Battles are won before they’re fought (Sun Tzu). My thoughts on the upcoming razor Battle Royal between Gillette Fusion ProGlide, Wilkinson Sword Hydro & King of Shaves Azor.

It’s been quite a year in the ShaveWare (razor, blades & shaving software) FMCG space.

2169-IMG_0406-thumb-336x448-2168.jpgWe launched King of Shaves Azor M in February. Gillette announced the launch of Fusion ProGlide a day later. Schick (Wilkinson Sword) announced the launch of Hydro. And in September, we launched Azor M Sensitive in Tesco.

Schick Hydro launched in the USA in May, you can read my review on Hydro here. It’s sales initially looked promising, until Gillette unleashed Fusion ProGlide (and probably a Hundred Million dollars of marketing spend behind it). You can read my thoughts on ProGlide here. Anyhow, as quickly as Schick Hydro’s US market share went up, it went down (according to the IRI sales data I’ve seen anyway).

In short, Gillette did what it always does, spent huge amounts of money ensuring consumer traction with that particular competitor was limited.

And now, exactly the same pattern is going to repeated in the UK. Wilkinson Sword Hydro (Schick is Wilkinson Sword in the UK) will launch early October, in Boots and Tesco. And, a day after the Hydro press launch in the UK, held at the Design Museum happened, Gillette announce that it will unleash Fusion ProGlide in the UK in “Q1 2011″.

According to some documents I’ve seen, Wikinson Sword will be spending c£20m on the Hydro launch in terms of consumer & trade marketing. According to a press report on the Fusion ProGlide launch in Marketing, it’s going to be “the biggest FMCG launch in 2011″. Read marketing spend of, well – I’ll hazard a guess – five times Hydro, say £100m.

Why so large? Well, A) the migration of consumers into the Fusion hardware platform in the UK hasn’t been as strong as Gillette might like, with sales dropping off of legacy platforms (Sensor, Mach3) and of course, people continuing to migrate to our King of Shaves Azor platform (12,000+ handles & c80,000 cartridges sold last week alone) and B) as King of Shaves continues to grow, Gillette’s intent is to ‘squeeze’ Wilkinson Sword in a sandwich between them (on top) and us (coming up).

Ouch.

So, let’s summarise.

Wilkinson Sword are about to (finally) introduce an Open Architecture razor cartridge (after, apparently, 6-10 years of R&D, depending who you listen to). The Hydro platform isn’t compatible with the Quattro platform, so everyone who’s bought Quattro handles in the past year (including the powered Precision Trimmer product) won’t A) be able to use Hydro cartridges with them or B) will have to eschew Quattro and go to Hydro. As I’ve pointed out earlier, the Hydro cartridge (the 5 blade anyway) is OK, with one problem – it doesn’t have blade suspension (read comfortable shave) like King of Shaves Azor & Gillette Fusion have. It’s close for sure – but if you’ve got sensitive skin (like I, along with 53% of the male population have) then it’s a bit too close for comfort (in my Personal Honest Opinion).

Gillette are about to launch Their Most Expensive Razor Ever. They’re attempting to dull the effect on your wallet by (probably) selling the replacement in 3’s and 6’s (rather than our 4’s & 8’s) but mark my words, if Fusion Power ‘regular’ is £2.50/cartridge – or nigh on £20 for 8 (King of Shaves Azor 8 pack replacement cartridges are £9.49, less than half price) then Fusion ProGlide Power cartridges are going to be…I guess £2.99/cartridge.

That’ll make 8 cartridges £24 pounds.

Wilkinson Sword Hydro = Could have been a better, more ‘thought through’ razor.

Gillette Fusion ProGlide = A very good razor & closer comfortable shave, but EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE.

King of Shaves Azor & Azor M = A great razor, that delivers a CLOSE, COMFORTABLE shave but WITHOUT GILLETTE’S RANSOM

So, it’s fair to say there’s going to be a right old Battle Royal going on between now, and the end of Q1 2011 in the cut throat world of razors & blades.

What’s going to be our response. Well, as I read Sun-Tzu, I know that telegraphing your movements out to ‘the enemy’ is a somewhat short-sighted thing to do. And I also know a battle is won before its fought. We don’t have the cash of our competitors, but we do have another word beginning with C…

Watch this space…