Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Rise and Plateau of Traditional Safety Razor Shaving in a Single Chart

A combination of reasons have likely been the driving force behind the semi-recent rise of traditional wet shaving using a traditional safety razor. Post-recession frugality, a desire to change shave from utility to enjoyment, novelty or perhaps even a hipster sense of nostalgia have all helped to drive demand for the cottage industry of shaving with a safety razor. Concurrent to this ascent has also been the increase in competition of the lucrative cartridge razor market. Scrappy upstarts turned billion-dollar darlings like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club have further stolen market share from behemoth P&G/Gillette, sparking what some have referred to as the bloody razor wars. Will the continued proliferation of shave clubs help or hurt the traditional shaver market? What does the market growth trajectory of traditional wet shaving with straight and safety razors look like?

Consulting with Google Trends, can help us see historical swings:

Unfortunately, they have yet to release a “crystal ball” feature that lets us peer into the future. It not only appears that much of the hype over wet shaving, safety razors and shaving brushes has leveled-off, it would appear that it even may be taking a negative dive.

Currently and unfortunately, the safety and straight shaver market remains somewhat of a cottage industry filled with many a die-hard shaver, but nothing that has really gripped the masses. Perhaps the larger companies got it right. Perhaps, there is a desire for speed and convenience over enjoyment and quality.

There may be other factors at play here. First, the market for razors and blades does not include the margins that it once held. In fact, today’s individual safety razor blades--excluding a count for inflation--still cost about the same amount they did ($0.10 each) when King Gillette sold them 100 years ago. If you count for inflation, it’s a terrible business to be in. Knowing this, giants like P&G have invested heavily in developing convenience versions to provide an easier shave. They not only have spent heavily on the product, which incidentally has some 4,750% markup in the case of the Gillette Fusion, they have also spent heavily on marketing and distribution.

And marketing works. Billions have been spent on convincing the public that the best shave they will ever get is with XYZ blade. Accessibility--which comes with great distribution channels--also ensures the marketing dollars are fully maximized.

The result is a public educated to believe that the best shave they are going to get includes a razor with seven blades and a lubricating strip and a fully-disposable head. Unfortunately, it is going to take a marketing campaign that can get shavers back to the grassroots of what actually works to produce a good, quality shave.

The questions that remain:

     Has safety razor shaving reached its peak or is there further room for growth apart from the hard-core enthusiasts?
     If there is room for growth, where will that growth lead?
     What does the current and future state of the traditional wet shaving market hold for retailers in the space? Consolidation? Disappearance?

Whether the market for wet shaving products continues a slow march forward or whether the current plateau is simply a break toward another large vista remains to be seen. One thing is most definitely for certain, the once dormant cottage industry of shaving with a single blade is not going anywhere. It’s here to stay.

This article was written by Joshua Chou, a wet shaving enthusiast and writer with He is obsessed with evangelizing and promoting all the social, economic and environmental benefits of wet shaving.

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