Fantom launches may help revive canisters vacuum

Despite a near decade-long decline, canister vacuum cleaners may be poised to rebound.

With the pending introduction of two units, one by Bissell and one by Fantom, the category should get a boost from the advertising muscle that the two players will use to gain shelf space. Add to that a widespread shift to hardwood and tile flooring, which makes uprights a less attractive alterna- tive, and the category could escape its position near the bottom of the floor care heap.

“It has been a flat category historically,” said Jim Krzeminski, vice presi- dent of marketing at Bissell, whose Bissell Butler will be introduced in the U.S. at the upcoming January housewares show.

“But it’s a real nice steady business. We feel it’s important for us to par- ticipate in the segment as we become more of a full-line floor care supplier.”

Canisters is one of the few untapped floor care segments for the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based vac maker. Last year the company purchased the Singer floor care business from Ryobi Motor Products, giving it instant, albeit limited, share in the upright segment. The company, which has been the leader in the extractor business, previously had expanded into the hand and stick vac seg- ments on its own.

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The unit has not yet been budgeted for the kind of ad support Bissell has given its core extractor business. However, Krzeminski noted, it will air on QVC. He added, “We will do some advertising. We’re just taking it one step at a time.”

For Fantom Technologies, based in Toronto, the move into canisters is an opportunity to expand the applications for its patented cyclonic action tech- nology. Fantom captured consumers’ attention and retailers’ shelf space with two cyclonic action uprights, which it promoted with infomercials. The company will follow the same path with the Fantom Lightning Canister Vacuum.

Fantom will break both long and short spots for its canister the first week of January and will air on the Home Shopping Network prior to the holidays. “It should be pretty much a simultaneous rollout to retail,” said Linda Watson, vice president of marketing. “We expect product to begin filling the pipeline in early January and we’ll build production throughout February and March.”

See more: The lowdown on canister vacuums

The two new canisters enter at opposite ends of the price spectrum. The Bis- sell Butler, which is a straight suction machine with automatic cord reel and a full-bag indicator, is priced to retail for $99. The Fantom Lightning, like its upright predecessors, targets the upper end of mass merchant assortments with a suggested retail of $329 and a likely promotional price of $299.

Like most high-end cans, the unit has a power nozzle for cleaning carpets with multiple height settings. The unit also has a “stair hugger” feature, accord- ing to Watson, that allows it to stand upright and effectively wrap around two steps, preventing the vacuum from tipping over on stairs.

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Overall, the canister segment has been moribund by most accounts.

According to Trendata, a market research firm, in the four most recent quarters, the category has accounted for less than 1 percent of vacuum cleaner sales.

In the third quarter of 1996, canisters grabbed a 0.41 share; that grew to 0.44 for the fourth quarter of 1996, dropped to 0.40 in the first quarter of 1997 and dipped again in the second quarter to 0.36.

“This isn’t anything new,” said Lou Pappalardo, founder of Trendata. “It’s been going on since the 1980s. With the exception of Sears, nobody really does much with cans.”

“I think the business has flattened out. It’s hit bottom.” said Jerry Lauer, vice president of sales at Hoover. “The business should grow some with the popularity of hard- surface flooring, and there is still a very loyal consumer for canisters. But I don’t think it will come back to the level of the ’60s.”

The canister segment that appears to be strongest is compacts. According to John Hoppe, vice president of marketing at Eureka, the Mighty Mite compact canister is among the company’s best-selling units.

“Our straight air canister business has never been better,” said Hoppe, adding that Mighty Mite advertising and its new design are helping introduce the seg- ment to a new generation of consumers.