The History of Turtle Wax

In Products History on October 9, 2008 at 9:18 am

Turtle Wax

Turtle Wax, Inc. is the world’s largest manufacturer of car-care products. The Chicago-based company controls over 60 percent of the U.S. car wax market and sells its products in Europe, the Pacific Basin, and Central and South America. It also markets chemicals for commercial car washes, owns and operates the largest chain of full-service car washes in the Chicago market, and manufactures shoe polishes and household cleaners. The family-owned business had estimated revenues of $145 million in 1994, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

It all began over 60 years ago when Ben and Marie Hirsch mixed and filled bottles of premium car polish in a bath tub of a small Chicago storefront in order to fulfill Ben’s dream of creating the first premium car polish. Benjamin Hirsch, the founder of Turtle Wax, wanted to be a chemist, but had to drop out of college during the Great Depression. Instead, he became a magician, supporting his family with his silks and wand. But he never lost his interest in chemistry nor his fascination with cars.

In the late 1930s he developed a car wax and mixed up batches at night in the bathtub. His wife, Marie, filled the bottles by hand. During the day, Hirsch traveled by street car to gas stations around Chicago, selling the wax he named Plastone. One day, while on a business trip in Beloit, Wisconsin, Ben came across Turtle Creek. He began to make the connection between a turtle’s protective and shiny shell, and his premium car polish. At that moment, the Turtle Wax name was born and quickly grew to be America’s most popular car polish.

To promote his wax, Hirsch would go into a parking lot and shine one fender of each car. He then waited for the owners to arrive and hope to convince them to buy his wax to finish the job. Plastone was a couple of years old when, according to company lore, Hirsch made a sales call in Turtle Creek, Wisconsin. The name of the town clicked in his mind with the hard shell of a turtle and the protection his wax offered. Thus was born a new name for the company and for the wax, Turtle Wax Super Hard Shell.

In 1982, the company introduced several new car-care products. Minute Wax, a silicone-based spray wax, was aimed at the increasing numbers of women who drove and maintained their own cars. For the growing number of older cars on the road, Color Back, a finish restorer, was developed to revive dull finishes. Another introduction, Clear Coat, was a non-abrasive wax and polish designed for new cars.

Turtle Wax used the same strategy to take on Armor All, which introduced the first vinyl protectant/beautifier in 1974, and, within 11 years, had 80 percent or more of the estimated $175 million vinyl protectant retail business. Turtle Wax developed Clear Guard and introduced it in 1985, pricing it higher to give retailers a larger margin and unleashing an advertising blitz and rebate offer to lure customers away from Armor All. Unlike other brands on the market, Clear Guard contained no water. A spray, it was packaged in a unique, beaker-type bottle, in five-, ten-, and 16-ounce sizes, all premium priced. The ad campaign compared the new product’s clear spray with Armor All’s cloudy spray, with the tagline, “Introducing new Clear Guard from Turtle Wax…a clear new challenge to Armor All.”

Turtle Wax products on display

In 1985, Turtle Wax introduced a disposable wax-coated cloth and wax-filled sponge, which offered convenience and less mess. During this time, the company also undertook its first licensing agreement. Together with American Greetings Corp., Turtle Wax introduced a line of air fresheners for children’s bedrooms. Turtle Wax took the technology it had been using for years to make air fresheners in the shapes of playing cards and dice and packaged them to resemble the Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears characters. “That’s a sort of test for us,” Denis Healy told Advertising Age at the time. “We’re looking to license our name and we’re looking to license other people’s names.”

In 1988, the company entered the premium segment of the car wax market with Turtle Wax Plus with Teflon. This put the company head to head with Rain Dance, which had been the dominant brand among premium car waxes. Premium waxes accounted for about 20 percent of retail car wax sales. The company worked on the new product for 16 months, during which time it had to convince Du Pont that its Teflon could be functionally used in a mass-market car wax. Until this product, the only Teflon car waxes available were for the professional market. The new wax sold for about $2 more than mid-priced or premium-priced car waxes, including Turtle Wax Super Hard Shell, which had increased its market share to 30 percent.

In addition to its three products divisions, Turtle Wax also owned and operated the largest chain of full-service car washes in the Chicago area through its auto appearance division. Turtle Wax’s Car Wash and Auto Appearance Centers provided a wide-ranging menu of detailing services as well as car washes.

Below are some pictures taken during one of Turtle Wax products commercial photoshoot, Turtle Wax Ice. TV commercials and print ads have long been effective ways to promote products.

  1. i would love to have may car cleaned by those automated and computer wahsers ;~,

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