P&G, Unilever aim to take consumers to the cleaners

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After spending billions of dollars over the past several decades telling consumers how to clean their own clothes, the world's biggest detergent makers--Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever--now want busy consumers to send the laundry to them.

P&G built its business around home laundering, but it has now quietly launched a test of Juvian, a valet laundry and home fabric care service in suburban Atlanta, offering unattended pickups and deliveries that whisk clothes away for off-site pampering at what P&G' s Web site describes as a "Laundry Spa."

The maker of Tide and Cheer detergent and Dryel home dry cleaning kits began testing Juvian in late October, backed by direct-mail and other direct-to-consumer communications from Barefoot Advertising, Cincinnati, a strategic and creative boutique headed by former P&G executives that's making its debut as agency of record for the package-goods powerhouse.

Meanwhile, archrival Unilever, maker of the Wisk, All and Snuggle laundry care brands, is preparing a spring test launch of a similar service in Connecticut, modeled in part after its MyHome home laundry and cleaning service launched last year in Europe.

Unlike MyHome, the U.S. project is unlikely to include house cleaning, since Unilever has no cleaning brands in the U.S., a spokesman said. Details, including precise timing, marketing plans and name of the U.S. brand, are still under discussion, he said. Unilever plans a similar test of a house cleaning service in India.

M&C Saatchi, London, handles MyHome in Europe, but Unilever has yet to make an agency assignment for the U.S. project.

With the ventures, both companies are loosely experimenting with a home cleaning services market valued by maid service franchiser Molly Maid as a $20 billion market growing 20% annually. The ventures also cross into the home dry-cleaning market, a $9 billion category already targeted by P&G's Dryel.

Both P&G and Unilever have been testing more service and direct-to-consumer ventures as they seek to reach consumers on new levels. P&G in January launched a test in Cincinnati of Culinary Sol, a cooking school and gourmet ingredients brand, and has a majority stake in Reflect.com, a customized beauty care products e-tailer. Unilever in October launched a test in Amsterdam of an online and bricks-and-mortar body and home products retail concept called Rituals, which carries 175 products grouped around such daily rituals as drinking tea or taking a bath.

P&G is going upscale with its test of Juvian, positioned as a "spa experience" for clothes that delivers meticulous attention to fabric.

For a minimum order of $17 per bag, which equals about two loads of laundry, Juvian will pick up, clean, fold and return everyday laundry. The service outdoes even the pickiest home launderer, sorting everything from shirts to shorts into 35 categories for optimum care and bar coding each garment for tracking throughout the process. "Aromatherapy" costs $5 extra per bag, with perfume-free service available for the fragrance-averse. "Hue and tone preservation" treatments cost an additional $5 per bag.

Dry cleaning also costs extra, with prices similar to those of dry cleaning shops. Button replacement and minor mending are free.

Juvian also offers shoe shines and repairs, plus cleaning of drapes, rugs, bed treatments and leather apparel. A Juvian concierge will assist customers with an in-home evaluation of "fabric care needs."

To convince consumers of Juvian's value, the Web site (juvian.com) includes a feature called "Laundralyzer," which computes the value of the time, products and related costs of home cleaning based on the number of loads of laundry, hours spent on laundry and the dollar value consumers place on their time, ranging from $7 up. Even for the lightest-laundry households, Juvian estimates the cost at $17.24 weekly-including $14 for labor.

A P&G spokeswoman said Juvian is "meeting our expectations" and attracting a small but loyal following in the six ZIP Codes where it was rolled out. "We've never gone down this path before, and we really are just looking at and evaluating this whole service model," she added.

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