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Business Operations

Here comes Mr. Clean

October 11, 2010
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First there was Wal-Mart. Then there was Sam’s Club, Costco, and The Home Depot. All coming in like lions, and for whatever reason, settling like lambs.

But now, the industry faces its first deep pocket opponent with a larger game plan. And the first company willing to tackle the full-serve carwash industry.

Earlier this year, Procter & Gamble started construction on its first test site near its headquarters in Cincinnati, OH. There in the company’s backyard, Mr. Clean Car Wash hopes to take a few trial runs on its training wheels before embarking on a national adventure.

But the success or failure of Mr. Clean Car Wash will likely matter more to the carwash industry than it ever will to Procter & Gamble. If Mr. Clean takes off across America, the industry will garner more consumer attention as our biggest competitors — home washers — become more educated about professional carwashing.

And even if Mr. Clean fails, it will at the very least serve as a lesson and a chapter in the history books for those who may follow. From small operators to larger chains, everyone has something to learn from this giant’s first baby steps.

What’s happening this year
As of press time, construction on the first Mr. Clean test site was still in the preliminary stages, “just pushing dirt” as Glenn Williams, spokesperson for the Mr. Clean Performance Car Wash brand explained, and laying concrete foundation. But soon after you read this article, Mr. Clean will be open for business, and P&G will hopefully have started construction on its second site in Evendale, OH.

This will be a learning year for the company as they balance consumer wants and needs with their pre-conceived notions. The first carwash test site in Deerfield Township, OH, calls for an 8,900-square-foot carwash and gift shop with a living-room-like waiting lounge equipped with a flat-screen television and wireless internet. According to Williams, the company hopes this “Starbucks” approach appeals to the area’s suburban population.

But Mr. Clean has yet to determine if customers will actually respond to the goodies. The first carwash will sit on 2.6 acres in a popular shopping center. This all comes in around $3.3 million, and with delayed construction due to a rainy season in Ohio, the price tag is likely to get larger.

Mr. Clean is also banking on the full-serve concept as a viable concept for a national chain. Originally, the company planned to build express exterior carwashes, which would seem more cost-effective, but P&G changed its mind.

In March, the company had to prove its carwash would be “attractive” to Evendale council members who were concerned it might degrade a new commercial development.

While P&G refuses to commit to a national roll-out plan, the company’s history gives some indication as to how it might unfold. As with other projects, it will likely involve a heavy marketing scheme and community involvement.

P&G spokesman Williams said there is no direction yet as to whether the company would take the concept into a franchised operation, into company-owned facilities or just brand the name, with independents buying P&G supplies and permission to use the Mr. Clean name and logo.

For their test sites, Mr. Clean is focusing on an upscale design catering to a busy clientele that appreciates finer touches.

What the industry is saying
While those parties involved in the project have remained quiet, (it’s rumored that SONNY’S will be their manufacturer of choice) others watching from the outskirts have plenty to say.

“I think most people in the industry have got kind of a wait and see attitude,” Mark Thorsby, executive director of the International Carwash Association (ICA), explained.

“Obviously, we know that Procter & Gamble brings a big reputation and a track record of success and a fairly sizable marketing budget with it,” Thorsby went on, “but I think it’s going to be like everything else in this industry: their ability to survive and succeed is going to depend upon their ability to execute. We know that conveyor carwashes are not the easiest businesses to execute.”

Thorsby said he believes the company will be a benefit to the industry, stating he thinks they’ll run a first-class operation in an ethical manner.

“I don’t believe they’re likely to be taking a whole lot of customers away from good carwash operators. I do believe that they’ll take customers away from bad carwash operators. And I think that, in the end, is good for the industry.”

Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® magazine. She can be reached at:

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