I learned something while researching this blog post: Plagiarism is alive and well and living on the Internet.
How do I know this? Because when I punched the query “Why are razor blades so expensive?” into Google, several versions of the same article kept popping up – with zero attribution to the original author.
Here are the conclusions I drew from that: A, there are some truly shifty writers out there. And B, razor blades are this weird pocket of personal grooming shrouded in mystery. They’re a necessity in the developed world, but are evidently so hard and costly to make that only a handful of manufacturers are willing to skate out onto that particular ice.
Presumably, the economics of blade manufacturing was enough to give Unilever pause over the years, even while its archrival – P&G – gobbled-up ever-bigger chunks of the market courtesy of Gillette. Clearly Gillette, which commands at least 50 percent of U.S. shaving-gear sales, is a Procter “power” player, one of the few it didn’t cut loose when it shed some 100 brands in 2014.
Carving a Slice of the $3 Billion U.S. Shaving Pie
But rather than build its own Gillette-esque brand from scratch, Unilever opted to scoop up Dollar Shave Club this past July for the not-unsubstantial sum of $1 billion. (In fact, that’s one-third of the estimated $3 billion American shaving market.) Given that the four-year-old Venice, California-based industry disrupter has yet to turn a profit, it’s obvious “Uni” was after DSC’s direct-to-consumer, decidedly forward-thinking business model.
And you really do have to hand it to DSC founder Michael Dubin for taking that most pedestrian of grooming items – the lowly razor blade– and not only generating genuine buzz around it, but also offering men a combo pack of massive convenience and considerable savings. This wasn’t just hype; via its “club,” which allows members to nab blades for as little as $1 and have them delivered to their door, DSC changed the game.
Thus it’s hardly shocking to learn that 115-year-old Gillette now has its own version of a subscription blade offering. What’s even less surprising is how closely Gillette Shave Club mimics Dollar Shave Club, visually and logistically. GSC and DSC. No one ever accused the beauty business of not keeping its eyes trained on the competition.
For sure, getting blades into a guy’s hands as easily and inexpensively as possible is this year’s “it” industry fixation. One suspects it’s only a matter of time before Coty, Lauder and L’Oréal announce breathless plans for shave clubs of its own.
Time to Invite the Women to the Party
But here’s what I’m hoping happens if Coty, Lauder and L’Oréal do in fact enter the fray: women consumers are finally invited to the party. The last time I checked, the other – larger! — part of the population was plowing through a hell of a lot of blades. And guess what? Women like convenience and cost-savings, too! Fancy that.
I have no idea how women got left out of this gargantuan shave club marketing push, but we most certainly, unequivocally did.
Sure, buried in the Help Center section of its website, DSC allows that “women in the Club love the 4X and the Executive,” i.e., the four- and six-blade products the company offers. They do? Then why not cook up a razor handle that’s a little less macho? Or even just outwardly acknowledge your female members’ existence with a warm welcome on the home page?
Not to hop on a soapbox (okay, I live on the soapbox), but DSC is far from alone in fumbling the chick razor / blade thing.
Here’s an example: On the home page of the Gillette Shave Club, it clearly states: “Our best blades for a few dollars a month.”
But over on the women’s site – GilletteVenus.com – in a section under the header “Never Run Out of Blades” – there’s an option for auto-replenish from a nearby retailer but zero cost-reduction offer. In other words, for women, Gillette got half the equation right – convenience – but not the saving-money piece of the puzzle.
Is it a huge deal? No. At the end of the day, what are we really talking about here – $20 per month for blades, max? Heck, a Tom Ford lipstick will set you back $36.
But wouldn’t it at least be smart business to treat your female customers as well as you do your male customers? Especially when you consider that shaving isn’t really optional for most women in the work force? Of course it’s literally optional. But it straddles this unique fence between beauty and basic grooming.
There’s room for a fresh, hip approach in women’s shaving – especially if you can drive the price down. In a business that has very, very few untapped product categories, this is definitely one. Make it less expensive and more fun, and watch what happens.