Tide and Mr. Clean: Just Soap?

Check Your Limited “Bandwidth”

Tide Dry CleanersIt’s over. You want to continue selling your brand simply as a product? Go ahead, and you’re dead. You didn’t learn from the game-changer of all times, Starbucks (SBUX), taking coffee out of a can and turning it into an experience? And, you’re dead twice if you still believe the only way to distribute it is through your forever loyal and supportive retail “partners.”

So, before your brand dies twice and slips into commodity land, competing on price in an oversaturated “share wars” marketplace, and assuming you didn’t learn anything from Starbucks, then I urge you to pay attention to recent activity at the greatest consumer brand company in the world, period: Proctor & Gamble (PG).

P&G is chock-full of brilliant visionaries who totally get it, in fact they practically invented it: the necessity to preemptively get to consumers through new distribution channels and, once there, to wrap them in an unforgettable branded experience.

Tide and Mr. Clean as Consumer Experiences?

Who would have “thunk” Tide Dry Cleaning shops and Mr. Clean Car Washes? FutureWorks, that’s who – an entrepreneurial division of P&G that looks for new growth opportunities in saturated markets (read: the U.S.) Its Vice President, Nathan Estruth, told The New York Times: “The power of our brands represents disruptive innovation in these industries.” Disruptive, indeed! If you have a brand as powerful as Tide or Mr. Clean, read on for “how to” instructions, because P&G might be disrupting the way everyone will be looking at brands from now on.

First out of FutureWorks was the Mr. Clean Car Wash concept. With sixteen franchises and growing, these crisp, immaculate, modern looking facilities are accented with the colors of the Mr. Clean logo. The iconic, arms-folded icon himself looms larger than life, high up on the front entrance wall.

And, if you key into their websites you’ll read how precisely positioned they are on brand “promise,” with copy as follows: “What began as America’s favorite name in household cleaning has grown into the gold standard in car care. Mr. Clean Car Wash gives you the brightest shine and the best experience possible. Our 5 Founding Proofs guarantee your satisfaction, while our friendly and experienced people do their best to give your car a showroom shine. It’s all about the clean. It’s all about the shine. It’s all about delighting you. Mr. Clean Car Wash. Let your love shine.™”

The five “Proofs” refer to heritage, proven results (the total clean description and it includes oil changes and lube jobs as well), dedicated people, comfort lounge (outfitted with WiFi, TV, coffee and toy water guns for kids to squirt cars going through the wash), and finally, responsibility (they recycle and filter the water). Sound like an experience? I think so.

Check out the adjacent photos. Both the car wash and the Tide Dry Cleaners almost look like destinations for a family outing.

Tide Dry Cleaners is the newest of FutureWorks’ endeavors. Ironically, the entire dry cleaning industry, at about $8 billion in total sales, is just one-tenth the size of P&G, suggesting P&G could simply acquire the industry in total. Now, that would be a new one. Perhaps Goldman Sachs could figure out how to pull that off.

Also of interest is the fact that attempts at capturing a dominant position in dry cleaning have been made before, including twice by P&G itself. Global consumer products giant Unilever took a shot about a decade ago, but found it could neither add value to the model, nor offer a lower price to consumers. My opinion: right strategy, poor execution. Another shot was taken by Autoweb.com, a car buyers’ site, who launched PurpleTie dry cleaners. However, not being able to offer more for less also killed these guys. Then, P&G introduced Dryel in the late 1990’s. It was to be an at home dry cleaning solution, but did not succeed. Then, they opened stores named Juvian in Atlanta that provided home pickup and delivery of laundry and dry cleaning but met with little success.

The Robin ReportDid the mighty P&G miss the fact that it was making the classic Marketing 101 gaffe? Dryel and Juvian were totally unknown brands. They were trying the costly and difficult route of starting from scratch, while sitting on the most powerful “clean” brand in the world? Well, I guess they have now figured that out.

So, Tide Dry Cleaners has four franchise locations, but plans a rapid expansion, since their pilot store outside of Kansas City generated over $1 million in annual sales in its first year, about four times the industry average. And, while they are price competitive, they do provide more benefits and a more pleasant experience than the average dry cleaning establishment.

The Tide-logoed prototype facility is roomier than a typical dry cleaning store, with about 3000 square feet. It has an air purifying system that pulls out the odors and heat usually associated with dry cleaners, so it’s cool and smells like Tide. And, if you don’t know that fresh, home-spun aroma then you’ve been living on another planet. It’s also “Green,” since they use environment-friendly silicone-based solvents in the dry cleaning process, enhanced with the Tide fragrance. Of course, laundry is also done on the premises.

There are about 15 employees per store all crisply outfitted in Tide golf shirts. And there is a 24-hour drive-through and pick up service, with personal lockers for use during off-hours. And, if one joins Tide’s Inner Circle Rewards program, the exclusive promotions, coupons, cash back rewards and all kinds of other benefits are endless.

It’s All About a Brand ’s Positioning, What about Yours?

Both the Tide and Mr. Clean brands are all about, well, clean. That’s clearly a no-brainer. So, how hard is it to imagine those brands of packaged “soaps” moving from supermarket shelves and becoming a 360-degree wrap-around experience as car washes and dry cleaners? With other skill bases that can be acquired, this is about as natural a brand extension and growth strategy as I can imagine. So was Starbucks’ extension into the “third place” experience.

How about your brand?

Has anybody seen a Nike (NKE) Health and Fitness Club?

I haven’t. Should Ralph Lauren extend his brand into the hotel business? It’s been speculated he may acquire the American Hotel in the Hamptons’ town of Sag Harbor.

Why not hotels? His brand is not just about apparel or other products. It’s about his vision of a Gatsby-like world of sophisticated elegance that, frankly, can embrace any product or service that fits that brand persona.

Expand your thinking and your vision. Open them to worlds of new opportunity and growth that may be right smack in the middle of your brand’s DNA.

Unlock its greater value. Give it a life. Create a branded experience.

Robin Lewis About Robin Lewis

Robin Lewis has over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries. He has held executive positions at DuPont, VF Corporation, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), and Goldman Sachs, among others, and has consulted for dozens of retail, consumer products and other companies. In addition to his role as CEO and Editorial Director of The Robin Report, he is a professor at the Graduate School of Professional Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology.