Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On Shaving

Is there a grown person in this country who has never shaved? If so, I would truly like to meet him or her and seek to understand how they have resisted the onslaught of television advertising for razers and shavers. I did some research: Gillette alone spends over $700 million annually on its advertising budget for razors--7% of its gross revenues. Although they top the list, other manufacturers push total advertising to over a billion dollars. It's all about marketshare with these guys.

The history of shaving is fascinating, but I don't have time to re-hash tht now (see http://www.quikshave.com/timeline.htm). Going back 40 years or so, I do recall my dad using a double-edge safety razor. The blades were exceedingly sharp and thin (making them somewhat flexible) and you were lucky not to slice off the top of your finger when you changed them.

I seem to remember that Gillette came out with a cartridge razor just as I began shaving around 1970. This was a huge improvement as you never actually had to touch the blade. When it got dull you simply popped it out and clicked in a new cartridge. It was probably 1976 or '77 that the first twin-blade cartridges came out and then a few years later I think it was Bic that brought us the first twin-blade disposable razors, which I loved. The idea of a three or four blade razor was ludicrous--not only from a technological point of view, but functionally as well. Even if such a razor could be made, who would need it? The razors at the time were so superior to what had been used that no improvement was deemed necessary.

But that's not how business works. In 1998 Gillette introduced the Mach3, a three-bladed razor that came with a huge increase in price over the two-bladed system, which had become ubiqitous, and was cheap. The Mach3 was a huge success, selling over 100 million units in its first year. The ultimate razor had been created--at least until Schick's marketing department created a huge buzz with the introduction of the Quatro in 2002. While the Quatro was even more expensive, it did take marketshare away from the Mach3. Gillette has since come out with some enhancements of the Mach3, including the M3 PowerNitro, which is battery assisted. But they never came out with a competing 4-blade system and as it turns out, the reason for that is because they've been working on a five-blade system, called the Fusion, which is due out later this year. You can just imagine the marketing blitz that will engulf us upon the introduction of that razor.

I've read estimates that men spend an average of 3000 hours shaving during their lifetime. I've had varying degrees of facial hair over the last 20-30 years and don't think I will ever approach that figure. During most of that time, I've either used cheap twin-blade disposables or an electric razor, both of which I was perfectly happy with. Maybe two or three years ago, I received a free Mach3 razor in the mail. It sat in my basement medicine cabinet until last week when I decided to give it a try. Well, I'm here to tell you, that was the smoothest, slickest, most satisfying shave I have ever experienced. It was absolutely transcendent and in my mind, the twin-bladed razor was immediately obsolete. Now, I almost look forward to shaving and need to spread the word about this incredible razor. If anybody has tried the Quattro, I'd love to hear from you, but I just can't imagine it getting any better than this. Does that sound familiar?


Susie said...

"varying degrees of facial hair"? I think we could list that in an understatements of the century countdown.

gpb said...

The history of shaving is an interesting topic, indeed. I well remember going into some museums in Italy and seeing those bronze razors and just shuddering in terror. And yet for centuries it was considered manly to be without a beard. Romans didn't have beards, those effeminate Greeks did. I don't myself like wearing a beard. I tried it once--alas, before the age of digital photography and endless pictures. Perhaps my dislike arises from envy, that is, my facial hair is such that I'm not really able to grow a decent looking beard. It was awfully wispy when I tried and was quite itchy before I got to anything that had an acceptable appearance.

I remember cartridges, injectors--many of the technologies. My grandfather used an electric razor. It seemed state of the art at the time. And yet old fashioned because it was my grandfather. I guess they've never gone beyond a certain market niche. My own pet peeve is that the disposables (which I've tried and don't like that much, though they're OK) are SO much cheaper than cartridges for the Atra or Trac. I'm going to take to heart your recommendation of the Mach 3. I'd thought it was a gimmick but I might consider giving it a try with that glowing review.

Susie said...

You beat the NY Times to the story. For some reason we've been get the NYT delivered free for the last week, it seems to be a promotion for the musical Hairspray in Las Vegas. And on page E3 today - "shaving with five blades when maybe two will do". The replacement blades are pricy on the Big Rig - $12-13 for four.