Sharpening the blades

Razor manufacturers are banking on new technologies to spur sales in the grocery channel.

By Craig Levitt

The razor war between Gillette and Schick may never be memorialized in song the way the cola war between Coke and Pepsi was in the Billy Joel song We Didn’t Start the Fire, but the top two names in shaving continue to wage an epic battle over the contours of men’s faces.

Observers of the $2.6 billion shaving market say that to some extent, razor makers have become victims of their own success. They point out that technology has become much more sophisticated, thus extending the longevity of blades. The longer lifecycles translate into more time between consumer purchases. Observers add that fashion trends play a role in razor and blade sales as well. For example, the current “scruffy” look provides a speed bump to category sales.

Even in a challenging environment, manufacturers are finding ways to spark consumer interest in shaving products. According to the SymphonyIRI Group, based in Chicago, razor sales (non disposable) at food, drug and mass channels, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52 week period ended April 18 are up 3.10%; accounting for more than $214 million. Just as important, unit sales are up 2.49%. Disposable dollar sales (which accounts for more than $500 million) are up 2.02%. Unit sales are relatively flat, up just 0.57%.

“Driving the category are new items,” says Susan Lanzarotto, director shaver marketing for Shelton, Conn.-based BIC. “[It comes down to] what can someone else do to present themselves in a different light. So it is about blade technology and about giving users another thing to make their lives a little easier.”

Kristen Gugliotta, a member of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble’s (owners of the Gillette brand, which controls about 45% of the market) grooming external relations team, says that while innovation is important to the category, the innovation has to be more than simply adding a new feature or renaming old technology. She adds that the true innovation that drives the category happens when breakthrough technology is applied to understanding consumers and delivering a meaningful consumer experience.

Close and comfortable

Gugliotta says that the recently introduced Gillette Fusion ProGlide does just that. “That is exactly what Gillette Fusion ProGlide delivers.” According to Gugliotta, the Fusion ProGlide incorporates seven complementary technologies which include: 15% thinner blades with finer edges designed to create less pull and tug, a blade stabilizer that adjusts to the contours of a man’s face, a comfort guard which helps maintain optimal blade contact, an enhanced Lubrastrip infused with mineral oil and lubricating polymers, a hair guiding microcomb, an improved precision trimmer with enhanced blade and redesigned handle with improved grip. Along with the new shaving system, Gillette is also launching the ProSeries line of skin care products.

Not to be outdone, the No. 2 in the category, Schick-Wilkinson Sword, a division of St. Louis-based Energizer Holdings, recently introduced the Schick Hydro. Officials from the company, which has about a 23% market share, say that the Schick Hydro, which is available in either a three- or five-blade model, is a result of several years of testing and consumer collaboration, “making it the most thoroughly researched product in the brands 87 year history.”

Refreshing daily ritual

According to Dan Kinton, senior brand manager for Schick, much of the feedback from men was that the shaving experience needed to be refreshed and they were looking for something that would rejuvenate them.

“With Schick Hydro, we knew that if we could create a shaving line that actually made men feel better we’d be able to return shaving to its rightful place as a refreshing daily ritual,” says Kinton. “Our goal was to create a razor that gives back the hydration other razors take away.”

Like the Fusion ProGlide, the Schick Hydro features several technological advances that company officials say is “nothing less than a total rebuild of the razor system” as the blade, cartridge lubricating system trimming blade and handle are all designed to work together to reduce shaving irritation. Central to the Hydro innovations is the addition of Skin Guards that smooth out skin between blades, a hydrating gel reservoir with aloe and vitamin E and an ergonomic handle.

“Schick Hydro is a technological step change for the entire razor category,” says David VerNooy, vice president of technology for Schick. “From the blade cartridge and the lubricating system, to the handle and trimming blade, we looked at every element of this razor and redesigned it to create a markedly improved shave experience for men.”

Similar to Gillette’s Fusion ProGlide, a line of Schick Hydro shaving gels, available in moisturizing and sensitive skin, have been introduced as well.

More blades

On the disposable, side BIC now offers two new shavers for men, the BIC Flex4 and the BIC Hybrid Advance. Following the lead of razor systems that have gone to four blades, the Flex4 has four flexible blades that individually adjust to the face. The shaver also has a pivoting head and a textured handle. According to BIC’s Lanzarotto the Hybrid Advance is the first triple-blade disposable shaver with replaceable heads. It also features an extra large lube strip with aloe and vitamin E.

Even with the influx of new products, observers say that not surprisingly sales in the grocery channel are not as strong as they have been in the past.

Manufacturers are quick to point out that the average grocery shopper is not walking grocers’ shaving aisle on a regular basis and that razor purchases at grocery are generally a convenience purchase as opposed to one of necessity.

That said, manufacturers continue offer retailers assistance. Even though men are not the primary shopper in the supermarket, P&G’s Gugliotta suggests that retailers should explore communications that are more male centric. P&G partners with sports leagues such as the NFL, MLB and NASCAR to provide a variety of assets which retailers can leverage to appeal to men. Putting all grooming products together on shelf can also be helpful.

“Retailers who visually define the male grooming category on shelf have the most success,” says Gugliotta. “We encourage retailers to display shaving products, from razors to cartridges to shave gels to after-shave products all in the same area.”

Observers say that since the category is one that doesn’t generally get a steady influx of new users generating new sales is basically about pilfering users from the competition. Often that can be tough as, at least with systems, there is a pretty high level of brand loyalty.­

“People really invest in that handle,” says Lanzarotto. “Once they invest in that handle, and if they are satisfied with the shave, they are going to stick there.

“[Brand loyalty in] disposable is a little more difficult because consumers in the disposable category, the things that drive them are sales, coupons and promotional activity. So we try to reinforce to consumers our quality and value positioning to really tell them that we have a great shaver at a great price.”

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