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Cleaning Up

Central Vac Systems Offer Profitable, Foot-in-the-Door Installation Opportunities

Those working in the central vacuuming business are the first to admit that their products may not be as glitzy as whole-house audio, home theater, or home automation. That, however, has not stopped these companies from making major in-roads in the home technology business and providing profit opportunities for their dealers.

The presence of central vacuum in the home is growing more and more, according to manufacturers of the technology, and many dealers are learning to build larger systems around an initial central vac sale.

Many clients want it, and if you install it and they trust you at that trade, then they will ask you to also install their speaker system or their home theater, and it expands from there, said Grant Olewiler, general manager at M.D. Manufacturing Inc., in Bakersfield, California. Very commonly, a $2,500 central vacuum system turns into a $50,000 home automation package.

The biggest challenge surrounding the sale of central vac systems is that few people actually enjoy doing housework. No one wants to do the cleaning. We are trying to come up with new ways to make it more attractiveespecially to the male population, Olewiler said.

In a survey conducted by M.D. Manufacturing, 81 percent of male respondents claimed that they vacuum more often, thanks to their central vac. While men may demonstrate a willingness to be useful around the house, Olewiler pointed out that doing the chores becomes much more enticing if it appeals to ones partiality to gadgets. A vacuum is a power tool. Having the ability to take a power tool and use it appeals to men.

Olewiler added that M.D. Manufacturing is currently developing additional features, such a device that integrates with the telephone system, enabling the vacuum to shut off automatically when the phone rings, and an alert system that notifies users via e-mail when the vacuum bag is almost full.

Manufacturers in general, such as Broan-NuTone LLC out of Hartford, Wisconsin, are all striving to offer quieter units with more powerful motors. The companys VX power units are equipped with an internal muffling system, noted Bob Hasty, the companys product manager. Its a consumer-driver feature, he said. Consumers are looking for quiet as one of the key product features they want in appliances. The unit can be mounted in the garage or the basement, and it does not require any kind of peripheral device to suppress the noise; its all self-contained.

Greg Calderone, floorcare general manager at H-P Products Inc. in Louisville, Ohio, attests that central vac doesnt require custom installers to enroll in lengthy product training courses to gain adequate product knowledge to sell these systems. One of the nice things about central vac systems is that there are not a lot of changes that happen from year to year, he said. Its relatively consistent; there are always new motors and benefits being introduced, but its not something that makes a leap in technology that requires a whole retooling. This is advantageous, he says, for dealers that are being pulled in a number of different directions.

While vacuuming systems may not advance as quickly as, say, networking or video technology, manufacturers are regularly introducing new products. Several manufacturers offer the Vac Pan automatic dustpan that installs at the base of a wall or the toe kick of a cabinet. The user simply sweeps debris to the front of the Vac Pan, presses a toe switch and the central vacuum system whisks the dirt away. Beam Industries recently introduced the SpinDuster, a feather-like dusting tool that becomes statically charged when plugged into a central vacuum inlet. The charge magnetically draws dust to the SpinDuster, making the tool ideal for cleaning collectibles, and other hard-to-clean surfaces. Other manufacturers are creating kitchen appliances that draw on the original central vacuum systems infrastructure, enabling homeowners to vacuum seal their food on their own.

You have this powerful product that is sitting in the garage, so why not come up with other ways to harness that and do other things with it? Olewiler mused.

Larry Hartley, marketing director for Beam Central Vacuum Systems in Webster City, Iowa, noted that home buyers are demanding more features and convenience that will contribute to elevating their overall lifestyle. Home buyers are looking for value in their homes, such as quality of life and indoor air quality in the home, he said. Beams central vacuum has been clinically proven to improve the air quality in the home and relieve allergies. When people see the combination of the cleaning power that it has and that it is going to completely remove all of the dirt and dust from the living area with no leakage back into the roomlike a traditional vacuum wouldthen it offers great value.

Hartley noted that, from his vantage point, an increasing number of custom installation companies are adopting central vacuum systems into their offerings. Central vacuum systems are a rapidly growing feature in new homes. Custom installation companies that want to succeed in the builder channel need to offer a complete product portfolio, including central vacuum systems, he said.

Just as important, Hartley continued, is providing an attractive, functional display to demonstrate the systems. This not only helps to boost sales toward homeowners, but homebuilders as well. We are seeing the integrator take more responsibility for merchandising the systemboth for builders and home buyers, he observed. There are good demonstration models set up in model homes or the retail floor. The most successful integrators are taking the steps in this direction by building quality showrooms, and they are doing a good job of pre-selling and merchandising with the builder.

According to Hasty, central vac provides a nice boost in profits for those who are already on the job site, conducting other installations. Central vacuums truly represent incremental profit opportunities, he said. They are already on the job, for instance, with a home theater installation or a music distribution installation. You are on the job site prior to the sheetrock stage, where you have full access to the skeleton of the home. In the process of installing these other devices and systems while you are there on the job site, taking a couple of extra hours to install the rough-in of a central vacuum system could mean an extra $500 to $1,500 of profit. Over a year that number becomes significant.

And, as the housing market continues to slow down, central vac is a practical feature that homebuilders are using to woo potential buyers. Before, builders could sell everything they were building; every time they were constructing something, there was a line-up of people trying to buy the home, Calderone said. Now, people have to work a little harder to sell these homes. Many builders, these days, are installing other amenities into their homes to help them differentiate themselves from their competitors. One of these features is central vac.

Carolyn Heinze ( is a freelance writer/editor.