Road Trip: H-P Products Central Vac Behind the Scenes

Behind the scenes at a vacuum manufacturer might sound like a noisy place to be, but H-P Products has their work down to a quick, even quiet, science. Marketing manager Amy Wesley and operations manager Neal Yoder took our products editor on a tour of the facility in North Canton, Ohio to see how the appliances are made.

H-P has three central vac systems for various applications: The 3-inch-wide Vroom that can tuck under a kitchen cabinet or mount on the wall or overhead in a garage; the in-wall Spot vac for cleaning in small areas like laundry rooms; and the whole-house Hide-a-Hose system, which most closely fits homeowner's visions of how a central vac looks and operates.

Behind the wall, central vac systems generally comprise a vacuum motor and canister unit, usually mounted in a garage or basement, and a system of hoses that run to inlets in various places in the home. And no, central vac isn't just for new construction. H-P says its installers use techniques that allow them to run hoses through and between joists to maximize installation efficiency and minimize any impact to the structure. A retrofit installation usually takes about a day. A Hide-A-Hose system with one 50-foot hose can clean about 1,800 square feet with pricing as low as $1,200 to $1,500 plus installation. The price would rise from there with additional inlets for larger homes, such as one upstairs and one downstairs for two-story homes.

If $1,500 still seems pricey,  H-P marketing manager Amy Wesley notes the cost of high-end portable alternatives. "Central vac systems have about three to five times the power of a portable vacuum, so even a Dyson can't offer the same vacuuming power that an installed system can." she says. The "best" portable vacuums on the market (with Dyson generally recognized as a top performer) cost $500 to $600 for top-of-the-line models. Buy two of those in your lifetime - or even more of lower-priced models that call for more frequent replacement - and you've already spent the equivalent of a small central vac system.

Other, smaller systems like the Spot or Vroom systems have slightly different installation set-ups and will cost slightly less.

Operations manager Neal Yoder oversees the day-to-day activities of the H-P's North Canton, Ohio facility with 25 production team members and 5 support staff. Shift work means a smaller complement are in the building at any given time. And you won't find those team members in the same place on an assembly line every day.

"Everyone is heavily cross-trained here for a lot of reasons," Yoder says. "Depending on which components we need for the day's orders, we can have one person in  a [production area], multiple people, or we can shut it down altogether. Cross-training lets us send our people where we need them. They don't get bored, it helps prevent carpal tunnel from repetitive movements, and we can call in someone to substitute for an employee on vacation or out sick."

Cross-training goes hand-in-hand with work experience. A full 50% of H-P's tenured workforce has been with the company 10 years or more.

With its hard-working staff, Yoder says H-P operates a supplier-managed inventory (SMI) system whereby suppliers deliver raw materials or components for vacuums to H-P, whose staff accepts delivery by way of scanning a supplier tag on the shipping label. Yoder says H-P likes to keep a six-week backstock of materials on-hand, and suppliers are dialed into how the inventory is moving based on the scanning history. Workers carry netbooks with them to scan product as needed.

For daily production, Yoder uses a kanban system to account for and prioritize incoming orders. The vast majority of Vroom, Spot, and Hide-A-Hose components, including the Vacuflo vacuum at the heart of the systems, are made in the USA. Three of H-P's four canister designs are made in the North Canton facility, and only the motors are made overseas.

Fun Fact: After each H-P vacuum is assembled and tested, workers carefully place product information labels on the unit - except for the registration stickers which are slapped on haphazardly. The company says consumers are more likely to remove an awkwardly positioned sticker, and if they take the registration sticker off, they're more likely to complete the product registration process. Very clever.

When packing dozens of different parts and pieces to meet customer orders, workers pay special attention to detail.  "A lot of our employees have been here so long that they're really familiar with our customers and their regular orders," Yoder says. "If Judi goes down the packing list for one of our long-time customers and notices that they didn't specify a certain item for a kit, she'll make sure to bring it to our attention so we can reach out to that customer and make sure they know we're looking out for them."

Running a 5-day-a-week production schedule , H-P likes to keep a 2-week backstock of completed systems ready to go out. In addition to the standard product line, Yoder says special requests are welcome. "Our dealers don't necessarily have to order from a prescribed group of kits," Yoder says. "If there's a certain set of components they want in kits for their customers, we'll make it for them."

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