Shoe-polish makers are going toe to toe to capture greater share of mass market

There's a scuffle going on in the shoe-care business. Turtle Wax, a leading car-wax maker, has introduced a new cream shoe polish. In doing so, it's stepping on the toes of Nicholas Kiwi Ltd. Kiwi has also just come out with a similar product.

Granted, the shoe-polish business isn't as crucial to the American economy as the automobile business. Nonetheless, shoe care is nothing to kick about.

The Chicago-based Turtle Wax is pushing its polish with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. Not to be outshined, during Thanksgiving week Kiwi (an Australian-owned company with offices in Douglasville, Pa.) opened its own network television ad program.

''Turtle is a real threat,'' says a spokesman for the Magid Corporation, another shoe polish company. ''Kiwi does about $17 million in polish business. Turtle Wax does $100 million, mostly in car cleaners and polishes. Turtle is investing as much as 10 times as much in advertising,'' the Magid spokesman figures. Kiwi and Turtle won't say how much they're spending.

The shoe-polish industry is normally a quiet one from the marketing standpoint. Kiwi hasn't advertised on television for 20 years - there has been no need to.

Long the recognized leader in mass-merchandising (grocery and department store) outlets, Kiwi has an estimated 40 percent market share, according to Robert Landwerlen, of the Shoe Service Institute of America, in Chicago. Magid has about 30 percent of the total market, but it is sold primarily through shoe stores and repair shops. Numerous regional polishmakers take up the slack. Turtle Wax is aiming at the mass market - Kiwi's sales territory.

Turtle figures it already has a foot in the door, with its car-care customers. ''The consumer who takes pride in his car takes pride in his shoes,'' says Richard Gray, marketing manager at Turtle Wax.

Pride in personal appearance figures strongly in shoe-polish sales. In the 1960s, footwear fashions ran toward the sandaled, anti-establishment, hippie-look, and shoe-care sales suffered. In the '70s and early '80s the recessions helped business. New shoes are expensive, so pedestrians held on to cracking leathers a bit longer and polished more to maintain appearances. Still, during the same period, many folks trotted around in athletic shoes while penny loafers sat in the closet.

But Hank Phillips, at Kiwi, thinks the jogging trend is waning. Instead, he has visions of thousands of natty office workers buffing their self-image and, of course, their wing tips.

''The trend (in the US) is toward fewer manufacturing jobs and more office-type positions,'' Mr. Phillips says. ''In an office environment, in business, people are more aware of what they're wearing.''

He figures there are now 54 million office workers; 10 million are heavy shoe-polish users. Meanwhile, the remaining 44 million are scurrying down corporate hallways in less-than-immaculate shoes. Kiwi is targeting those tarnished toes with its new shoe cream, according to Phillips.

But polishing shoes is a hassle, and manufacturers admit that's their biggest selling obstacle. Paste wax, preferred by men, requires three steps (applying, drying, and buffing) - not to mention cleaning one's polish-stained hands afterward. Liquids, preferred by women, are less messy and self-shining, but they scuff easily and offer little waterproof protection. Thus, the new Kiwi and Turtle cream product lands between these two. It's less messy than paste and dries quicker, while providing more waterproofing than liquids.

So when the dust clears, which company will end up capturing the polishing public's fancy? All of shumanity awaits the outcome.

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