Cleaning products: Mops' niche attracting a crowd

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To improve cost efficiency, package-goods marketers increasingly target new products toward narrow segments. But the fast-growing "bucketless mop" business has had such broad appeal that rivals Clorox Co. and Procter & Gamble Co. find themselves throwing some of that caution to the wind.

"We're doing pretty much mass-marketing because mops are used in the majority of homes, and the majority of people would like to mop in half the time," says Chris Vickers, marketing director for Clorox ReadyMop, which like P&G's Swiffer WetJet, eliminates much of the mess, elbow grease and heavy lifting of floor cleaning materials-benefits certainly perceived by most as broadly based.

Budgets have been bigger than usual for household cleaning. P&G has spent about $25 million in media alone on the motorized WetJet since its August launch. The pump-operated ReadyMop has a $35 million marketing budget that includes TV spots, "demo-mercials" and paid product placement on ABC-TV's "The View." S.C. Johnson & Son's aerosol-power Pledge Grab-It Go Mop will get $8 million in marketing support this fall and Reckitt Benckiser's Lysol Floor Wipes, usable by hand or mop, got network TV support when it entered the market in first quarter 2002. Collectively, the emerging segment is still rooted in the "old-fashioned" cleaning tools, mops and brooms market by Information Resources Inc., valued at $443.4 million at the end of first quarter 2002. The category was valued at $420.3 million at yearend 2001.

ReadyMop may have been a relative latecomer to bucketless mops, following WetJet in the U.S. by months, but it still took the market by storm.

ReadyMop's lower retail price of $25 vs. $50 originally for WetJet helped it win distribution in food and drug stores that WetJet lacked. ReadyMop, launched in January, had sales of $19.5 million through March 24, according to IRI. WetJet, with limited distribution in the IRI-tracked channels, had sales of less than $1 million. IRI scanner data don't include Wal-Mart Stores, or club or home improvement stores.

P&G cut prices twice this year to achieve price parity with ReadyMop, helping WetJet gain wider distribution in recent weeks and reclaim, along with its non-motorized cousin Swiffer Wet, overall share leadership in the wet mopping segment.

Following WetJet's price cut, P&G's share of the cleaning tools and mops category rose to 20.9% in the four weeks ended May 19, up 2.8 points from the previous four weeks, according to IRI figures reported by Alliance Capital Management's Sanford C. Bernstein unit, as Clorox's share fell 2.4 points to 12.7%.

Rivalry has been intense partly because every $25 mop is likely to yield hundreds of dollars in sales of replacement pads and cleaning solution. And since each mop has a proprietary design, replacements aren't necessarily interchangeable or easily copied by private label. P&G and Clorox say replacement supply sales are ahead of expectations.

"There are still a lot of interested skeptics who haven't come into the category," says Maurice Coffey, brand manager of P&G's WetJet. "It's still early in the life cycle of quick cleaning."

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