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Behind the Scenes: Bissell Homecare Inc.

Posted: November 9, 2010, 5:30 p.m., EDT

Authentic to the Core

Cleaning and caring go hand in hand for the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company when it comes to the pet industry.

By Michael Ventre

Bissell cleanerAfter 135 years, Bissell still has a squeaky clean record. After all, it’s a vacuum cleaner company, and if its products didn’t remove dirt, stains, odors and other problems from the household, it probably might be time for Bissell to get into another business.

The good news is that Bissell has gotten into another business—the pet specialty area, under its Pawsitively Clean banner—while still maintaining the success and integrity of its longstanding vacuum brand.

“Being a company with so many pet lovers, it’s a natural fit,” said Sue Potter, pet category manager for Bissell Homecare Inc.

Bissell Homecare Inc.
Location: Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., with locations worldwide
Owners: The Bissell family
Years in Business: 134
Areas of Distribution/Business: Bissell products are available globally. Pawsitively Clean by Bissell products are currently only available in the U.S.
Company Mission:  We are dedicated to making Bissell the customer’s first choice for home cleaning products worldwide.
Product/Business Categories: Floor-care appliances and cleaning products
Product/Business Lines:  Vacuums, sweepers, deep-cleaning machines, bare floor cleaners and cleaning formulas. For pet specialty stores, Bissell has created a line of products called Pawsitively Clean by Bissell.
Instead of simply sucking up nasty substances with its machines, it has also spread goodwill in the area of pet adoption and rescue. The family-owned company based in Grand Rapids, Mich., now under fourth-generation leadership, segued from a carpet sweeper to vacuums to eliminating pet problems on the rug to making sure pets find a home.

“Unfortunately a lot of pets are returned to shelters because of behavior issues, having accidents in the house,” Potter said. “There are so many products, and we feel we can help with the cleaning aspect.”

Bissell began offering pet-specific cleaning products in 2005, and then launched its Pawsitively Clean brand in 2009. Pawsitively Clean products are broken down into three categories: icky messes (with products like “yecch” drool cleaner and “dang!” oxygen-activated stain and odor remover); hairy situations (pet hair and pet grooming supplies); and smelly encounters (“pew!” odor eliminator).

Bissell takes the position with its goofy product names that cleaning up after pets should be fun. This isn’t always obvious to the scowling pet owner when confronted by the latest creation of a dog or cat.

“I love my dog,” Potter said. “Making a mess is part of having a dog. So why not laugh about it.”

Bissell has also combined its expertise in its core area of vacuums to expand into deep cleaning machines and formulas. Do you know those rental vacuums offered at supermarkets that you can take home and use to clean your carpets? That’s amateur hour. Bissell is offering one to stores under its Pawsitively Clean brand that’s heavy-duty.

“We came up with a program for a commercial-grade deep cleaner that we provide to retail stores,” said Chris Kalish, sales manager for Bissell. “We bring a rack to stores with three machines and chemicals. It’s very similar to Rug Doctor, except ours is a better cleaning machine [and cleans] in half the time.
“It’s a whole new avenue for revenue, and also it’s a destination for consumers at pet stores instead of grocery stores,” he continued. “It’s brand new. We just showed it at SuperZoo in September and we’re finally in position to take orders on it.”

Although Bissell’s name is etched in the American cleaning psyche, there is always effort required when rolling out new items.

“We’ve got our work to do communicating to consumers why this is a better machine,” Kalish said. “The Bissell name lends immediately credibility. On the trade side, not too many people at tradeshows weren’t excited. It requires very little investment. It’s mostly our investment.”

As Bissell gets the word out about its products in retail stores across North America (with expansion plans for many other countries for its pet line), it also has become more involved in pet rescue and adoption. Cleaning and adoption are kissing cousins in the pet world, even if it isn’t always immediately apparent.

Bissell dogs“A national opinion poll found that 38 percent of households said they would be likely to add a pet to their homes if cleaning up after them was easier,” Potter said. “That’s a huge number in terms of how to get pets out of shelters. We can help find a solution.”

Bissell was one of the original sponsors of Petfinder, Potter said. The company also works with the North Shore Animal League and local Humane Societies, providing financial support, bringing samples and offering advice on cleaning, she said. Bissell also employs a pet lifestyle expert to give tips on taking care of animals, and works with Lost Pet USA, Potter added.

“At our facilities, we have kennels if people have to go into meetings and need a place for their pets to play,” Potter said. “We also have an outdoor play area. We’re expanding our efforts, and our goal is to get other companies to do things like that as well.”

Again, it’s not surprising that a brand like Bissell that has thrived for 135 years has done so because its reputation is spotless—other than the mistakes made by Fido or Muffin here and there. Kalish said the company mantra, even after all those years, remains one word: “authenticity.”

Bissell dogs“It helps us out there talking to the public,” he said. “We believe in adoption, and we talk about adoption. We’re a company, and at the end of the day we’re there to sell product. But we’re authentic from the top down. We’re not just marketing services and products. (Rescue and adoption) is something we’re passionate about.”

To that end, Bissell puts actual mugs of rescued dogs and cats on its Pawsitively Clean product labels.

“Consumers relate more to authentic products,” Kalish said. “We stopped using stock photos, jpegs of animals that anybody can use for free. We go out and look for adopted pets to use on our packaging. That way they can become lifelong family members.” <HOME>


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