It may not be the most glamorous aisle of your store but laundry products represent steady profit and it’s important to get the mix right, says Karen Peattie.

Washday may give you the blues from a domestic point of view but when it comes to business, there’s a cheery upside for retailers of laundry products - especially with the news that two of the sector’s power brands, Persil and Comfort, are joining forces.

Laundry products continue to benefit from heavyweight TV advertising, and that’s good news for convenience stores this summer. The new Persil with Essence of Comfort will, it is expected, kick-start a market that thrives on new product innovation. Big box powders are still laundry stalwarts in many homes but space-saving liquids, tablets and capsules are finding favour under kitchen sinks all over the country.

Persil with Essence of Comfort is a mix of fabric detergent with a hint of fabric conditioner fragrance. It will be available in a bio format in powders, tablets and liquids and, crucially, will benefit from a £5m through-the-line support package starting in July and including TV, radio and poster advertising.

Unilever UK Home and Personal Care (HPC) Persil brand manager Jay Liwanag explains: “Research shows that associating Persil with Comfort is perceived to be a natural alliance between two high quality brands with long-standing heritage in laundry. “This product has been launched following research which showed some consumers are willing to pay a premium for brilliant detergent cleaning with the added benefit of freshness.”

Laundry is a very brand-led market. There are regional differences, and own label also has an important role to play in terms of consumer choice, but all the major players are agreed on one thing - if you’re not stocking the leading brands or you allow yourself to fall into a poor availability situation, you will lose out because your customers will simply go elsewhere. Key detergent brands must include Persil, Ariel and Bold while the two leading fabric conditioners, Comfort and Lenor, are also in high demand. Laundry is a space-hogging sector. Bulky products aren’t exactly customer-friendly either, so you should be stocking small and medium pack sizes. If your store is small, space will be at a premium, so the gradual introduction of these smaller, more compact pack sizes in recent years has given many c-stores a boost in terms of laundry sales and profit. However, the experts point out that shoppers don’t want to dwell at the ‘unsexy’ laundry fixture. Demographics also play a key role in the laundry sector, with many older consumers tending to buy the boxed powder products they’ve always used. Encouraging them to try new products is a challenge, so it’s essential you get your ranging right and don’t confuse your customers with too many brands on a cluttered fixture. Keep it neat and tidy, as you would with any other category, and position fabric conditioners next to detergents in order to prompt purchase.

Another good merchandising tip is to separate different types of detergents, so block by brand in powders, tablets, liquids and so on. This will help make the category look much more attractive, thereby making it more noticeable to your customers who will then be more inclined to spend a little longer in the laundry aisle.

Brands remain important to convenience stores as they attract customers and present a quality image. However, customers must be offered a choice, and when it comes to the laundry sector, that means an own-label alternative and also a budget or value brand.

Leading household cleaning value brand Clean ‘n Fresh has demonstrated its commitment to meeting the needs of convenience retailers and their customers. The Robert McBride brand was redesigned and smaller case sizes introduced to create a clear brand and product identity, aid customer choice and, crucially, appeal to the independent sector.

New additions to the range include Tropical laundry tablets, introduced in response to the growth within the tablets category. Available to consumers in boxes of 12 tablets at an rrp of £1.19, the product offers good value for money and excellent profit margins for retailers. For retailers who use a cash and carry, this is a handy product because it comes shrink-wrapped in cases of four.

Clean ‘n Fresh trade marketing manager Rowena Howell says: “The tablets category is the fastest-growing laundry market sector and Clean ‘n Fresh is delighted to offer retailers and consumers the latest trend in value household cleaning products.”

More recently, McBride has expanded its offer in the liquid sector with new 2in1 Sunburst sachets and new-look bio liquid wash under the Clean ‘n Fresh umbrella. The company claims Sunburst liquid sachets are the first to market in the convenience and budget sector. Again, the consumer price-point is all-important - £1 for a box of 10.

“It’s important to offer consumers quality and choice at an unbeatable price,” says Howell, who describes the launch of Sunburst liquid and bio liquid wash as a significant move for McBride, one that “demonstrates our commitment to offering the latest innovation in the convenience sector”.

Procter & Gamble’s Bold has traditionally be up at the top of the brand league when it comes to innovation within the laundry sector and is arguably one of the nation’s best loved laundry brands. Again, constant TV advertising has kept its profile high and the current in-pack promotion for Bold 2in1 featuring National Lottery Scratchcards is designed to grow both the brand and the category.

For the retailer, this equates to increased sales and profits as one in four packs - and the promotion extends to eight million packs - contain a scratchcard. Procter & Gamble trade marketing manager Paul Lettice says: “The Bold 2in1 Lottery Scratchcard promotion is bound to be a success. Consumers love competitions and this in-pack promotion fits perfectly with the Bold 2in1 proposition of giving the consumer something extra.”

The Bold 2in1 promotion, available in all variants of 1.1kg and 3.3kg packs and 24s tablets, plus Ocean Clear 16s tablets, is being supported by a £700,000 marketing spend on TV advertising.

Unilever’s Liwanag adds: “The key to success in the laundry category is continuous innovation on premium skus while satisfying base needs on the non-premium range. Persil is growing the category with Persil with Essence of Comfort by offering consumers the opportunity to trade up into premium innovations which will deliver significant value for retailers.”

Sue Boswell, manageress, One Stop Community Store, Kings Heath, Birmingham:
“We’re selling a lot of Lenor fabric conditioner because it’s on offer, and in detergents, Bold and Daz are really popular. I have a lot of older customers and they tend to like the powders in boxes but we also sell Ariel liquitabs and they’re doing quite well.”

Louise Welsh, manageress, Botterills, Hillhead Road, Kirkintilloch:
“Bold and Comfort are our best sellers and powder is still more popular than the liquids and sachets probably because we have a lot of older customer, nevertheless we still like to offer a good choice.”

G. Thind, Londis, Abbey Wood, London:
“We sell a mixture of powders, liquids and tabs. The best-selling products are Lenor, Ariel, Daz and also Bold. The shop’s around 700sq ft and my laundry fixture is two metres so it gets a lot of space. Customers like to try new products.”

Ruth Docherty, a teacher living in Highams Park, London:
“I’ve never really moved on from the traditional big box powders my mother always used. I’ve thought about trying a liquid product and a friend swears by Ariel sachets. With fabric conditioner, I always buy the biggest Lenor bottle.”

David English, a customer service executive with a drinks company in Glasgow:
“What do I use in the washing machine? I don’t even know how to switch it on! My mum does my washing, or my girlfriend. She’s always trying new products and I think I saw some sachets under the sink. My mother uses Bold, I think.”

Caroline Scott, a housewife, living in Fife:
“I tend to go for value for money. Recently, I’ve been buying Persil liquid, and it’s usually the concentrated Comfort I have. Sometimes I buy a supermarket’s own brand. I’d certainly try Persil with Essence of Comfort.”°

Lenor, from Procter & Gamble, has introduced new Lenor Sleep Sensations to its range of fabric conditioners. Procter & Gamble trade marketing manager Paul Lettice says the product is “built on a strong emotional consumer insight” that everyone loves a freshly made bed. It contains natural extracts of soothing lavender and camomile as well as promising long-lasting freshness through a progressive release of fragrance.

Lettice points out that Lenor has grown volume share by 4% since the introduction of new-shaped slimline bottles last September. The product sits better on-shelf and is more attractive to consumers, thanks to its modern, less bulky shape. “New Lenor Sleep Sensations is the first product launched to deliver against a key emotional driver in the category and has very strong consumer appeal,” says Lettice. Lenor Sensations will benefit from a £4.6m advertising support budget, incorporating new TV, press and PR activity through to September. It is available in 750ml concentrate and 1-litre dilute variants and joins the existing Lenor line-up of Spring, Summer and Stayfresh variants.

Easy, the fast-growing budget brand, is claiming an industry first with its £1 liquid stain remover. The brand, from Powder and Liquid Products, has developed a liquid and a powder which can be used to boost the performance of ordinary laundry detergent. It can be added to the machine or poured directly onto a stubborn stain before washing.

Stain Solve is the latest innovation in fabric care from the leading household brands manufacturer Dylon. It’s described as an effective ‘two-in-one’ stain remover and can be used both as an everyday stain remover in the wash or as a pre-wash treatment for tougher, ingrained stains. It has an rrp of £3.49.