The selling points are obvious. Among the most compelling are healthier air, improved cleaning power, convenience and versatility, increased home value and prolonged life of carpeting, drapes and furniture. These factors, coupled with the fact that installers are providing ample power and user-friendly equipment, are earning central vacuum systems a solid reputation these days.
Cyclone Home Systems, Berlin, Conn., started as a central vacuum manufacturing company and has been riding the wave for four decades. Today, central vac accounts for $2 million (about 30 percent) of the company’s total annual sales.
Katie Quinn, assistant vice president, credits Bob Mariano, president and CEO, for taking Cyclone to a new level when he took over in the early 1990s. “He made a serious effort to satisfy the needs of the builders, and now the bulk of Cyclone’s work is done primarily through them,” she reveals. “We currently have numerous projects across the state.
“We try to meet with the homeowner directly and invite them into our showrooms to see all their options,” Quinn points out. “And many builders provide package options, so the homeowner can choose a package that’s right for them from an options list.”
The new construction market has proved lucrative for Cyclone, which has approximately 10 outside sales representatives dedicated solely to the new home market.
“We also aggressively pursue existing home customers and advertise on the radio, television and in magazines,” Quinn adds. “We’re also present at every regional home show and recently began a direct mail campaign targeted to new homeowners. We also receive a lot of business through word-of-mouth referrals.”
Cyclone does all its own installations, from central vac to security systems, surround sound and even closet shelving and shower doors. The company employs 26 full-time installers, approximately eight of whom install only central vacs.
“Knowing we send quality technicians out on every job lets us focus more closely on customer service and attention to detail, including product demonstrations, and of course, cleaning up when the job is done,” Quinn notes. “Surprisingly, those details can be hard to find and provide added value to the customer.”
Quinn sees a definite rise in consumer interest for central vac systems and credits home shows as a great place to educate homeowners on their benefits.
“People attending home shows are usually interested in updating the features of their existing homes or are building a new one,” she observes. “They’re a captive audience.
“Most people think installing a central vac system is a huge project, that they’ll need to tear walls down, and it will cost them thousands of dollars,” Quinn reports. “They’re always surprised when we quote them an accurate cost (usually around $1,200) and tell them it takes just one day to install.”
CONSUMERS GETTING MORE EDUCATEDAs consumers become more educated, central vacs are becoming more attractive to them. Frank Potoczale, president and owner of Secure Technologies, Allentown, Pa., epitomizes why adding central vacs can be a smart business move.
“It’s a value-added service to the mix of services we offer,” he explains. “We started with security and surveillance systems, and then the builders we work with came to us and said, ‘You’re already in our houses, why can’t you do central vac or audio?’ It was a natural migration for us, and now accounts for about 15-20 percent of our annual business.”
Secure Technologies obtains approximately 80 percent of its work through new construction and uses model homes with its builders for most of its sales.
The remaining 20 percent of its customers typically are sold in the company’s showroom where presentations are held. “A good demonstration conveys to them the benefits of central vac in the home,” Potoczale emphasizes. “They base their decision on the knowledge we give them and actually putting the equipment in their hands.”
The health benefits of central vac are an important part of the sales presentation. Many people suffer from sinus and eye allergies, and central vacuum systems can mitigate those because it removes the dust mites from the home’s living areas and puts them into a canister in the basement or garage.
Potoczale also stresses pets in his presentations. “It’s an amazing tool for getting all the hair out of the carpet,” he reports. “You can actually brush your pet with the pet brush on the vac!”
A large portion of Secure Technologies’ customers are first-time homebuyers. During presentations, Potoczale tells them that central vacuums, when installed properly, can provide three to five times better suction and deeper cleaning.
For those customers who have had central vacuums before and were not pleased with them, Potoczale probes to find out why. It usually comes down to a few key factors, he maintains.
“Number one, the system was underpowered for the size of the home,” he reports. “Two, the layout of the ports in the house was inadequate, and they couldn’t reach every part of the house.”
The layout of the ports is extremely important, he emphasizes. As a bonus, he gives customers a port in their garage so they can vacuum their cars or workbenches. It is just an added touch of convenience, as are the vacuum pans many people elect to put into their kitchen islands and master baths that allow dust and particles to be kick-swept away.
Potoczale encourages customers to use all the attachments to maximize their benefits and offers a lifetime warranty on his company’s installations. In eight years, no one has asked for his or her money back.
Although it is a smart add-on, installing central vacuum systems is not rocket science, Potoczale asserts. “Look at the products,” he advises. “Bring some units into your facility and try them out. Pick a product with a track record, because you don’t want to have problems with a central vac system, especially when you’ve assured customers that it will improve their air quality.”
Because the cost difference between the most high-end products and standard ones is only a few hundred dollars, Potoczale recommends going with the best. His prices for an average home usually run between $1,299 and $1,999.
Potoczale also stresses the importance of having a good installer who knows what he is doing. “Send them to training, because you don’t want to practice on clients’ homes and have to deal with follow-up service,” he recommends. “You want to sell them accessories, like bags and hose socks. The margins on central vacs are about 45 to 50 percent, based on your market. And like everything else you do, make sure you give the customers value.”
DONâ€™T COMPETE ON PRICEOne of the primary focuses of Eagle Sentry, Las Vegas, when selling central vacuum systems is stressing how it removes dirt from the home in a way that conventional vacuums cannot.
“Given all the clean air studies that are coming out, central vac is going to become much more mainstream in coming years,” notes Greg Simmons, Eagle’s vice president. “We work with many custom and production builders and always encourage them to put a central vac into every house they build as a selling feature.”
Eagle Sentry, with about 90 people on staff, has done some large-scale jobs, such as the central vacuum system for the Gallery of Fine Art at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Keeping dust off priceless paintings is a big task, and Eagle Sentry completed the install in a matter of a few days.
“Once you’re in the house doing all the other low voltage services, it just makes sense to offer central vac,” Simmons asserts. “You’re working in the house when the walls are open, and it’s a natural complement for a low voltage installer. You can take the rough installation technician and cross train guys who do other things like security or intercom or AV systems and train them on how to properly install central vac systems.”
John VanDruff echoes that sentiment. As president and owner of Electronic Essentials Inc., Vancouver, Wash., he advises wholeheartedly, “If you want to do a quality central vac install, send your staff to the Vacuum Dealer’s Trade Association (VDTA) to learn how.”
Electronic Essentials has been integrating state-of-the-art audio/video and other electronic technologies into new and existing construction since 1993. Central vac has been a mainstay for VanDruff, and he knows exactly why.
“Customer satisfaction is extremely high, providing you put in a proper machine for the square footage of the house,” he says. “It’s better to have high performance than not enough. Central vacs are basically service and trouble free, other than minor equipment repairs periodically.”
As low voltage contractors, Electronic Essentials’ technicians are licensed electrical contractors who install security, CCTV, phone and intercom systems.
Pricing the typical cost of his installs at $1,795 (for four valves, a vac pan, a two-motor power unit and an attachment set), VanDruff advises dealers not to be overly price-conscious.
“You have to be competitive with the product you sell, but if someone sells an inferior product at a lower price point, it makes no difference to us,” he maintains. “We explain to our customers the benefits and value of our system and why it’s a good value at that price point. If you sell quality and value, you will endure.”