Procter & Gamble to Enter Car Wash Business — With the Help of a Bald Guy Named Mr. Clean
By David Surace
Procter and Gamble (P&G for short), the brand monolith that stands behind many of your favorite household products, like Swiffer, Gillette and Pampers, has brought its weight to bear in a previously unfamiliar realm: your neighborhood car wash. It appears that the burly, baldish Mr. Clean has been hired to do the job, and he’s not messing around, either. In fact, in the same way that McDonald’s changed our perception of the hamburger joint, the Mr. Clean Performance Car Wash is hoping to change the way we think about the places that wash our cars.
I mean, let’s face it: aside from a few rare exceptions, car washes are typically confusing, dirty, inconsistent or all of the above. The array of alternatives–for those who don’t live in a town with an excellent family-run establishment or a trusted detailer who will do the work in your driveway–pretty much comes down to coin-operated joints, the robo-wash at your gas station, or the questionable wash you get at your dealer service department after an oil change (if you’re not a fan of swirl-marks, here’s a tip: tell them not to do it).
On the other hand, the P&G venture, which involves their purchase of the local carwash chain Carnett’s, prides itself on its squeaky-clean merchandising (Millstone coffee, anyone?) and innovative feature content (aiming colored soap at the car while it’s being washed, kids?). A friendly greeter guides you through your options before you ever get in line, like the system in use at many bank branches. On top of all that, Mr. Clean-branded car washes get extra “green” points for recycling and reusing their own waste water, which results in around 16 ounces of total water used per car wash, according to their website.
In a way, this reminds me a lot of what Ray Kroc accomplished with McDonald’s restaurants when he purchased them outright from the McDonald brothers in 1961. Dick and Mac McDonald had invented the Speedee Service System, widely regarded as the foundation of the modern fast food restaurant, which fascinated Kroc enough to start pitching franchise ideas at the brothers in 1954. But Kroc’s own four-pillared mantra–Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value–was an alien and unfamiliar ideology to the average American hamburger stand, which was typically dirty and disorganized, even if the burgers themselves were beyond delicious. Every new McDonald’s was a shock to the public when it arrived; this place was clean, and cheap, too! Through several popular revolts, lawsuits and PR nightmares, Kroc’s Four Pillars have kept the Golden Arches serving in almost every town, in almost every country, to the tune of some 100 billion hamburgers, as can be seen on every McDonald’s signpost. Whether you like Big Macs or not, it’s hard to ignore that Mickey Dee’s as a business puts out some lip-biting numbers that would be the envy of any industry, car-washes included.
For those of you with longish memories, this is not the first time His Baldness has applied his expertise to your car: the Mr. Clean AutoDry system has been on sale for many years now, with its innovative filtration system to strain the mineral content from your wash water, thus greatly reducing the chance of seeing waterspots, even if you don’t towel-dry the car. Apparently, that was just a very clean–and perhaps perfectly hairless–toe in the door.
American Public Media/Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman had surmised that perhaps people would pay extra for the special service and innovative marketing, but it’s interesting to note that Mr. Clean’s basic car wash pricing ($8 during regular hours; $5 during the “early bird special”) is commensurate with what you pay at a typical “unmanned” car wash at your local gas station.
P&G currently operates three Mr. Clean-branded stores in their hometown of Cincinnati, OH: two Performance Wash locations in the suburbs, plus a smaller, more specialized AutoSPA taking up residence in The Fountain Garage, smack in the middle of downtown.
If, like me, you don’t live in Southwestern Ohio, yet you’re even mildly curious as to what something like that would look like in person, it appears you don’t have long to wait; P&G has placed an open call for franchisees from around the United States to take part. May the spirit of Ray Kroc live on, whether you like him or not.
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