By Andrea Lillo
Even in this economy, houses need to be cleaned, but both retailers and consumers are more careful about how they are spending their money now.
Vendors of cleaning products find business is stable in the niches where they operate, though they also bring new brands to market and enter new channels of distribution for growth.
Business is steady now, said Bruce Kaminstein, president of Casabella, but “the problem is that retailers don’t want to go to trend.” Specialty stores are the exception, and want to add color to the category, but other retailers do not. “Retailers are reluctant to put in product that’s a little different,” however, that’s what consumers want, he said.
Kaminstein has also seen people pay more in the cleaning area, as he has not seen lower-priced products doing better than more expensive items. “On the contrary, products with better design, more function and which are more expensive do better in certain retailers,” he said.
At Butler, however, after a few years of having more fashion-oriented product, the opposite is true. “We see a return to more basics,” said Michael Silverman, vice president of marketing. “Based on the economy, we see a change toward more basic, understated, value-oriented product,” he said.
As “people tend to retreat in this economy,” Silverman continued, the company plays up the strengths of its brands, which include Mr. Clean and the newly launched Dawn, which is dish- and sink-focused. Silverman also mentioned that value-oriented retailers such as dollar stores are “gaining momentum.” For the International Home & Housewares Show in March, it plans to introduce products aimed at distribution channels outside of its core such as specialty hardware and home decor, he added.
Casabella is also trying to expand its distribution channel into grocery stores. “We think that will be big for 2009,” Kaminstein said.
Fashion and value are the qualities consumers want now, said Joseph Van Houten, president of ARG Manufacturing, with an emphasis on value. “Consumers are looking for not just the least-expensive price, but they want to know the money they are spending is worth it.” The company’s The Accidental Housewife line will ship in the first quarter, and targets department and specialty stores, though Van Houten added it is working with grocery chains that are higher-end or have locations in good markets.
Van Houten did add that he has seen some resistance at the higher end for his $39.99 spray mop that he didn’t see a year ago, which happens “after you get over a certain [price-point] threshold.”
Once a hot area, disposable cleaning products have taken a hit in this economy, Silverman said. If consumers are at the grocery store and have to choose between bread and a disposable cleaning product, they’re going to go with the bread, he said. “Consumers are conscious of the dollars they are spending,” he said.
“People are looking at how they spend money,” Van Houten added, and don’t want to go through rolls of paper towels all of the time. ARG’s line includes microfiber towels, which can be thrown into the washing machine and used multiple times.
Leifheit’s disposable line has now dropped to one item from where it was years ago, said Elke Roehrig, vice president. “Half of our consumers have turned environmentally friendly,” she said, and are turning away from disposables to use products that last longer.
Because “people come in different sizes,” Leifheit is incorporating its stick goods with collapsible poles, for ease of storage and shipping, she said. At Ambiente, the company will debut a click system that includes a stick good with the ability to switch out the attachments to get a sponge mop, a squeeze mop and others.
And though people talk about the green movement, and Butler has used recycled materials for years, Silverman believes it’s not really a factor in the category, but more for cleaning chemicals, as consumers want to make sure they are not using toxins or petroleum-based materials.