retail news in context, analysis with attitude

There is a fascinating story in Advertising Age about how Procter & Gamble is looking in unconventional directions for growth (noting that when you are an $80 billion company, it takes $800 million in new business to grow just one percent). In P&G’s case, it is investing in the service arena through franchise operations such as Mr. Clean Car Washes (there are 15 company-owned and franchise operations in Cincinnati and Atlanta, and P&G is actively seeking new franchisees) and Tide Dry Cleaners (there is one in Kansas City, and P&G is looking for new franchisees).

CEO Bob McDonald tells Ad Age that in addition to these two franchise concepts, the company is defining service more broadly also is “also working on services on our existing brands, for example, where you walk up to the shelf, take a picture of the UPC code on your phone, and you can download information about the ingredients in that product, which you as an environmentalist may care about."
KC's View:
This story really grabbed my attention for all sorts of reasons. Let me count the ways...

For one thing, it is noteworthy that at the same time as P&G is investing in service operations, it also is doing things like creating things like “Tide Basic,” designed to appeal to people who are suffering from the impact of the recession but don’t want to abandon their favorite national brand. Clearly, P&G is in a “cover your bets” mindset.

Second, I’m intrigued by how P&G isn’t just investing in service, but looking to redefine it. As Ad Age writes, “Mr. Clean Car Washes offer a wide array of detailing options - Febreze odor eliminators, oil changes and other vehicle maintenance in many cases - and lounges with big-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and areas where kids can remotely spray cars with suds soakers. Tide Dry Cleaners offer drive-through concierge service, customer lockers, on-site tailoring, 24-hour drop boxes, a customer-rewards program and a green-positioned cleaning process.”

These don’t sound like any dry cleaners or car wash that I’ve ever patronized. Be honest - doesn’t this sound intriguing?

But here’s the one that really caught my eye. The story says that P&G also has acquired a company called MDVIP, described as “a concierge-physician service in which participating primary-care doctors cut their patient loads roughly 75% to 600 patients or fewer. They provide premium service that includes annual hourlong physicals, electronic medical records on a CD, personal websites and preventive-care plans and the promise of on-time appointments for a $1,500 to $1,800 annual fee.”

On the one hand, I think the idea of essentially creating a gold club for patients is intriguing; it certainly would address a lot of the questions some people might have about health care reform, albeit at a price. On the other hand, the fact that such a service could exist and seem necessary strikes me as indicative of what is wrong with the way medicine is practiced in this country. in most business models, it would be considered a given that on-time appointments, accessible and user-friendly customer websites, and electronic record keeping (this is is 2010!) would be the way to do business. But no. In medicine, apparently, there are doctors who believe that these things are premium offerings, not available to the average joe who cannot afford to write a big check on an annual basis. Don’t know about you, but I find this offensive.