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By Barbara Grondin-Francella
The tall, muscle-bound bald guy strikes again.
Leveraging the power of its iconic Mr. Clean brand, Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) ventured into retailing and is planning to franchise a new premium car wash concept aimed at quality-minded auto enthusiasts and on-the-go consumers looking for a little TLC.
In test for less than a year, two upscale Mr. Clean Performance Carwashes are cleaning up in suburbs outside of Cincinnati. The two 2,100-square-foot locales -- the first in affluent, booming Deerfield Township, another in an older neighborhood experiencing a renaissance -- offer state-of-the-art car wash services, small convenience stores and comfortable lounges complete with upholstered chairs, flat screen TVs and free Internet access. To keep kids occupied while parents shop, Suds Soaker and Radical Rinse stations allow young ones to squirt soap or water on cars passing through the tunnel.
"There are customers who are obsessed with their car who don't want a machine touching it," Susan Baba, spokesperson for the Mr. Clean Performance Carwash, told Convenience Store News. "They see their cars as an extension of themselves and want the most careful handling of the car. Some come in every week to get a full hand wash.
"For others, often women with or without their kids along, getting the car washed isn't a priority. It's something they need to check off their to-do list, but they still want a quality experience. We're not Disney World, but the kids will be entertained. For this customer, having the car washed now doesn't seem like such a big interruption to the day."
The Mr. Clean Performance Carwash menu of services reflects the diversity of the target customers. The basic exterior wash is priced at $7.51. Add a hand-dry, vacuum and interior cleaning to that service and the price goes up to $15.
"When you compare the prices to a typical car wash, you may be able to get a basic wash for $5, instead of $7.51, but they aren't getting the premium experience," Baba said.
The popular full-service Mr. Clean Signature Shine -- exterior wash, spot-free rinse, blow and hand dry, vacuum, interior cleaning, wheel cleaner, underbody wash, tire shine, clear coat protector and underbody rust inhibitor -- is $24. For those looking for extra TLC, a hand wash and dry is $29. Customers who want an Express Hand Wax or Interior Super Clean (vinyl and leather dash and door treatment, detailed interior vacuum, odor eliminator with Febreze) will pay $39 for each of those services. Shampooing carpeted areas and washing mats also costs $39.
So far, both locations have exceeded initial sales projections, Baba said. Plans call for five to seven more units in the Cincinnati, Dayton and northern Kentucky markets.
Roughly 50 part-time and full-time employees work at each car wash. "We look for employees who value customer service," Baba said. "People may not go out of their way to go to a specific car wash -- though we wish they would -- but if they find one in their community and build a good relationship with it, they will come back."
A Mr. Clean Club program rewards loyal customers by offering a top-of-the-line Signature Shine Wash free after any nine other Mr. Clean car washes. Also, customers receive a free Gold Shine exterior wash (a $16.90 value) within 7 days before or after their birthday.
About half of the building is devoted to convenience and car-care products. P&G's Millstone coffee is sold, as is a variety of cold drinks, snacks, top-selling paperbacks, puzzle books, greeting cards, travel mugs, stylish reading glasses, Mr. Clean auto care products, floor mats and more.
Though customers may want to linger in the c-store or lounge, with its wireless Internet access and sports, weather or news playing on the TV screens (positioned so that customers may also keep an eye on their cars being washed), speed is a key part of the offer. Exterior washes take less than five minutes. Customers will wait 15 minutes to have a full-service interior and exterior wash done. Hand washes take a bit longer, depending in the vehicle size and condition.
Design In Mind
Designing a premium car wash facility that lived up to the Mr. Clean image and would be welcome in affluent neighborhoods meant rethinking the rectangular cement box associated with the industry.
The design team wanted the car wash to look as if Mr. Clean lived there. "Not as a residential building, but something that looked clean all the time," said Scott Jeffrey, chief creative office for Design Forum LLC, the firm that brought the concept to life.
To that end, the creative team used many white materials with blue trim on the exterior and metallic silver elements to give the building a glistening appeal. A natural-looking stone trim along the bottom of the building helped the initial car wash blend into the neighborhood. (In-store literature explains the soft-touch car wash technology, which filters and recycles wash water, sending zero soaps or chemicals into the community's waterways.)
An array of different shades of blue tile surround the entrance, giving a colorful backdrop to the big guy himself, inside the Mr. Clean Performance Carwash logo. "We wanted the sparkle of the tile," Jeffery said. "All of the materials are meant to embody the idea of 'clean.'"
Inside, the ceiling is higher in the retail portion of the building and lower in the waiting area, to create a more residential scale, he noted. Vinyl flooring, with blue die-cut waves, was used to help separate different parts of the experience.
"It has a glossy appearance so that it gleams," the designer noted.
Water elements provide playful focal points near the cashier, Suds Soaker and Radical Rinse stations. Furniture in the lounge is gender-neutral, with upholstery that will stand up to spilled coffee or soda. There is outside seating, too, for customers who want to enjoy a warm day.
Snacks are displayed on steel merchandisers, which add a gleaming artistic element to the store. They are designed to carry a variety of shapes and sizes of products.
Blue soffits and a number of different types of lighting elements help to subtly segment the space into the cashier area, convenience store and waiting area. Can lighting is placed to cause a sparkle on parts of the floor.
Colorful wall graphics reinforce the Mr. Clean brand and some of the glass tiles used outside are also used inside. "We wanted the interior to pop and give customers a new experience," the designer said. "In some car washes we visited, people got a very good car wash, but not the most pleasant place to wait."