The Henry series of vacuum cleaners, also known as ‘Henry Hoover’ or ‘Henry the Hoover’, was developed by the Camberley, Surrey headquartered Numatic International. Note that even though it’s known as the Henry Hoover, there’s no connection between this series of vacuum cleaners and the iconic American vacuum cleaner manufacturer Hoover.
Chris Duncan founded Numatic International in 1969. He is the one who developed the iconic canister shape of the Henry Hoover vacuum. The ‘smiley face’ concept is the other distinguishing feature of this vacuum. This canister vacuum, with a human-like face, was invented in 1979. However, at the time, the name Henry wasn’t associated with it. In 1981, the name Henry was added to the cap of the vacuum, which looks quite similar to a bowler hat, for the first time and remains there till date.
Speaking about the reason behind humanising the vacuum cleaner, Duncan said that Henry Hoover was initially meant for use in hospitals and schools. Those entrusted with the cleaning would usually work either early in the morning or late in the evening/night. An anthropomorphic vacuum made it possible for them to almost think of Henry Hoover as a friend.
At a superficial level, there have been little to no changes to the Henry Hoover. However, internally it has undergone several changes, and many different versions now exist. Models including a focus on being eco-friendly, a special version for pet owners and a cordless version have been introduced. Looks like the company is currently working on more interesting variations, including one that’s designed specifically to tackle dust allergies.
By the Numbers
As of 2016, Numatic International was selling an estimated 20,000 Henry the Hoover vacuums per week. About 46% of the products made by Numatic, including the Henry Hoover vacuums, are exported. While a total of 10 million vacuums in this series had been made and released till then. This was up from 7 million Henry Hoover vacuums manufactured and released till 2010. According to Duncan, the reason why this series of vacuums have remained popular and continue to sell is that they are easy to use, they are affordable and crucially they evolved from commercial cleaners that are typically more robust than domestic vacuums.
In 2010, the company was producing 4,500 units every day at its Chard, Somerset manufacturing facility. While the motors used in the vacuums were primarily produced in Mexico, by an American company, creation of the plastic moulds, cutting, bending and shaping of the steel and various other parts of the machines were manufactured at Somerset facility.
Commitment to Manufacturing in the UK
Unlike its competitors Dyson, which is also a well-known British home appliances maker, Numatic manufactures and assembles all the vacuum cleaners at its production facility in Chard. Dyson moved production to Malaysia and Singapore to save money and increase investment in research and development, but Numatic has refused to make a similar move to protect the quality of its products. The company believes that the build quality of the Henry Hoover series is one of its main attractions and in-house production is the ideal way to protect that.
Their production facility has undergone several expansions over the years and the company continues to invest in it. Duncan believes that’s the reason the company has been able to continue production in the United Kingdom. He doesn’t plan to change that anytime soon. Continuous investment with growth as the focus has fostered a level of satisfaction and ownership among the people working for Numatic, which has further enabled the company to stay put in the country.
It’s worth noting that this focus on quality has proved to be both an advantage and a disadvantage for Numatic. The company is especially known for providing spare parts for its vacuum cleaners, irrespective of how old they might be. In fact, they have the technical know-how to retrofit a motor in old Henry models as well.
About Numatic International
Numatic was initially based in Crewkerne, Somerset and manufactured industrial cleaners. The beginning was humble, to say the least. In fact, the initial vacuum cleaners the company designed were literally cobbled together using a variety of components. The main body of the cleaner was made from oil drums, while suitcase handles were adapted into carrier handles and furniture castors became the wheels of the cleaner. The idea was to create a simple yet reliable cleaner for industrial usage.
The production facility was shifted to Yeovil, which is also in Somerset, in 1971. At this facility, the company produced its first set of proper commercial vacuums – NV-2 and NV-250. Interestingly, the company still manufactures and supplies parts for these vacuum cleaners. A few years later, in 1974, Numatic set up its first proper factory in Beaminster, Dorset. This was where the Henry Hoover vacuums were developed and made as well.
Between 1974 and 1990, Numatic sourced the metal and plastic components used in the vacuums from various subcontractors and assembled the products. In 1990, the company set up an in-house tube manipulation facility to have greater autonomy over manufacturing. At the same time, it was also expanded its production facility by setting up the facility in Chard, Somerset, which remains its primary facility till date.
Over the years, Numatic has established subsidiary production facilities in other parts to Europe and the world to specifically support overseas expansion, including Paris, France and Johannesburg, South Africa in 1995, Germany in 2002 and Netherlands in 2004.
Numatic also runs an apprenticeship scheme to develop skilled designers and engineers. On an average, two or three people from the apprenticeship scheme join Numatic as full-time employees every year. In all over 40 people working at the company have come through this training program.
As part of the scheme, the technicians are paid a minimum of £235 per week during the first year. In addition, they continue studying at college, for which the fees, books that are required for the course and the transportation cost to and from the college is taken care of by the company. The pay is increased as they gain experience and become better at their jobs.