Procter & Gamble Co. is again revving up the arms race in shaving equipment, betting it can persuade men to forget about hard times and pay more to beat back their beards.
The company that brought the spring-loaded razor, the five-bladed cartridge and battery-powered vibration to what had seemed like a simple morning operation will launch Gillette Fusion ProGlide in June.
A four-pack of the new manual cartridges—the first significant upgrade to Gillette’s Fusion line since its 2006 launch—will sell for about $16.99, and blades for the battery-powered razor for $17.99, a 15% premium to regular Fusion blades, which already run about twice the average price in the category.
Gillette executives bemoan constantly being asked when they will come out with a “ten-blade razor.” Instead of adding more blades, this time the company is promising several technological advances, such as blade edges so fine they can only be seen at high magnification, a “snow-plow guard” that prevents hydroplaning and a new ergonomic grip that improves traction.
“It’s not about blade count,” says Matthew Wohl, P&G’s general manager of male new products and shave care.
Razors may be rich material for late-night comedy writers, but they’re serious business for P&G.
The Fusion, P&G’s top-selling line of razors, brings in more than $1 billion world-wide each year.
The company doesn’t give actual figures, but U.S. data from market-research firm Information Resources Inc., which exclude sales from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and club stores, show dollar sales of Fusion razors rose more than 15% last year, even as the overall cartridge market shrank slightly under pressure from the recession.
But getting men comfortable with the high price of the current Fusion line has already been difficult.
During the recession, Gillette has had to make a case for affordability, with ads that claim the Fusion can be used for as little as $1 a day.
Sales of private-label disposable razors, usually the cheapest shaving option in stores, rose 14% last year, according to IRI. Meanwhile Gillette’s chief competitor, Energizer Holdings Inc.’s Schick, posted a 20% gain in 2009 over the year earlier period with its Quattro Titanium cartridges. Sales of both private-label and Quattro remain far behind Gillette’s, however.
Gillette holds more than three-quarters of the U.S. market for razors and blades, with Fusion’s share of U.S. male shaving systems over 45%, P&G said two weeks ago when it announced quarterly results.
Launching a new model now hews to Gillette’s traditional approach of driving sales with new bells and whistles and higher prices.
P&G hopes ProGlide will not only push existing Fusion users to upgrade, but also persuade loyal users of Gillette’s three-bladed Mach 3 blades to finally trade up.
P&G says the new Fusion’s aim is to make shaving more pleasant.
“Men tell us their number-one need is comfort,” Mr. Wohl says. “They tell us they want less tug and pull, and less irritation.”
P&G says ProGlide has been in development for years, predating the company’s 2005 purchase of Gillette. Researchers tested the device on more than 30,000 men, scrutinizing their usage, including precisely counting strokes per shave (the average is 150).
They know men need to pull though 10,000 to 15,000 beard hairs, and that the texture and growth pattern can vary dramatically across the cheek, says Stew Taub, research director of Gillette’s male premium systems.
The company’s current and former CEOs, Robert McDonald and A.G. Lafley, each tested the new ProGlide.
Chip Bergh, P&G’s president of global men’s grooming, personally brought a sample into a recent P&G board meeting for directors to inspect—and in the interest of secrecy took it with him when he left, a P&G spokesman said.
With Gillette launching a new razor system every seven or so years, many users may already be wondering what the next upgrade will be.
“I will never say we won’t add more blades,” Mr. Taub says.