Cleaning up the competition

Appliance maker Miele has big (box) plans to topple rival Dyson in the battle for the best high-end vacuum


Miele, the German maker of high-end appliances, rolled out its first vacuum cleaner in 1927 and, in North America at least, has since been selling them mostly to discerning customers through specialty vacuum dealers—stores where a test-drive is encouraged (Miele’s most expensive vacuum model costs around $1,400). But this month the company is rolling out its cheapest-ever canister vacuum in Canada, the S2, which will sell for $399 at several big box retailers, including Sears, the Bay, Future Shop, Costco and Canadian Tire.

It’s the first volley in what is shaping up to be a high-end vacuum war—the kind not seen since the days when competing salesmen pounded on your front door trying to sell you on the latest and greatest. Miele is eyeing the mass-market success of British inventor Sir James Dyson’s bagless vacuums, which, despite their hefty price tags, have become bestsellers thanks to eye-catching designs, a unique marketing campaign that put Dyson front and centre, and, of course, its bagless “root cyclone” technology (and all of the suction-maintaining promises that come with it). But Markus Miele, the company’s managing director and great-grandson of company founder Carl Miele, warns consumers not to get sucked in by Dyson’s well-honed sales pitch. “With Dyson,” he says. “You still have to dispose of all that dust.”

By contrast, Miele’s German-engineered models have always come with disposable bags—a feature that the company claims makes them a better choice for health conscious consumers, and one it is not willing to part with just because bagless has recently become fashionable. Miele is also hoping the company’s family heritage, reputation for customer service and the fact that its vacuums are manufactured in Germany (Dyson vacuums are made in Malaysia) will also resonate with Canadian consumers.

But Miele will first have to convince Canadians of the desirability of canister-style vacuums, which are its specialty. Popular in continental Europe, canister vacuums are particularly capable on hard floors and make it easy to clean behind furniture or to do drapes. Miele is betting the S2, a canister, will appeal to affluent urban Canadians whose houses and condominiums are unlikely to be covered in wall-to-wall carpet, where upright vacuums like most of Dyson’s models are in their element.

Miele’s big-box retailer strategy is not without risk. “The big problem is that you can easily destroy the brand name if you go too down-market,” Miele says. As a result, the company says it will pay attention to the little things. Jan Heck, the president of Miele’s Canadian arm, says Miele vacuums will often be sold in their own display sections in stores and will come packaged in boxes with cutaways that allow shoppers to firmly grasp the vacuum’s handle so it can easily be carried to the parking lot.

And it’s not like Miele will be battling it out in the same price point as Eurekas and Dirt Devils. Although there are a handful of other expensive models out there, Heck says the average price of a vacuum cleaner sold in Canada is $150, which is less than half of the price of the S2. “It’s basically between us and Dyson,” Heck says. “And we’re here to educate people that the bagless vacuum isn’t good for you.”

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