Taken To The Cleaners

9 04 2012

I never cease to be amazed at how much some companies think of their brands. While there certainly are some brands with global power and the ability to transcend all normal product boundaries (examples: Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Apple), nearly all others really should just leave well enough alone.

Like Procter & Gamble and their recent foray into Tide Dry Cleaners.

I understand P&G’s logic. Tide is a hugely successful consumer brand in the laundry category. It has name recognition. Furthermore, the dry cleaning industry has always been fragmented, populated mostly by mom-and-pop entrepreneurs and a handful of regional chains. Heck, at one time it was even the stereotype that dry cleaners were owned by Chinese immigrants (“ancient Chinese secret!”), kind of like nail salons are now the domain of Vietnamese immigrants.

But P&G has no retail experience, and even though they are technically launching this as a franchise operation, that still does not mean they know how to run a store. They may sell a lot of stuff in stores, but that’s a lot like assuming banks should go into the hamburger business because they have a lot of experience with drive-ups.

Worse yet, why would I, as a dry cleaner, want to add a layer of expense to my operations in the form of a franchise fee? I do not see the drawing power of the brand. Dry cleaning thus far has resisted branding because it is just a service. If your clothes come back clean and pressed, then who cares what kind of chemicals they used?

What’s more, Tide is associated with the laundering of garments, not the toxic process we know as dry cleaning (for the record, I refuse to wear items that have been bathed in the Love Canal of cleaning products). I fail to see the connection.

Sure, P&G sees a market category not yet dominated by corporate giants. It’s the same kind of thinking that caused local bookstore chain Hastings to launch Sun Adventure Sports, a bike/run/skate emporium. They hope to do to bikes, etc., what P&G hopes to do to laundry. Good luck there. Serious sports participants have been buying their gear from specialty retailers for decades, and it’s going to be a hard habit to break. Maybe…but I am not buying stock just yet.

If P&G can somehow manage to differentiate its service level from all the others (who, incidentally, have been doing just fine for decades), then perhaps they will succeed. Until then, I’m going to put this idea on a hanger and put it in the back of my closet.

Dr “Button Down” Gerlich

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