Since the inception of the original safety razor patents, Big Razor has sought to secure its market dominance by maintaining a very effective moat around its products. This moat includes consumer over-education, patent protection and broad-scale distribution.
Intellectual Property & Over-engineered Obsolescence
Once the original patents on the safety razor expired in 1921, Big Razor had no choice but to attempt to erect new fortifications against other potential market entrants. Additional patents ensued, each adding a new twist and additional technology on top of the original razor and blade design. With each added feature, the cost to the consumer escalated.
Additional engineering included greater marketing dollars and increased brand awareness. Branding and marketing created demand and a dominance in both distribution and therefore market share. In fact, the brand alone has been estimated to be worth some 25% or more of the total value of the business. With each iteration, Big Razor added additional features, patenting them all the while. Multiple blades went from one to five. Heating elements, vibrators and lubrication strips were included, all with the aim toward shave improvement.
But somewhere things went too far. Somewhere the public realized they were sold a bill of goods. It’s not that the shave was bad, it’s simply that the marginal cost no longer matched the marginal benefit and that the natural obsolescence of the razor and blades business model had been overengineered and overhyped.
In short, the consuming public began to realize that—at least when it comes to shaving—maybe less really is more.
Marketing & Distribution
When it comes to succeeding in mass-marketing, accessibility is nine tenths of the law. This is particularly true when it comes to purchasing replacement razor blades. Razor blades are frequently an afterthought purchase from the grocery or drug store. High brand awareness combined with distribution on a global scale creates a situation where the consumer has less of a choice than he thinks.
Luckily, distribution and accessibility models have changed greatly over the years, significantly benefiting the consumer. Direct-to-consumer ecommerce and subscription-based shaving clubs are providing quick delivery with a cult-like experience to the shaver.
But, you have to give credit where credit is due. Not only was Big Razor able to initially make a splash in the razor and blades market, they were able to continuously reinvent their product and their marketing to stay one step ahead of any would-be entrant that may wish to unseat that vast dominance. They did have a first-mover advantage, but maintaining the position of market leader has been well-executed. That is, until recently.
I particularly liked Eric’s response to my previous suggestions on penetrating wet shaving into the mainstream. He aptly stated:
There was a time when the bulk of us drank really weak, tasteless coffee because that’s what Folgers, Maxwell House, etc. wanted us drinking because it was profitable for them. We drank fairly bland beer from Budweiser, Miller, Coors because they profitably made a boatload of it and told us that’s what we liked.
Along came Starbucks and a few others who actually had the gall to sell us coffee that tasted good. Sam Adams and the likes gave us beer that actually was flavorful and we said give us more! Damned if they didn’t charge us a premium but we handed them more and more dollars until they “moved the needle” in their industries.
Us Baby Boomers and our kids did that. Took us years but we did it.
Now, how do get Millenials to give up their multi-bladed plastic creations and canned shaving goo? Yes, these are the young adults in skinny jeans, Jethro boots and haircuts I can’t even begin to describe but, if you’re going to move that needle, figure out how to sell to them because a) there’s a buttload of them and b) they have lots of money to spend and c) eventually they will reproduce and their kids will follow their lead (i.e. captive audience).
Eric’s analogies to beer and coffee in the 70’s and 80’s is a near-perfect fit. Getting past the marketing hype of Big Razor, Inc. may take us years too, Eric, but we will do it.
Getting Back to Classic Wet Shaving
When the marginal cost greatly oversteps the marginal benefit like it has so obviously done when it comes to the razor and blades industry, a market correction occurs. Upstarts like direct-to-consumer subscription shave clubs and wet shaving accoutrement websites continue to grow in popularity while Big Razor’s share of the overall pie is slipping and it’s not just because of price. The comeback of beards, goatees and mustaches has also made an impact on the demand for high-priced razors.
But there is no incentive for the largest shaving businesses to change the tune of their marketing message only to have it nearly cannibalize their existing revenue in a major way ($0.10 double edge safety razor blades vs. $4.00 cartridge blades would be a death sentence). Fortunately—thanks to the internet’s information accessibility—the world is flatter than it has ever been. The problem is widespread education in the art of wet shaving without billion dollar ad budgets.
In the United States, a groundswell of cost and quality-conscious shavers have begun to adopt the age-old techniques of using single-blade straight and safety razors as their solutions of choice for hair removal, but much work remains. “Big Razor, Inc.” still maintains over 50% market share in an industry that still rakes in billions annually. In short, we are still buying what Big Razor is selling: a commoditized shave at an exorbitant price.
The argument to switch to wet shaving always includes one or more of the following:
- The shave is better. You will get the closest shave of your life with the proper hardware and technique than you can with multi-blade cartridges.
- The price is better. The blades can be 400% cheaper than the most expensive multi-blade cartridges.
- Less environmental impact. It is estimated that 2 billion multi-blade cartridge razors end up in US landfills each year. Double edge safety razor blades, on the other hand, are fully recyclable.
Doing your part in the promulgation and proliferation of traditional classic shaving is likely going to continue to require the grassroots efforts of bloggers, wet shaving Youtube enthusiasts and word-of-mouth hustle. There is not going to be an advertising budget for a wet shaving company at the Super Bowl or the World Cup. Even more than paying it forward by telling a friend, classic shavers are even best served by buying their friends a safety razor and some blades, teaching them how to use it and encouraging them to spread the love.
Joshua Chou is with Shave.net, a provider of various wet shaving supplies. Josh is a longtime wet shaving enthusiast, safety razor evangelist, marketing manager and operations herder extraordinaire.