Bringing Mr. Clean to the Car Wash

P&G Battles Zoning in Ohio, but Hoping for National Rollout

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- Liberty township, Ohio, has played a dirty trick on Mr. Clean.

Zoning problems in the township have thwarted Procter & Gamble Co.'s test of what could become a national launch of Mr. Clean-branded car washes-the latest in a series of line extensions that have doubled the brand's sales to $300 million. The company has been working with a real-estate developer who so far has been unable to get clearance for a Mr. Clean car wash near a suburban strip mall north of P&G's Cincinnati headquarters.

The car wash-industry site Professional Car Care Online (Carwash.com) reported that P&G also is working with a Florida equipment supplier for the automated car wash, citing an unnamed person in the industry who said P&G hopes to take the concept national.

If successful, Mr. Clean would have the first national chain among 100,000 car washes. A P&G spokeswoman declined to comment.

Though it's unclear what model P&G would use for Mr. Clean car washes, the company has generally steered clear of operating retail outlets or moving beyond its core business. The company, for example, expanded its Folgers coffee brands into single-cup coffee makers and convenience-store customized brew systems through licensing agreements with equipment manufacturers.

P&G began expanding Mr. Clean in 2001 into categories such as gloves, brooms, wet mops and other cleaning implements through licenses to Butler Home Products. Since 2003, Mr. Clean has expanded with its own products into cleaning pads with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, bathroom-cleaning tools with Mr. Clean Magic Reach, general floor-care kits with Mr. Clean refill products for P&G rival Clorox Co.'s ReadyMop and home car-wash kits with Mr. Clean AutoDry.

All told, those extensions have more than doubled Mr. Clean's sales to more than $300 million annually, though AutoDry-which allows cars to dry spot-free without towels-has slipped since its 2004 launch.

Though AutoDry logged more than $25 million in first-year sales, according to Information Resources Inc., the brand fell to $11.5 million in calendar 2005 and below $10 million in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 8. Those numbers don't include Wal-Mart Stores, club stores, automotive outlets or home-improvement outlets, which are also major outlets for AutoDry.

Expanding the Mr. Clean brand to commercial car washes could open a market beyond the car enthusiasts who were primary targets for AutoDry. But P&G will have to either persuade voters in Liberty Township, Ohio, to approve zoning for its first choice of sites or locate its car wash elsewhere.

The local government has turned down a requested zone change for the site. A referendum on the issue could go to voters as soon as May, but township trustees may try to stop the vote after some residents charged petition circulators falsely portrayed the issue.

Property owner Steve Miller said he contracted an outside law firm to gather signatures and has no reason to believe its circulators presented false information.
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