-foot power cord, power edger, headlight and a full set of on-board cleaning attachments.

Frizen from Rich’s also said he has incorporated some items from the Signature line into his product mix, but it was “still too early to see any results as yet.”

Buyers have an eye on highly-featured uprights when it comes to driving the category. The hot buttons for uprights this year are above-the-floor cleaning and on-board tools.

See more: Some say featured uprights in direct competition

“Canister sales have always been overrated,” said a senior buyer at a Midwestern department-store chain. “The Legacy from Hoover is doing well for us. I suspect a lot of the reason is because of the tool attachments.”

Introduced last year, Hoover’s lightweight Legacy line has four SKUs with suggested retail price-points ranging from $229.95 to $279.95. All models feature a top tool-connection for above-the-floor cleaning. A 5-piece cleaning tool set is included with each model.

While not designed specifically for the department-store trade, Hoover’s Legacy concept proved so successful for the company that it introduced a new upright line at the Housewares Show, Elite II. These cleaners incorporate attached tools with easy top tool-connection.

“The attached tool feature is nothing new to Hoover,” said Brian Girdlestone, president of Hoover North America. “Our engineers developed the feature in the 1930s, but consumers have only recently come to appreciate its advantages.”

A spokesperson for Hoover said extensions to both new upright lines would be coming in the near future, but no other details were available at press time.

Also showing a knowledge of department stores’ special requirements are those vendors that are working to raise margins and price points.

For example, Eureka’s Boss, Ultra-Boss and Boss Plus are getting rave reviews from buyers, who say the success of the Boss line is due in large part to its offering value and hitting the right pricepoints.

According to Dan Whitney, assistant buyer at Jordan Marsh, the Boss provided a bright spot in an otherwise off year. “The Ultra-Boss is also doing well–it’s a nice step-up,” he said.

Rich’s Frizen said, “We’ve been doing real well with the Boss and all its brothers.” He attributes this to a raise in his benchmark pricepoint from $100 to $129. “And now we’re starting to see some results from the Boss Plus,” he added.

Some say featured uprights in direct competition

Uprights with attached tools for above-the-floor cleaning may be beginning to take a toll on the canister market, but not everyone is convinced that canisters will suffer as the new uprights gain ground.

At present, some retailers say they are taking a serious look at reducing the number of canister SKUs in their product mix, while others say canisters are stable and attached-tool uprights simply represent a new floor care category.

Hoover, Royal and Regina offer uprights with attached tools. The leading players in canisters include Ryobi Motor Products, Hoover, Eureka and Electrolux.

“The canister market is declining,” said Dennis Dorn, senior vac and electrics buyer at Kmart. “These new uprights offer the features that canisters traditionally offered.”

“Our market share (in canisters) increased in 1990,” said Dorn. “[The new uprights] are causing us to rethink our mix — we’ll probably cut some canisters.” Even if he cuts the number of SKUs in canisters, however, Dorn said he thinks it represents a viable market segment.

Dorn noted that high-ticket canisters with power nozzles are still selling at the mass merchant channel and door-to-door. “Canisters still clean bare floors better than any upright,” he said.

A buyer from a major West Coast department store chain, requesting anonymity, said the new uprights are bumping canisters off the floor. “I used to carry three canisters, now I only carry one,” the buyer said.

“The Legacy from Hoover is dominating our sales,” the buyer added. “It captured the market because it’s a well manufactured product. It has features that consumers normally find in a canister.

But Ed Saleeba, vacuum cleaner buyer for Henderson, N.C.-based Rose’s, expressed a different viewpoint. “I think the manufacturers have created another segment as opposed to eliminating one,” he said. “I don’t see any cannibalization of the canister market. It will always be there.”

“I will say this, these new uprights have made floor care stronger this year where it might have otherwise been weak,” Saleeba added.

“We’re pleased with the sales of canister-style vacuums,” said Perry Chlan, spokesperson for Sears. “But we see a growing trend toward the upright styles.”

Cliff Wood, executive secretary for the Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association, observed: “There has been more publicity and activity in uprights, but canisters are still alive and well.”

While Wood could not give sales figures, he did say that canisters, “have not fluctuated upward or downward as much as uprights. They are a steady seller.”

Vendors agree that canisters represent a steady segment, but some say the excitement of the new above-the-floor cleaning uprights will bite into canister business.

“There is no doubt these new uprights will impact the canister market,” said Bob Riddell, vice president of marketing at Hoover.

Riding on the success of its upper-moderate-priced Legacy line, Hoover recently introduced Elite II, a line of uprights with above-the-floor cleaning at more competitive price points ranging between $89.95 and $159.95.

“The one major advantage of canisters has always been that they clean above the floor,” said Riddell. “Now uprights are beginning to attack that.”

Riddell added that full-sized canisters, while affected by the newer uprights, will remain a profitable segment. “In particular, our upper-end Spectrum canisters are doing well,” he said. “The wand-storage capability and triple-filter system are features that consumers are looking for in canisters.”