Look, No Hands! K-C's Bathroom of the Future

Marketer Does Deep Dive Into Consumers Washroom Habits

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Marketers have been doing some of their best thinking not necessarily on the toilet but certainly about the toilet, and all the gadgetry nearby and related to it. The jury's still out on whether people are fully ready for the Brave New Bathroom, but the innovations just keep coming.
Richard Thorne, director of the washroom business at K-C, demonstrates the JRT Electronic Coreless.
Richard Thorne, director of the washroom business at K-C, demonstrates the JRT Electronic Coreless. Credit: Gene Blythe

No less a mind than Richard Dyson has focused on the automated hand-drying experience, launching late last year Dyson Airblade, which shoots air at 400 miles per hour to dry hands completely in 10 to 12 seconds. That same year, Kimberly-Clark Corp. introduced the Hand Hygiene Voice Module -- an automatic disembodied voice in public bathrooms that reminds people to wash their hands. And now, also from K-C, comes the JRT Electronic Coreless automatic toilet-paper dispenser.

Yes, you read that right. This is the holy grail of public-restroom cleanliness--touch-less operation--combined with a stinginess that will warm hearts ranging from purchasing executives to Sheryl Crow, proponent of the infamous one-square-per-sitting.

Less T.P.
Besides no longer having to touch a fixture used by hundreds of other people who've previously used a stall, users of the JRT also consume 20% less toilet paper, said Richard Thorne, director of the North American washroom business for Kimberly-Clark Professional.

This is no idle boast. In K-C's test bathroom, the motion-activated dispenser reduced "per event" usage from 143 linear inches to 110, Mr. Thorne said.

Ms. Crow may have been widely ridiculed for her one-square standard, but Americans do have room to improve, according to Mr. Thorne, a Brit who has studied these things on both sides of the Atlantic.

The world is made up of three types of people -- scrunchers, folders and wrappers (around the entire hand) of toilet paper. The U.S., besides such affronts to global environmental sensibilities as rejection of the Kyoto Accords, is also made up disproportionately of scrunchers, who use a lot more toilet paper "per event" than folders.

Conciousness-raising
The JRT can't change that habit, which apparently gets embedded during toilet training. Nor does it imperiously limit how many times it will spit out a new round of paper (in increments ranging from 16 to 24 inches). But it does still cut down on usage, he said, perhaps by making people more conscious of the amount they're using.

The unit also uses coreless tissue rolls, he noted, cutting down on transportation, storage and material costs.

Of course, the real consumer appeal is not having to touch the toilet-paper roll used by so many others. K-C research shows people very much like the automated faucets, soap dispensers and toilet flushers found in modern public restrooms.

"There's a very strong desire and emerging mega-trend toward people wanting touch-less hygiene in all these various forms," Mr. Thorne said.

Hygiene reminders
But there are limits to people's embrace of the Brave New Bathroom. Mr. Thorne said sales of the Hand Hygiene Voice Module -- which gave an automatic disembodied reminder to bathroom users to wash their hands -- hasn't met expectations. Apparently, it seemed more like George Orwell than Aldous Huxley. "It reminded some people of Big Brother," he said.

Mr. Thorne still hopes people will see the light on the Voice Module but believes the automated toilet-paper dispenser holds more potential. It may use fewer sheets, but Mr. Thorne said he believes that will be balanced by improving Kimberly-Clark's share of the $1 billion away-from-home toilet-paper market.

K-C is backing the JRT with e-mail and business-to-business advertising, plus publicity efforts by Kapnek Communications, Philadelphia. The brand has put out feelers to producers of CBS's "Late Night with David Letterman," NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and USA Networks' "Monk" in hopes of eliciting a joke or two. And Mr. Thorne is also hoping for help from a certain reality star who's also a noted real-estate developer and microphobe.

"Donald Trump owns millions of square feet of office space in America and around the world," Mr. Thorne said. "Perhaps he would be in a position to put this in all his buildings."
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