Everyone knows Jay Leno loves cars, so it was a perfect fit for an auto dealer to partner with the comedian on a new line of auto care products.
The former “Tonight Show” host and current star of “Jay Leno’s Garage” on CNBC held a May 12 media event for his car care business at his Burbank warehouse where he keeps his collection of new and restored vehicles. With more than 160 cars and trucks plus 130 motorcycles, Leno owns everything from a 1914 steam-powered fire engine to a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.
Leno and his personal auto detailer, Jeremy Porrazzo of System 51 Advanced Waxes and Polishes in Placentia, who cleans every vehicle in the garage, developed the line of car care products over eight years using Leno’s vehicles as test dummies.
“We used everyone else’s products and made note of what we didn’t like and what we wanted to come up with in our (own car care line),” Leno said. “We’ve gotten really good feedback.”
While working in the garage, Porrazzo approached the comedian with the business idea. But, at the time, Leno was still contractually bound by the “Tonight Show” and was unable to license his name, Porrazzo said. Then two years ago, Leno asked him to put a business pitch together, so Porrazzo mocked up the design of five different products, leading up to the debut of Jay Leno’s Garage Advanced Vehicle Care.
“We launched on Black Friday with one kit that had four products – a microfiber towel, tire dressing applicator and hand wax applicator,” Porrazzo said. “Now we have 14 chemicals, seven different microfiber towels, buckets and 50 to 60 products (in total).”
Every chemical mix in Leno’s line is proprietary. They are developed by a team of chemists; compounded in St. Louis and Denver; and bottled, labeled and distributed out of Denver as well.
“Everything down to the shirts is made in the U.S.,” Porrazzo added. “We wanted to reassure everyone that we didn’t just take a bunch of different cheap chemicals, put it in a bottle and put Jay’s name on it.”
As president of the company, Leno is involved in every aspect of the business from product and label design to marketing and distribution. He decided against the big-box retail store strategy and opted to sell exclusively online – at least in the beginning. His plan is to have a series of low-key rollouts, introducing new products, receiving customer feedback and then going from there.
“It’s the same way I started my career,” Leno said. “I went around to comedy clubs before I was getting any TV (appearances). You get known a little bit and get better at it. People let you know when it’s ready.”
To bring consumer awareness to the line, Leno has featured the products on his YouTube channel, which has over 1.8 million subscribers. In addition, the company hired Kahn Media in Moorpark to organize and execute a marketing strategy.
The public relations agency specializes in men’s luxury and automotive brands, representing companies such as Swiss watchmaker Rolex and the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Some of the firm’s car clients have been featured on Leno’s CNBC show and his YouTube channel.
“I think the preexisting relationship is what set us apart,” Chief Executive Dan Kahn said. “It also helps that we are car people (at Kahn Media). We have a lot of synergies (with the car care line).”
Part of the media plan is to cross-promote Advanced Vehicle Care with some of Kahn’s other clients via the YouTube channel, CNBC program and auto shows. For instance, the Petersen Museum hosts new exhibits and car events throughout the year, and Leno already frequents Supercar Sunday in Woodland Hills, a weekly get-together for auto aficionados.
A celebrity such as Leno provides a brand with instant name recognition. Andrew Apfelberg of L.A. law firm Greenberg Glusker, an entertainment and branded consumer products attorney who helped design the celebrity nail polish lines for OPI Products Inc., said celebrity licensing deals bring exclusivity to a product or line, thus generating sales.
“One thing a competitor can’t have is (the same) celebrity endorser,” he said. “You can knock off the design or scent, but you can’t knock off the celebrity or athlete association. It’s one of the few barriers to competition that still exists.”
Social media will play a hefty role in the line’s marketing campaign. Currently, Kahn is producing a slew of short videos, which will showcase how to use the products properly. In addition, the firm is getting the detailing solutions in the hands of car-centric social media influencers to build a following and take the products viral.
“On media day, we had two waves and a 50-50 mix of journalists and social influencers,” Kahn explained. “Over the course of one day, we tripled the following on Instagram.”
Leno’s line offers a vehicle wash, quick detailer, hand wax, tire and trim care as well as other detailing products with prices ranging between $9.99 and $19.99. His favorite product is the metal polish due to its smooth finish. The website also carries cleaning accessories like buckets and towels as well as branded T-shirts and hats.
“The profit margin is really thin. It’s almost breakeven,” Leno explained. “I’m an enthusiast, and I’m doing it for enthusiasts.”
Leno has other businesses, including performing stand-up comedy and his CNBC program, so for him, money wasn’t the primary driver. He even provided the licensing for his name for free, Porrazzo explained, and he will only profit when the products sell.
“When I was guest hosting the ‘Tonight Show,’ I never asked how much they were paying me,” Leno said. “Once people like you and if it’s any good, you will be OK, and you will make money at it. I mean, that’s always been my sort of mantra. I don’t know if it’s a good business plan or not, but it seems to work.”
For the car line, growth has been significant and steady as the company has had a 25 percent month-over-month increase in sales through its ecommerce website, Porrazzo said. The four states that are ordering the most are California, Texas, New York and Florida.
Based out of Leno’s Burbank garage, Advanced Vehicle Care is in the process of developing six new products to add to the line. Retailers are also beginning to express interest, Porrazzo said, adding that the products could enter brick-and-mortar stores in the near future.
“When Jay gave us this opportunity, it was like living the American dream,” Porrazzo said. “I’ve cleaned his cars for a while, and it goes to show that if you work hard and do the right things, there’s a reward at the end.”
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