Procter & Gamble goes nationwide with its Tide laundry service

Tide Cleaners will roll out to 2,000 locations and target millennials and Gen Z'ers who don't like doing laundry

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Tide is going after urban millennial and Gen Z consumers—who often have little love or capacity for doing laundry—by expanding its pickup-and-delivery laundry service nationally and making one of the biggest direct-to-consumer plays ever for a Procter & Gamble Co. brand.

Tide plans to double pickup locations to more than 2,000 nationally by next year after having run its wash-dry-and-fold service in recent years in Chicago, Washington, Nashville, Dallas, Philadelphia and Denver. The expansion will come unfold through adding new cities (including its hometown Cincinnati) and more drop-off locations in existing ones says Sundar Raman, vice president of P&G North American Fabric Care.

Drop-off locations include Tide Dry Cleaners stores, apartment buildings and lockers in retail stores and other locations. Tide Cleaners also encompasses Tide University operations on several U.S. campuses.

P&G first launched a test of the Tide Spin laundry service in Chicago in late 2015 with its own custom mobile app, then acquired rival Chicago-based service Pressbox last year. It now uses the latter's app as the mobile backbone for Tide Cleaners.

Saatchi & Saatchi has created a video to back the national rollout with the tagline: "Life, Not Laundry." But Tide Cleaners marketing will be a largely local, guerilla affair leaning heavily on direct mail, e-mail, digital, posters or showing up with drop lockers in grocery stores and other places to get the word out. The focus is on "performance marketing," Raman says, since this gets Tide much deeper into a direct-to-consumer business.

"Now for the first time Tide will have a name and face for people interacting with the brand," Raman says, "not just a bottle on the Walmart shelf."

Digital automation—with bar-coded laundry bags and identifying chips in dry-clean-only garments, and an app that lets people track laundry throughout the process—is another hallmark of Tide Cleaners.

The national rollout marks a full embrace of a service model P&G has toyed with the whole millennium, starting with an Atlanta test of Juvian concierge laundry service in 2000. Many of Tide's 140 dry cleaners (up more than fourfold in three years and from 100 just since October) offer wash-and-fold laundry service too.

Tide Dry Cleaners are about 75-80 percent franchisee operated, but wash-and-fold service is almost all corporate owned for now, though Raman says Tide is talking to franchisees about taking charge in some markets.

"It's critical we go for this because it's a natural extension of the brand," Raman says. "The time people spend on chores is decreasing, and there's less and less consumption happening at home. The market for out-of-home laundry is just as big as for in-home, and growing faster."

Tide is already the third largest laundry service brand in the U.S., Raman says, albeit in a market dominated by mom-and-pops, with more than 20,000 dry cleaners alone. In terms of wash-and-fold service that directly replace at-home laundry, Raman says, "This market is just barely starting up."

The time is right, he says, because more millennials and Gen Z'ers are opting for urban living in apartments that often don't have washer-dryer hookups or where trips to the laundry room or laundromat are inconvenient.

Tide Cleaners isn't cheap. Depending on the monthly plan, prices range from $1.24 to $1.59 a pound for wash, dry and fold service in Chicago. A typical household washing machine holds 7-8 pounds of laundry, so that's $8.68 to $12.72 per home load equivalent. That compares to $4-$5 a load at a laundromat, or $2-$3 per load at home (excluding appliance cost).

But the cost doesn't necessarily make Tide Cleaners an upscale play, Raman says. "One big reason people are outsourcing their laundry is because they're not able to afford apartments with in-unit washers and dryers."

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