Face it, we owe a lot to the Gillette company. In 1901 King Gillette (his real name!) created his first safety razor. That changed the shaving world. The company continued to evolve their products. He founded his company on the credo “there is a better way to shave and we’ll find it.” And boy did they! Between 1940 and 1970 the company introduced us to the Super Speed, the Fatboy, the Toggle, the Super Adjustable and others that we know, love and shave with today.
But it was in 1971 that the company that revolutionized shaving 70 years before started to turn its sights to cheap, plastic razors. In fact, on their website, Gillette proudly goes through the lineage of the plastic cart razors that so many of us tried and grew sick of. Nowhere on the site did they mention when they stopped making “real” razors. And what they replaced them with not only didn’t give as close a shave as the razors that made King Gillette’s company king in that arena, they got more and more expensive. I know that’s one reason that many give for going “old school”. When the price of a package of 4 blades is $12 or more, that’s when I think a lot of us said “to hell with this” and looked for something that’ll do the job for less.
As we turned back to the classics, the tried and true Gillettes, Every Ready’s Lather Catcher or even the really old school straight razor…others saw a different way. Enter…the shaving club.
As I wrote in a couple of earlier articles, The Dollar Shave Club has come on strong with about $140 million in sales in 2015, double what they did in 2014, and some pretty funny commercials about their products, which are re-badged Dorco razors. Another relative newcomer to the shaving world is Harry’s. They’ve come to the shaving scene with sophisticated-looking razors and bought their own company to make their blades. Harry’s reports it has one million customers in the U.S. and Canada. Both companies’ goal? To chip away at the $7.9 BILLION dollar worth of shaving sales that Gillette does every year. How are they doing? DSC and Harry’s claim their sales and memberships keep going up and both raised $75 million last summer to help fund their cause. So how is Gillette responding? With their OWN shave club. Beat them at their own game seems to be the game plan. “It seems to be working so well for the others, Gillette executives must have been thinking, “let’s do it ourselves. We’re Gillette! What can go wrong?” That’s where their shaving dream runs up against the reality of the real world shaver.
Back in 2012, Gillette ran a series of commercials starring actor Brandon Quinn where he tells the audience that Gillette sent him around the world so see how long he could shave with a single ProGlide razor. After going through what looks like the African savanna, Asian rainforests and Paris, he tells viewers that their cartridges last up to five weeks. This is something that Gillette has never done, telling the world how long their razors last, because they didn’t have to. But they opened up in the commercial and have that same claim on their website. But something that had me shaking my head while researching their plans is that Gillette itself has stated that 10% of men who shave replace their carts according to a calendar, while the rest of them go by feel. But now they’re seeming to go against that and want shavers to go by a calendar. And when they debuted their plan in 2014, they actually downgraded the time a cart will last to “about a month.”
The one thing that’s clear is that a cart razor, just like a safety razor, will last only as long as the person shaving with it decides it will. While Gillette claims its carts will last “up to a month,” I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who actually gets that many shaves out of one. I found several polls on different websites and the majority of respondents seemed to fall into two camps–one to seven shaves, or until it starts to pull hairs or feeling like it’s scraping across their face:
Even on their website, numerous users say that a week and a half or two is what they can comfortably get out of a Gillette Shave Plan razor, so let’s break down the problems with their version of shaving reality.
Their entry-level cart razor for their plans is the Mach 3 razor. On Gillette’s monthly plan, the cost is about $17.50, if you go through Gillette. They give you the option of several other retailers. To make this simple, we’ll stick with big G. For that, they’ll ship you five cartridges every four months. How does that work? Well, on Gillette’s website, they state that each cartridge should last up to one month, if you shave 3 or 4 times a week. So each of the cartridges only costs you $3.50 and that’s a pretty cheap price for a shave! If, that is, you can make one cartridge last a month. I am not someone who has a 5 o’clock shadow just after noon, but if I don’t shave for a day, you can see it. So the idea of rationing my shaves because now I’m on their plan seems ludicrous. I remember being broke and really, really hoping that my Mach 3 could give me one more shave because payday was three days away and I couldn’t go a couple days looking like a George Michael wannabe from the late 80’s. I didn’t have to have “Faith,” I had to have a better, cheaper way to shave. But to believe Gillette’s marketing team, you’ll actually have one blade kinda left over in that four-month period. I guess that’s if you suddenly are thrust into the real world where you’re expected to be clean shaven every day, you can do just that. Until that cart starts feeling like you’re dragging broken glass over your face, and then you’re back to using a cart a week or a week and a half and then you’re back where you started. And that’s for the cheapest plan. The Fusion Proglide is $4.90 a cartridge and their top-of-the line plan is for the Fusion Proshield, where cartridges will run you $5.62 each.
To anyone who shaves daily, the flaw with Gillette’s shaving reality is obvious. Most guys I know shave every day, or every other day. And they won’t run a dull and rusting razor across their face for a month to save some dough. So what do they do? Well, we all know the choices!
#1, Suck it up and pay what Gillette or Schick says you should (while Schick doesn’t have a plan, their carts are just as expensive as Gillette’s)
#2, grow a beard.
#3, get an electric.
#4, go old school (go for it!). Or
#5, and the newest option, is to try a different company’s plan. That’s why Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s sales are continuing to climb. Guys shave every day or maybe every other day. And want a razor that doesn’t feel like it’s ripping your face off. So why does Gillette keep pushing their over-priced products and believing that one cartridge a month will work if you shave 3 or 4 times a week? Because after they decided that cheap plastic was the way to go over solid steel, they’ve never looked back. And that’s why wet shaving is continuing to grow and so are sales at DSC and Harry’s and at several other, newer, clubs. It’s nice to root for David against Goliath but in this case a little sad because Goliath created what we know and love, which is wet shaving, but then forgot about us.