Seems to me that when I was a kid, and later when I had my ’69 Mustang fastback, most folks simply washed their cars with sudsy dish soap. However, those with cool cars cleaned them with products from a company called Meguiar’s.
Today there are dozens of companies producing full lines of car-care products. Why, even Jay Leno has recently gotten into the act.
Yet Meguiar’s has remained a segment leader. I wondered how this had happened in the face of increasing competition. During the recent SEMA Show, Michael Pennington, Meguiar’s director of training, events and consumer relations, offered an explanation.
Seemingly everyone in the collector car hobby knows Barry Meguiar — and in many cases that’s a personal, hand-shaking, first-name knowledge of one of the long-time proponents of the collector car hobby.
But did you know that Meguiar’s not only pre-dates Barry and his Car Crazy television show, but his father and uncles as well?
Way back in 1901, Barry’s grandfather, Frank Meguiar Jr., went into his garage and formulated a furniture polish, which he sold under the Mirror Bright polish label, and which he soon produced not in the garage but at Meguiar’s Mirror Bright Manufacturing Company. (Remember that Mirror Bright name, because we’ll meet it later in this story.)
Turns out that Barry’s grandparents had 12 children and needed a way to sell enough of his polish to feed the entire family.
Fortunately for the Meguiar family — and for future generations of automotive enthusiasts — the early 20th Century also was the dawning of the automobile age, and it turned out that cars contained a lot of wood and varnished surfaces that could be shined and preserved by applications of grandfather’s Mirror Bright polish.
“We’re a company of car nerds.”
Three of Grandfather Meguiar’s sons succeeded him in running the company after his death in 1950. Maurice, the oldest, was sales manager. Kenneth, the youngest, ran product production. Malcolm, yes, in the middle, did product formulation, including Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax, which remains a company mainstay even today.
For decades, Meguiar’s products were sold only to professionals — car dealers, body shops, and to Southern California’s fledgling hot-rod and custom car-building garages.
Malcom’s son, Barry, was both a college student and the company’s accounting staff. He also was a car enthusiasts who saw the company’s products being used, sold to professional shops but somehow passed along to individual car owners. So he convinced his father and uncles to let him offer a one-step cleaning wax directly to consumers at those car shows.
Soon, Barry was the company’s president and Meguiar’s launched a line of products for the do-it-yourself/shade-tree/home-garage car crowd, a group that included the Meguiar family and the company’s employees.
“We’re a company of car nerds,” said Pennington, who has been a Meguiar’s employee for going on 30 years.
“Our customers have very high expectations,” he said, adding that those customers include those producing and selling Meguiar’s products. “Our products have to do what it (the container) says they will do.”
A company of car nerds producing products for customers with demanding expectations is what keeps Meguiar’s relevant, even after more than a century, Pennington suggested, and even after entering a partnership in 2008 with 3M.
But Meguiar’s doesn’t only produce car-care products, it also supports the collector car hobby.
“Great products are one thing,” Pennington said. “but we want to get you (the car enthusiast) the right product and make sure you use it correctly.”
So, in addition to sponsoring more than 100 car shows around the world each year and providing support to more than 3,500 car club-events each year, Meguiar’s offers how-to classes at events and videos for those who aren’t present.
Part of the mission, Pennington said, is to help consumers when they face the “wall of confusion,” the array of available car-care products at automotive retail specialists and big-box stores.
It’s a new approach but with traditional values.”
With 10-20 new products each year, it might seem that Meguiar’s only adds to that consumer confusion. Believe it or not, one of the company’s current best-sellers is called New Car Scent Protectant, and while it keeps a vehicle smelling showroom fresh, Pennington explained how the product differs from competitors’ on a molecular level, clearing rather than masking odors.
Another new product — and Pennington claims it could be a “game changer” on the level of micro fiber and clay bar — is called “Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner.”
“The wrong cleaner can damage wheels or brake lines,” he said. “This is safe and cleans.”
But to reduce potential confusion, and to simplify things for those new to the hobby, including the next-generation of enthusiasts, Meguiar’s has introduced a Mirror Bright product line. The line includes only six items — “the essentials,” Pennington said — which are sold in bottles that look like the original Mirror Bright Polish containers and even have a vintage-style labeling.
Pennington said the containers and their contents are true to Meguiar’s driving focus and mission to be authentic. Or as Meguiar’s puts it on its special Mirror Bright website:
“In every generation, there exists those with the desire… and the skill… to craft things with our own hands. Perhaps it was passed down from a Grandfather, or perhaps it’s simply an old soul living in the modern day. It’s a new approach but with traditional values. It’s nostalgia that’s not old. Sometimes it’s taking what was, and making it what is, only better. Other times it’s creating something new, but with a solid respect for the traditions of the past. Craftsmanship is making a renaissance, and it’s in the art of the skilled hand.”
And that’s how Meguiar’s stays relevant, more than 100 years after Grandfather Meguiar started making furniture polish.