Between the Dream and the Reality lies the Journey through Shadow Valley. A Post on the Birth of King of Shaves Hyperglide.
27 Oct 2013
I’m writing this in Melbourne, Victoria having flown into Australia from Tokyo via Singapore. The last month has seen me travel to Canada, and across America, from LA to Boston via Minneapolis & Chicago. The reason for all the travel? To meet with major retailers about what we are planning at KoS for 2014, namely the launch of Hyperglide, a razor, the development of which sometimes feels like the action of pushing water uphill. Impossible.
But I – we’ve – always felt “Impossible is Nothing, Just Do It” (paraphrasing two famous sporting brands!) at King of Shaves.
With the exception of Gillette and Schick Wilkinson-Sword simply adding blades to their razors (these companies dominate 98% of the world’s system razor sales) over the past few years, genuine performance advances in system razors have been few and far between. Vibrating razors? Pah. Indeed, many men no longer shave daily, grow beards or have returned to shaving with DE (double edged) razors.
Men seem to have fallen out of love with shaving.
Back then, only Gillette & Schick Wilkinson-Sword existed in razors and blades, along with Colgate Palmolive and Edge in shaving preps. No Nivea. No L’Oreal. No Dove Men+Care. No Art of Shaving, Anthony for Men, Billy Jealousy, Bulldog, Dollar Shave Club, Harrys.
When King of Shaves launched, it changed the face of men’s grooming worldwide. It’s difficult to understimate the effect we had on the male grooming landscape. Repeatedly pioneering, and in the vanguard of product development, for sure we defined success in male grooming, opening doors for many others to join us. After all, if little King of Shaves could compete on level terms with Gillette in manufacturing men’s shaving products, then so could many others.
Buying shave.com in 1995 was the equivalent then of Dollar Shave Club launching it’s website today.
Ten years after founding King of Shaves, we started development work on what was to become our first system razor, the Azor. Amazingly, this was the first new brand of razor to be launched by a British company in over 100 years. We were starting from scratch, with no knowledge, and therefore no pre-conception of what success looked like. By this time, there were dozens of brands selling shaving oils, creams, gels, moisturisers but still no serious, high performance competitors to the duopolistic two.
In 2008, we launched our Azor. For sure, the handle was pretty revolutionary (and zag in design) but the cartridge was pretty – well – normal. A 4 blade, open architecture design, that we had adapted from a Japanese manufacturer. Note the word ‘adapted’. Not designed.
Any company can brand an existing ‘regular’ system razor and sell it. Only a handful have the ingenuity, the creativity and the drive, passion and belief to actually design one. All of one.
Our Azor was pretty successful. Is pretty successful! We’ve sold over 5m handles, 25m cartridges. Not bad. But NOWHERE NEAR enough to put a dent in the sales of our competitors. As soon as we launched, both Gillette & Wilkinson Sword went “50% off on handles” (to try and safeguard their position) and five years in, are still following this practice. I knew we’d be promoted against, and deep in my heart, I knew for us to succeed, we needed to do what Apple had done in mobile phones, where there where once phones, there would be smartphones.
In our case, where there was once a razor, there would be a smart razor.
The inspiration for our next generation razor, which will debut in 2014 came from two sources. Firstly, the launch of our original shaving oil – that delivered amazing lubrication during the shave along with water – to ease, remove razor burn. And, secondly, from advanced surface modifiying technology which is outlawed in high performance yacht racing (such as the America’s Cup) as it’s use is so technical, and so potentially game changing, that its use is denied, even to AC72 owning billionaires…
One of my favourite quotes is “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – widely attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, almost certainly regarded as the most creative, original and talented artist/engineer of all time. So, I challenged my team – make shaving even simpler.
How we’ve done that will come clear when we debut “Hyperglide” next year. Yet, between the Dream (March 2009) and the Reality (2014) my team and I have plunged the depths of shadow valley. After all, our competitors have unbelievable size and scale, R&D budgets that don’t only dwarf ours, but make ours look microscopic, are patenting even the most pointless innovations monthly, and for sure have their eye on what we are up to…
It’s been a long, arduous and exhausting journey in shadow valley. The distance between the euphoria of the dream and the manufacture of the reality, in our case, has been four years – four long years – where many have doubted, and few have believed. But I have believed we can manufacture the world’s best sytem razor, one that is 100% designed, 100% assembled, 97.3% manufactured in the UK. Like our shaving oil, designed to shave the world, better – forever.
Not for us selling cheap, branded OEM razors…
At the start of this blog post, you will see where I started, back in 2003 (pre-twitter, YouTube, Facebook!) And the pic at the end of this post is one I took when in Singapore, of “my Hyperglide” which I’ve been using various versions of for the past 12 months.
Here’s to you getting “your Hyperglide”. And experiencing the “Wow – Unbelievable!” feedback we’ve had from our 100 or so beta testers.
Don’t just shave. King of Shaves. I guarantee it will be worth waiting for. Or I’ll eat my crown.