The Shaving Process and Dollar Shave Club, Revisited

Scott Francis
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The 4-packDollar Shave Club is back in the news thanks to a blockbuster deal selling the firm to Unilever for $1 Billion.  We even wrote about Dollar Shave Club on this blog back in 2012, commenting on the effect of the DSC process, not just the product:

But what they might miss is this: Dollar Shave Club’s new razor shaves better than an over-used Mach 3 or Fusion blade.  And every week, you just start with a new blade.  For me, this means I’m more often shaving with a brand new razor, and therefore getting a really close shave.  And I know that every Monday, I can just start with a fresh razor.  Done.  After a month, I find a four-pack of razors in the mail.

To recap:

  •  A brand new cheap razor is likely better than an old razor that was originally sharper/better but has dulled with use
  • Having the right number of razors for a given time frame lets you switch razors on a schedule rather than waiting til you get a “bad shave”
  • No shopping required, they send you the right number of razors over the right period of time.

Of course, it isn’t just a story about blades and shaving – it is also a story about a winning formula for a fantastically successful startup:

  • viral video
  • new business model for a “boring” product category
  • great execution on sales, marketing, and delivery

David Pakman wrote about this beautifully on Medium, I can’t do it any better.  But Ben Thompson puts the whole Dollar Shave Club phenomenon in context here: The disruption of everything.

In that article he breaks down how dominant and awesome P&G’s power is (through Gillette).  And how remarkable it is that the advent of AWS and DSC found a chink in the armor that could be exploited to build a great and sustainable business that actually threatens the incumbent.  Ben argues that the implications of this disruption are that TV advertising will be severely negatively impacted by the reduction of advertising by… P&G.  Pretty amazing analysis when you think about it.

Despite loving the service and liking the product, after using Dollar Shave Club for about a year or so, I switched to Harry’s – in my view a better quality razor at similar price, and with a similar process.  However, as a process guy, Harry’s takes it even further by owning the means of production of the razors at a factory in Germany.  This is the kind of stuff process geeks really love.

So if DSC was so great, why did I switch?  A couple of reasons:

  • The razors were noticeably worse than Gillette Fusion blades, which I still use occasionally when I want an especially close shave. 
  • Some of the new products introduced didn’t appeal to me, and in fact turned me off from the brand (Butt Wipes?).  In some fashion they seemed to cross the line from disrespecting the incumbent competition to disrespecting the customer.  That’s just a matter of opinion as their revenues roughly doubled since I quit the service (!)

Things like that opened the door to trying a similar service (Harry’s) with potentially superior product.  And indeed I like the razors a bit better.  I’d still argue that the Gillette Fusion gives the best shave on Day 1, and Consumer Reports agrees. But at $5/cartridge you’re likely not swapping them out as often.  In a sense what you’re after is the optimum balance between price and performance to get he “best average shave” which declines in quality over time each time you use the same cartridge…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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