Clorox, Dial exit dry cleaning biz

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Clorox Co. and Dial Corp. are discontinuing their U.S. home dry cleaning brands, leaving only Procter & Gamble Co.'s Dryel and Dry Inc.'s Dry Cleaner's Secret to compete in the once highly touted category that has proved a disappointment so far to its biggest players.

"The category wasn't as big as it was first projected," said a Clorox spokeswoman, who noted that its own projections were more conservative than those of P&G, which retailers said had touted Dryel as a $300 million U.S. brand in year one and a $500 million brand globally. The entire category, however, registered only $76.7 million in U.S. sales for the 52 weeks ended July 15, according to Information Resources Inc. figures.

The moves, which take effect this month, follow P&G's decision in June to pull Dryel out of Europe to concentrate on the U.S. To that end, P&G is launching a print campaign from Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, breaking in October magazines, including Time Inc.'s People, and plans to launch improved products later this fall, a spokeswoman said.

Unilever, meanwhile, last month put up for sale its My Home cleaning business in the U.K., but according to a spokesman will continue to test its home laundry pickup and drop-off business in the U.S. The business, named Riverstone, was launched earlier this summer in Fairfield County, Conn.

P&G is sticking with the test of its own home fabric-care service, Juvian, which launched last fall in the Atlanta area. It's also participating in a test of a direct-to-consumer clothes dewrinkling and freshening liquid, Presiva, which is an additive for personal valet cabinets of the same name from Whirlpool, currently being tested in new homes in Raleigh, N.C., and Indianapolis.

Dryel had U.S. sales of $50.6 million for the 52 weeks ended July 15, according to IRI, down 48.3% from the prior year. Custom Cleaner, owned by a joint venture between Dial and German consumer-products company Henkel, had sales of $12 million, down 4.4%. Clorox FreshCare had sales of $11.6 million, up 82.5%, compared with only a few months of distribution in the prior year.

Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, New York, handled Custom Cleaner advertising in 2000, and DDB San Francisco handled Clorox FreshCare, which will stay in the fabric refresher category.

Despite the exits, remaining players say they plan to stick with home dry cleaning. "We're continuing to invest in the business," a P&G spokeswoman said, adding that many new brands and categories see drops in second-year sales. She said that Dryel's slow build isn't so different from P&G's experience in launching such laundry-care brands as Downy Fabric Softener in the 1960s or Bounce dryer sheets in the 1970s.

Dry Cleaner's Secret, which had sales of $2.5 million in its first year, according to IRI, is already benefiting from shelf space left behind by competitors, said Scott Heim, president-CEO, who added that the brand has gained distribution through Amway and the Home Shopping Network. Dry Cleaner's Secret is also expanding into Europe in an effort to grab shelf space left by P&G's exit.

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