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Field Trip: In Search of the OFF Clip-On

July 23, 2009
A rare OFF Clip-On in captivity.

A rare OFF Clip-On in captivity. Note the above-suggested-retail price tag.

This morning’s AdAge article on the runaway success of SC Johnson’s Off Clip-OnTM mosquito repellant piqued my interest on several levels. For the uninitiated, this product, which retails for $9, uses a tiny battery-operated fan to waft insect repellant through the air around you, thus forming an invisible mosquito-proof shield.

For the mosquito magnets among us, this is a revolutionary development, though I will admit to dismissing the product when it first came out. It’s not only expensive ($9 for the starter kit alone), but I don’t spend enough time outside in the summer to bother with it.

But back to my interest being piqued. There were two main levels on which the piquedness resided.

Level one: Oho! This must be a product that’s succeeding because it fulfills a strong consumer desire. In this case: I’d really like an alternative to putting poison on my skin just so I can be outside without being eaten alive.

Level two: Could it really be true that the product is so popular it’s getting hard to find? No, come on. It’s not like it’s a Wii or anything. Dangit, now I need to know. Time for a field trip.

Prior to heading out, I conducted some quick-n-dirty market research via a dorktastic all-office e-mail. Of the eight responders, three wanted me to let them know if I found the product so they could go get one (or have me buy one for them). Everyone else basically said they loved it, except for one person who received it as a gift and hasn’t tried it yet. Other feedback included that it was hard to tell when to replace the repellant disk, the presence of wind reduced effectiveness, and it was weird that it had a fan.

12:05: The Home Depot

I cruise by the obvious spots but don’t see the product. The nice service desk lady gives me very precise directions to the endcap where I can find it. I follow her directions, I don’t find it, and I decide to do what most consumers would: go to the next store without asking about it again. (I am sad, though, that I forgot my cash and therefore cannot partake of the store’s excellent tamale/hotdog/brat cart.)

12:19: Walgreen’s

There are several empty spots where the product may or may not have been, but it’s hard to tell since the shelf labels are not clear. I find the manager, who appears to be 16 years old, and he tells me they get them in randomly, in small amounts, and that I might want to check back in a few days.

12:27: Schnucks

They have plenty of refills, but there is a gaping hole above the shelf label for the starter kit. I take my purchases to the check-out stand and ask the lady there when they might get more in, and since she doesn’t know, she offers to call the manager. He tells me they received a single shipment in April, which quickly vanished, and that they probably won’t get more since it’s so late in the season. Then he lowers his voice a bit and says, “I hear they have them at Shop-N-Save.”

12:36: The Home Depot, Round Two

By now I have a serious tamale craving and some cash back from my Schnucks purchase, so I decide to try The Home Depot again. The same service counter lady is chatting with a guy who offers to take me to the product. We find a gaping hole where the starter kits should be, and after consulting the orange tag below it, he tells me that there’s no date on it, which means there’s no telling when or if they’ll get more. I buy a tamale and some chips and head out.

That orange tag on the shelf means "Sorry, we're out."

That orange tag on the shelf means "Sorry, we're out."

12:52: Shop-N-Save

I look on my own without luck and then ask a nearby store worker for help. She turns out to be in charge of ordering the Off Clip-On, and her eyes widen as she tells me she can’t keep them in stock, even with three suppliers and a regular weekly shipment. “Everyone says it works really good, and then they had a $2 coupon in the paper.” She tells me her next shipment is arriving on Sunday, but that I should by early, because they always sell out. Then she says, “They’re great!”

 

So to recap, SC Johnson has created a product people perceive as great even when they’ve never tried it. Additionally, the product is so good that millions of people think nothing of spending three times as much as they ordinarily would – during a recession.

And, it must be said: They’ve generated buzz in a humdrum category.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Schultz permalink
    July 23, 2009 3:39 pm

    Walgreens’ shelves were mislabeled? The person at Schnuck’s didn’t know anything? I’m so not shocked.
    And who knew they were summer’s hot item? I guess it wasn’t such a lame birthday gift after all.

  2. kimtrokey permalink
    July 23, 2009 4:43 pm

    I love your sluething style! I also tend to attract the bugs, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about wearing an actual bug repelling fan. Is it discrete or do you have to clip it on to your belt like a cell phone clip?

    • Heidi permalink
      July 23, 2009 4:50 pm

      Thanks, Kim. The device is perhaps three inches in diamter, and it’s pretty thick, but the clip is supposed to be “easy to wear” and you can just set it on a table or clip it on a chair if you like.

  3. Susan Schultz permalink
    July 23, 2009 4:56 pm

    Yes, it’s oh so stylish. A royal blue plastic device that spews out toxic chemicals into your immediate environment. What will they think of next?!

  4. Crystal permalink*
    August 12, 2009 8:14 pm

    Inspired retail sleuthing. Terrific post. One solution to the Off scarcity is to stay inside.

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