Gillette’s Plan For Dominating The World: P&G, Reverse Innovation, And The Gillette Guard

The Gillette Guard

The Harvard Review had a recent article on how Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette division used “reverse innovation” to bring a new, inexpensive razor to India–the Gillette Guard.  You can read the whole thing at the link but let me summarize:

  • Gillette enjoys extraordinary gross margins in the Western world but don’t fare nearly as well in developing markets such as India.
  • In India, Gillette historically focused on selling their low- and mid-tier American razors in different packaging. But the rural majority still shaved with double-edge razors, “a century-old technology that tends to cause far more cuts and bleeding” (I’ll get to that comment in a while…).
  • P&G reversed the innovation approach at Gillette. It sent a team to India to research customers.  They discovered the typical shaver (particularly in rural areas) was not only far more price-sensitive but also shaved in a completely different way: probably sitting on the floor, with a bowl of water, a hand-held mirror in low light, and “experiencing frequent nicks and cuts from his double-edged razor” (yeah, like I said I’ll get to that…).
  • P&G/Gillette then created a razor to meet the specific needs of this consumer. “The result was the Gillette Guard, perhaps the most significant departure from its traditional product development in Gillette’s history. The Guard uses 80% fewer parts, a plastic housing, and a single blade to minimize cost while preserving ‘good-enough’ shaving performance. It also has a large safety comb to reduce nicks and cuts, easy-rinse cartridges for better cleaning without running water, and several other key features designed specifically for the Indian shaver.”
  • Along with an Indian-centric product Gillette also built an Indian-centric business model. Manufacturing is done locally to further control production and supply chain costs, resulting in razors and blade cartridges selling for 15 and 5 rupees, respectively (about US $0.30 and US $0.10) — less than 3% of the Fusion ProGlide’s prices. “To distribute the product, rather than forming strong relationships with a handful of powerful retailers as in the U.S. or Europe, P&G had to strengthen its network of millions of Indian kiranas, or local shops.”
  • Finally, unlike developed markets where the focus is increasingly on digital marketing, P&G invested instead in traditional ads featuring “Bollywood” actors.

The result?  The article asserts that six months after its introduction, the Gillette Guard had over 50% of the market share by volume.

I’ve mentioned the Gillette Guard before.  I think it’s actually a decent razor for what it is–inexpensive (well, in the Indian market.  Getting one here in the ‘States is a little more expensive), engineered simply but with some interesting features, and designed with the needs of the typical user in mind.  The article’s author suggests they need to apply that success to other emerging markets such as China and Africa, and then possibly onward to developed countries (possibly purposely disrupting their “core business” in the process).

But the author’s swipes at DE razors raised the hackles of traditional shavers.  The article’s comment section is filled with defenders of the DE taking the author to task that the DE causes “frequent nicks and cuts.”  Somewhat surprisingly to me–and to his credit–the article’s co-author wades right in to refute some of the criticisms.

Like many of those commenting on the article, I thought the complaints about DE’s were largely an “excuse.”  After all, P&G/Gillette is looking for market share and profit (not necessarily a bad thing) with a proprietary product they have engineering control over (patents for DE safety razor blades have long since expired) so it would only make sense to criticize a competing product.  However, there are some facts in the mix that Westerners may not know about.  I was able to get the opinion of a major manufacturer about the state of DE razors sold to low income consumers in Indian and Asian countries and got some interesting insights–basically that the majority of DE’s made for those markets by manufacturers there are…well…poor quality.  There are DE razors with plastic heads, poor shave angles, over exposure, etc.   The name of the game is reducing the price of the product by any means possible as the majority of consumers are very low income and base purchase decisions on price – not quality.  No wonder shavers get nicks and cuts.

Although I don’t like the environmental polluting aspect of yet another plastic cartridge, the Gillette Guard and the “reverse innovation” concept appear to be a success.

Take a look at the article and comments and let me know what you think.

mantic59 mantic59 (544 Posts)

also known as "Mantic59." Shave tutor and sharpologist.


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Comments

  1. Ahh, so THIS is the product that was sparking those “OMG gillete’s gonna make a saftey razor” rumours.
    I was pleasantly surprised to see my Indian wife’s grandfather shaving with a three piece safety razor on our last visit. He’d be using his razor (and neem sticks for brushing his teeth) and I’d have my Parker safety razor and prorazo shave soap (which is absolutely hit’s it’s stride in the south indian heat).
    And good old “chachan” certainly had the skill to not nick and cut himself when shaving.

  2. Very typical corporate strategy. Large corporations realize that poor countries are great markets: Lots of people to sell to who despite their poverty are attracted to and crave the status perceived in rich country products. Hence the success of McDonald’s and KFC around the world. Large corporate soft drink makers are pushing their products also in India mindless of the cost to the population as they allocate scarce funds for food for statusy, nutrition-less soft drinks. Precious water resources are also wasted in the manufacturing of these soft drinks. P&G hopes to addict India’s population to their cartridge systems regardless of what problems may ensue.

  3. Personna says:

    “Although I don’t like the environmental polluting aspect of yet another plastic cartridge, the Gillette Guard and the “reverse innovation” concept appear to be a success.”

    You are aware that there is something called “recycling”? They even recycle in third world countries. You can now rest easy at night knowing that “Big-Shaving” isn’t polluting the Earth, which has been scientifically proven to lead to Armageddon.

    :rollseyes

    • mantic59 mantic59 says:

      Assuming everyone recycles, great.

    • Abhinav says:

      As someone who has spent most of their life in India, I can tell you that recyling really isn’t that common. India is notorious for the inefficiencies of its state-based systems, and the only reason that it hasn’t become an epedemic yet is because of the minimal waste actually produced by a country mostly made up of a rural population. I really don’t think that those using these razors are going to be recyling them when they’re done; of course this is all speculation.

      • From what I have seen, recycling in India is done in the home; buy some soda, finish it, clean the bottle and use it to store milk. The cartridges are likely to be looked at askew, there’s not much of a secondary use for them and they’re plastic and bulky. Most people are surely going to throw them in a pile and then burn them every so often.

  4. Midwest Blade says:

    The author obviously has the credentials to publish an article on international business. From a business prospective, I think P&G/Gillette’s development, introduction and marketing of the Guard to be well thought through and the market share numbers back that up.

  5. I have one of these. You can pick them up at westcoastshaving.com for $2. Cartridges are $.50 a piece, so it’s quite affordable. Unless you go to Italianbarber.com. I’ve used it quite a few times, and I’m still using the cartridge it came with. It’s a good razor for travel or hurried shaving. I use it primarily for travel, but I’ve also used it when I didn’t have 15 minutes to spend shaving. Also, as far as a cartridge razor goes, it is the best one Gillette ever manufactured. I prefer to use either one of my vintage Gillette safety razors or my Parker Hygiene barber straight razor, but this one is good in a pinch

    • alex haresnape says:

      i think it looks like a cool razor. not sure if it will be weighty enough for decent wetshaving but at the price you’ve mentioned there, sounds like a great alternative to disposable razor when you’re in a hurry or like you say, travel. i use feather rg and merkur hd but occasionally when in a hurry will use disposable but not keen. will keep an eye out for this razor!

      • alex haresnape says:

        they sell them on ebay in the uk. £5.72 for a handle and 10 blades or £13 for 48 blades. still cheaper to buy DE if you’ve already got a safety razor. just looking for a travel razor, don’t really want to pack my merkur.

  6. Bertoldo says:

    I think that this innovation will be beneficial, given the unsanitary conditions of the environments in which they live and of the water, cut while shaving is not ideal.

  7. There’s another aspect of this that a friend of mine from India brought up. It’s a western thing – and that holds a fair amount of power. A disposable razor is decadent and a mark of affluence.

    Having said that, the source material from the article is suspect as it looks like a rewrite from the P&G marketing division. The author has no direct experience with the so called “outdated methods”.

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  1. […] for India, but thinks that it can market it much more widely.  Gillette plans to bring home the low cost razors they developed in poor countries and Wal-Mart’s aggressive convenience store strategy is a direct […]

  2. […] for India, but thinks that it can market it much more widely.  Gillette plans to bring home the low cost razors they developed in poor countries and Wal-Mart’s aggressive convenience store strategy is a direct […]

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