Bear Necessities

By Dec 01, 2006

Procter & Gamble is hosting an upscale public restroom in New York City’s Times Square this holiday season where it is putting rolls of its Charmin Ultra toilet tissue to the ultimate test.

The Charmin Restrooms are 20 plush bathrooms housed in a Times Square storefront, with baby changing stations, stroller parking, seating areas, tourist information and aromatherapy. Attendants clean the stalls after each use.

The restrooms can’t be missed by the city’s 15.3 million holiday visitors. A branded sign on the front of the building reads: “You’re in New York. Go in style.” with an arrow pointing to the facilities.

The bathrooms are expected to serve 330,000 people through yearend, sampling enough toilet paper to use 43,200 regular rolls or 10,800 Mega Rolls. Sister brands Puffs, Bounty and Safeguard soap also use the facilities to sample consumers.

A costumed six-foot-tall Charmin bear is on hand in a lounge area to take photos with visitors. Branded reps are hitting the streets dressed as toilets to pass out information about the restrooms. The event is also being promoted at local airports.

The storefront opened with a ribbon cutting and “first flush” ceremony with Everybody Loves Raymond star Doris Roberts. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days (and 6 p.m. on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31). Event marketing shop Gigunda Group, New York, handles the Charmin Restrooms for P&G.

The holiday effort extends Charmin’s positioning as “the Red Cross of Restrooms,” primarily serving young families in public venues where clean restrooms are tough to find, Gigunda Group says.

“The strategy is to capitalize on the low expectations of restrooms,” says Gigunda CEO Ryan FitzSimons. “It’s such a low-involvement category; how can you make it relevant, especially to moms?”

The 12,000-square-foot installation was six months in the making. Shoppers enter the second-story space via an escalator. High-end touches (think hardwood floors and white wainscoting) reinforce Charmin’s hospitality.

“People walk in with a smile, then walk out with an even bigger smile,” FitzSimons says.

Charmin began its hospitality strategy in 2001 with Potty Palooza, a “mobile restroom tour.” An 18-wheeler outfitted with upscale bathrooms tours concerts and festivals, boosting Charmin sales 14%, according to the agency. Stand-alone restrooms at state fairs and mobile units parked in travel plazas during holiday seasons round out the effort. So far, Charmin’s temporary toilets have served 45 million families, FitzSimons says.

Overall, Charmin brand sales are up 4.7% to $920.7 million for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 5, according to Information Resources Inc. Charmin Ultra sales are up 22% to nearly $415 million, but flagship Charmin is down 6% to $429 million.