Manufacturers See Growth Potential in Central Vacuum Cleaning Systems

Manufacturers see growth potential in central vacuum cleaning systems

For years, the market for central vacuum cleaning systems has been small and fragmented, hovering between 250,000 and 300,000 units a year–a drop in the bucket compared to the overall 10-million-unit annual vacuum cleaner business.

But that may soon be about to change. Manufacturers such as Hoover and Whirlpool have entered the business for central cleaning systems, which place the vacuum motor–and its noise– far away from where the cleaning is done. These companies are drawn to the business by the high price points–central systems sell for between $800 and $1,200– and what they see as some very inviting expansion prospects.


“Central vacuum cleaning systems are very definitely a growth market,’ said Dave Evans, vice president of marketing at Hoover, which introduced two central systems in May. “We think the market will grow to a one-million-unit business within five years.’

Hoover has marketed central-vac systems in Canada for three years, and now has 25 percent of that market, according to Evans. Hoover is now looking to win a 10 percent share of the U.S. market by year’s end–and is projecting a 25 to 30 percent share within five years.

“Central systems are going to capture a larger percentage of the business,’ commented John Geehring, general manager of floor care products for Whirlpool, which began marketing central systems a little more than a year ago. “We estimate the market is 175,000 to 250,000 units right now, and see slow but steady growth over the next five years.’

Although more than half of all central vacs currently being sold are going into new construction, Hoover and Whirlpool both think much of the future growth will take place at retail. Dealers, say both companies, can effectively sell central systems if they take the time to explain the category and direct the buyer to a professional installer.

Other manufacturers may also be taking a closer look at central systems. Electrolux has reportedly indicated it may move into this category, and, according to industry reports, Eureka is said to be studying the market. Gil Dorsey, Eureka’s vice president of marketing, said the company routinely evaluates all parts of the business, but that there’s been no decision to focus on central systems.

In contrast to regular self-contained upright or canister vacs, the heart of a central cleaning system is a motor unit installed in an out-of-the-way place like the basement or garage. Lengths of plastic piping running through the walls (above-ceiling or under-floor installations are also possible) connect the power plant to as many as five or six wall inlets; the user simply plugs the hose-and-nozzle cleaning unit into any inlet.

“One big advantage of central systems is the quietness–the motor’s far away from where you’re cleaning,’ said Evans. “The system gets all the dirt out of the house, into the garage. And because the central power unit is larger, the suction can be twice as powerful as a good canister unit.’

Another plus is that because the dirt container–located at the bottom of the power unit–is large, it may only need to be emptied once a year. Both the Hoover and Whirlpool systems use highly effective “cyclonic’ dirt-separation systems.

Hoover is marketing its two systems, the 400 and the deluxe 550, through major department stores, do-it-yourself operations like home centers or lumber supply houses, and small independent vac dealers. But JC Penney has just signed on to carry the central system in all its large stores that carry major appliances, and Evans said The May Co. department stores are “very interested’ in the vacs.

“The salesman really has to explain central vacs to the consumer,’ said Evans. The company is well set up in this aspect, with its factory sales force already in place in many department stores. But Hoover’s ace in the hole will be installation: Its 85 factory service centers across the country are all equipped to handle central vac installation. Typical installation cost is about $200.

Hoover’s central system is being marketed essentially as a component system, with the power units, plastic piping, and accessory kits –including the nozzle and attachments all available separately. The most expensive system, combining the 550 power unit (list price: $559), the deluxe accessory pack ($319) and the wall-inlet installation kit ($79.95), carries a package price of about $899. The entire standard system should sell for $599, Evans said.

The highlight of Hoover’s deluxe 550 system is a stainless steel air power unit, incorporating twin 900-watt motors, that delivers 520 air power units (a measure of performance). “The stainless steel tank should last 20 or 30 years,’ Evans noted. There’s an 8-gallon dirt receptacle and a dual filtration system for optimal dirt removal.

The basic model 400 (with a $359 list price) system is built with a steel tank, a single 1000-watt motor, and delivers 400 air power units; it incorporates a 6-gallon dirt receptacle.

Hoover’s deluxe accessory package features a lighted Powermatic nozzle with its four-way Quadraflex agitator; a remote control grip atop the handle activates the distant power unit. The deluxe pack, including a 30-foot hose and many attchments, carries a $319 suggested retail price.

The standard accessory pack, with an air turbine nozzle, 25 feet of hose, and fewer attachments, has a $219 list price.

Like Hoover, Whirlpool is marketing a basic and a step-up system. Distribution is through independent vacuum cleaner retailers, said Geehring, adding, “The unit itself is no more complex a regular vacuum cleaner. What complicates things is the installation.’ For buyers who don’t want to do it themselves, some retailers are installing the system, while others refer buyers to professional installers.

The basic Whirlpool system, FB 7700, lists for $550. The power unit includes a 2.5-horsepower motor with two-stage blower and a half-bushel dust capacity; the system also includes a 25-foot hose and many cleaning attachments.

The step-up unit, model FB 9900, upgrades the buyer to a power unit with a 2.8-horsepower motor and one-bushel dust capacity. A power nozzle is also included, along with the same attachments as on the 7700. List price is $700.

Photo: Dave Evans, Hoover

Photo: In central cleaning system, the nozzle and hose attachment plugs into a wall inlet; the motor is in a separate location.

Photo: Hoover’s two central cleaning systems shown in retail display mount.

Photo: “Slow but steady’ growth for central vacs is predicted by John Geehring, Whirlpool’s general manager for floor care products.

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