I recently had an opportunity to talk about eShave with the company’s founder, Danielle Malka. It was an interesting discussion and with her permission I’ve distilled our conversation into post here. My questions are in bold and her answers are in italics.
Your background is marketing and fashion. How did you learn about shaving creams?
Fashion and marketing was just part of my past. Before that I had been a painter, a journalist, and hosted a TV show, among other things. One goes through phases in their life, and I like reinventing myself. I became interested in men’s grooming because it was a way to utilize several of my past career experiences, learn from them, and apply them to the circumstances I found myself in. I had created a line of natural body care products in the early 1990’s that failed. Soon after that an opportunity came my way to become the US distributor for Trumper’s fragrance products. I was invited to London to discuss the project and during the visit I met some of Trumper’s amazing barbers. Their shaves would often give customers such dramatic results–a close, comfortable shave without irritation–that it occurred to me that if we could translate those skills into easy to follow directions with great products that the home shaver could use, then we would have a winner and a great market opportunity. The first step was to kill the myth of the straight razor being the secret–it’s really about hot water, well-prepared skin, and using brush and cream. Very similar to a woman getting a facial. That was 16 years ago and it’s been quite an evolution.
Now it’s very good–2009 was a challenge but we’ve rebounded very well. We’re a niche brand by design and our primary market has been the US but we have slowly started to expand into other countries. Our first international markets were the UK and France but we now have a presence in 19 countries around the world. What is different today is for the first time we are looking at opening a freestanding store outside the US–in Moscow! We hope to open it before the end of June. It’s very exciting!
What differentiates eShave from others in the industry?
We use the other brands in the industry, such as Trumpers, Taylor’s, Truefitt, etc. as inspiration. We want to look at those “traditional” products and give them an updated look for modern men–a modern vision of those traditional brands. We find that many younger men do not relate well to the old-line, traditional brands so we market to the modern man. In addition we’re concerned about ingredients and use “light green” concepts. We’re not “die hard organic” but we do continually re-work our formulations and processes. We use vegetable-based instead of animal-based ingredients, do not use ingredients like parabens, and avoid using boxes for products–they just get thrown out immediately after opening.
How has the business and the industry changed since you started in 1996?
Early on many men thought I was advocating a utopian concept: a shave with no burn, nick, or shadow. I was a women so I didn’t know what I was talking about. But there was a major shift in customer perception when Gillette introduced the Fusion. People said “enough already!” and started looking for an alternative. Today people are ready to listen.
What are your most popular products and why?
Our call to fame are our shave cream and our brushes. They’re popular for two different reasons. For our brushes, it’s the look. Many brands offer similar products, but not the look. For shaving creams our White Tea scent is far and away our best seller. It seems to be universal: it has a very broad appeal in all markets. On the other hand our cucumber-scented cream does well in the US–particularly in Florida and California–but in France we can’t give it away. Our almond-scented cream sells strongly in France, I think partly because the scent evokes childhood memories in many people there.
It seems to me that you create products that are attractive to women as well as men, particularly with shaving brushes. How have women responded?
We are not specifically targeting women as customers but we want the products to appeal to them. Women are total despots and if they don’t like the look of a product it just will not get counter space in the bathroom! So we’re looking for providing a product that will satisfy both the shaver and their partner.
Why haven’t you embraced safety razors vs. multi-blade cartridges?
A great question. We initially looked at DE razors, doing surveys and research among our customers, and found demand was not high enough to justify the cost of tooling and manufacturing. However since the Fusion was introduced interest in DE razors has skyrocketed. We’re currently investigating the different styles of razor heads and handles and we hope to have a DE razor out before the end of the year!
eShave brushes have only three specifications (handle size, handle color, and hair type). What’s been the most popular combination?
Black is by far our most popular handle color. The popularity of other colors seem to be dependent on the region of the country, though the transparent handle seems to be the weakest seller. Our Fine badger hair far outsells the other grades.
By the way, we design and manufacturer all of our brushes in-house. Every day at 3:30pm our artisans start assembling whatever has been ordered that day. After the glue of the hair knot has been set into the handle for 24 hours we ship. Then we replenish our inventory and start again. Its almost like a “made to order” process.
Proctor and Gamble recently acquired the Art of Shaving brand. How do you think it will effect the industry?
Art of Shaving made the initial decision to have more of a broad appeal while eShave made the the decision to be more niche. But I think P&G’s acquisition of AoS is a good thing for the industry as a whole. Traditional wetshaving has been a marginal business for the last 15 years but it’s growing and I think P&G will help bring it to the forefront of people’s minds. I hope people will soon view shaving brushes as just as necessary and ubiquitous as tootbrushes!