Innovation in vacuum cleaners : Dyson with 5127 prototypes and luxury positioning

According to the Costco Connection magazine Sir James Dyson did 5127 prototypes over 13 years before perfecting the DC 01 cyclone technology bag-less  vacuum cleaner which no retailer wanted to sell in Britain in 1993. So Dyson started selling its own vacuum cleaners and became the market leader in 18 months of introduction in Britain. In the USA since the launch in 2003 Dyson is the market leader in vacuum cleaners.

At about thrice the price of other storied vacuum cleaner brands Dyson vacuum cleaners are expensive. But if you hate  vacuuming with other vacuum cleaners you'll hate it a lot less if you use a Dyson vacuum. In fact, once you start vacuuming one room you might feel fairly animated and interested in the chore…. Dyson vacuum cleaners look fragile and are mostly made of plastic, but are surprisingly well engineered and do seem to hold their suction power based on  anecdotal consumer reports.

Five  questions about innovation arise from the Dyson vacuum cleaner success:

  1. Is identifying a real customer problem the key in innovation in mature markets like vacuum cleaners? Remember that all vacuum cleaners are supposed to suck dust out of the carpet and do so at varying degrees of (dis) satisfaction to the person doing the vacuuming. In other words, vacuum cleaners are not a category that has game changing innovations like in music from Sony Walkman Cassettes to Disc-man and iPod/MP3 players. This is a category where creating that "aha" moment for the customer  is difficult. Yet Dyson seems to have succeeded.
  2. Or is it the tenacity of the inventor Sir James Dyson who was ready to do 5127 prototypes to perfect the industrial cyclone technology for consumer scale vacuuming?
  3. Or is it the identification and bet on the cyclone technology and plastic materials? Focus on designing a plastic product that does not look cheap- a bit like a luxury car positioned at the top end of the market.
  4. Is it the very different user experience?  Ask someone who uses a Dyson vacuum cleaner. Customer loyalty might not be as much as the Apple Mac users, good words from customers is surprising for the category.
  5. Is it the customer word of mouth? The vacuum cleaner is used inside the house unlike the luxury car or upscale lawn mower that is seen outside the home. The word of mouth effect probably follows from the very positive customer experience above.

Perhaps all five ingredients help in creating and delivering a path breaking innovation and luxury positioning in a mundane category like vacuum cleaners. Contact Stratoserve.

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