6 Jun 2014
For 21 years, I’ve been privileged to run King of Shaves, and observe the happenings of a truly unusual consumer product sector. In 1993, the world was a different place – men wore suits and ties, shaved with a twin blade razor and used white foam. But one thing has remained constant. Gillette’s stranglehold on global sales of razors and blades.
Perhaps, until now. I sense a tipping point happening right now, when the balance of power will dynamically shift, from the ‘old guard’ to the ‘new guard’ and hugely in favour of the consumer.
In 2003, we started work on launching a new razor, due to all the attendant issues involving patents (filing them and not infringing others) it took until 2008 to launch our Azor 4. At that time, Gillette, having relied on a few patents filed in the late 80’s & mid 90’s (three basically) had pulled out what looked like an unassailable lead in shaving, leaving Schick Wilkinson Sword for dust, as they stuck with their ‘stacked blade’ cartridge architecture, whilst Gillette made the most of their ‘angle iron’ open architecture (first debuted on Sensor in 1991).
Even when Schick Wilkinson Sword belatedly launched Hydro in 2011, it didn’t hugely dent Gillette.
But, we live in unusual times. Enter the ‘bearded hipster’ and an LA based stand-up comic.
We were at the ‘peak’ of clean shaven-ness in 2003, a couple of years after the tragic events of 9/11 – when beards were associated with bad guys. Between 2005 up until early last year, we then experienced Hollywood A-Listers sporting beards/stubble, a 5 year global economic recession, the growth of social media & connectivity (and opinion, trend sharing at scale) and growing push-back against the price of system razor cartridges, notably Gillette’s 5 blade Fusion & Fusion ProGlide.
In 2012, the entrance of Dollar Shave Club (A Great Shave For A $1 A Month) called out all what was wrong with the market leader’s approach. For sure, the cartridges didn’t necessarily deliver ‘quite’ as good a shave as Gillette’s flagship products (ultimately, the person shaving is the judge of that) but what DSC did do so consummately was to create a community of people who eschewed most everything the market leader stood for, including the insane expense of its cartridges, it’s advertising and a whole lot more).
At King of Shaves, we’ d been tirelessly working away on launching our next generation razor, which deployed superhydrophilic technology on its cartridge face to allow consumers to ‘just add water’ and shave (after all, mobile phones don’t have buttons now, do they?) and this time last year, an East Coast (NYC) based start-up – Harry’s – launched its stylish take on shaving, based around a different sort of community values, preferring a shaving ‘plan’ rather than subscription, then raising over $100m to buy the German based manufacturer (which supplies supermarket private label blades throughout Europe) to secure its supply chain.
When we launched Hyperglide in mid-January, we got huge press coverage and great reviews – having GENUINELY innovated in the space, eschewing vibrations and other nonsense, to concentrate the shave comfort as well as closeness via our Hyperglide tech. It’s well worth pointing out that pretty much ALL other razors in the market use a 1976 ‘Lubrastrip’ technology, including all of Gillette’s products. We ZAGGED 180 degrees from them (in fact, in pretty much everything we’ve ever done we’ve done it different) and introduced what I believe, will presage a genuine change in what a high-performance system razor cartridge looks like (we even have a HypergliDE ‘old school’ razor being tested).
It was only when we saw what was happening in the market, in the UK and USA, with Gillette’s sales not just down, but substantially down in their flagship system razor space, that we knew this combination of Beards + Subs + Economy had dealt a potentially lethal combination of blows.
Writing this right now (and this is my personal opinion, remember) I think the razor & blade space is in a pivotal space. On the one hand, I see Gillette’ Fusion cartridges discounted by 50% on Amazon in the UK, something unheard of a few years back, and for sure something that would likely NEVER happen at a big box retailer
Dollar Shave are claiming over 5% US market share in America, with 600,000 subscribers.
And Gillette have launched what I can only describe as a ‘more of our same’ response, in Flexball, a razor handle that simply pivots, sort of using a dyson-inspired ‘ball’.
It’s on sale now in the USA, sitting on retailers shelves in simply massive numbers, and to me, represents a ‘last ditch attempt’ to reverse their sales decline. As Gillette are pretty much ‘the market’ – if they’re down, the market’s down, and this has a huge effect on retailers. The price it’s being launched at, looks to me violently loss-leading, and I guess (they hope) once bought, so the purchase of refill cartridges will follow (remember, not discounted…)
I’m note so sure. As more and more people experience Hyperglide (with or without prep) I think they’ll recognise that this is a great razor, and one to stick with. As more and more people gawp in disbelief at the huge marketing spends being deployed by Gillette behind Flexball, and their primary Fusion franchise, they’ll look even more closely at ‘how much a shave should be’ and continue to flock to Dollar Shave in the USA (and of course our SUB in the UK, which now features Hyperglide at just £5.99/month including VAT and delivery P&P too.
In short, we could see one of the biggest consumer product FMCG market resets ever staring at us in the next few years.
In 2007, and I’ve made this point many times in my presentations, Nokia had 61% of the world-wide mobile phone market. Blackberry were the smartphone of choice for the corporate executive. Even Sony Ericsson had nearly 28% UK market share.
Where are they now?
It’s for sure down to us at King of Shaves, along with the new asymmetric competitors in this space, and others to continue to disrupt and bring the consumer better. I’m proud that since 1993 we’ve brought desperately needed competition to this space. That we had the guts 10 years ago to start looking at bringing competition into the monopoly – sorry – cosy duopoly – of razors. That 5 years ago, in 2009 my team AAndy at King of Shaves not only discovered, but commercialised at scale, our patented superhydrophilic tech. And that a guy in LA debuted a $5000 video pointing out all that was wrong in the world of wet shave.
The only balls I’ll be buying into in the next few weeks, will be being kicked around in Brazil.