BY GOING ONLINE TO ELIMINATE THE MIDDLEMEN, WARBY PARKER CHANGED THE EYEWEAR INDUSTRY. NOW, ONE OF ITS CO-FOUNDERS HOPES TO DO THE SAME FOR RAZORS.
When Andrew Katz-Mayfield recently found himself spending 20 confusing minutes and $20 in the razor aisle at his local drugstore, he started thinking about how to remove the frustration (and the big spend) from the experience. Katz-Mayfield also happens to be a childhood friend of Jeff Raider, a co-founder of the online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker who took a similar approach to simplifying the process of trying and buying glasses.
And now, 18 months and a great wooly mammoth logo later, we have Harry’s, a startup hoping to add a dose of charity and value to the shave industry. The company worked with an 80-year-old razor manufacturer in Germany and a stateside industrial designer to develop a handle, which is inspired by antique pens and butter knives. Online, customers can spend $15 for the Truman kit, which includes the Truman handle, three blades, and a tube of cream developed with a local cosmetics studio, or $25 for the Winston, a slightly more luxe version of the razor. Replacement blades go for $2, and a single razor can be had for as little as $10.
Similarly to Warby Parker, there’s a social responsibility angle, too--for every razor you buy, Harry’s will donate one to an organization that helps people “look good and feel good.” Right now, it’s a nonprofit that helps soldiers reintegrate to life outside of a warzone.
Will the online-only, high-value business model translate to a lower margin product, like razors? Warby’s approach was so successful because it broke a long-standing monopoly with an innovative service model--in other words, it was a pain in the ass (and wallet) to buy glasses, and Warby offered a way to sidestep both the inconvenience and the cost by selling direct to consumers.
Harry’s faces more of a hurdle when it comes to the market for shaving tools, of which there are plenty of affordable options at every drugstore in town. They’re also not the first to take razors online--you may have heard of Dollar Shave Club, a site that made a viral splash last year. says Katz-Mayfield says.
“They had a really funny video and it struck a chord. But they’re a retailer, and we actually design and manufacture our own products.”
The profit margins on razorblades certainly aren’t as high as eyeglasses, but Raider and Katz believe there’s room for innovation, mainly in terms of the brand experience. Gillette might be as cheap, and Dollar Shave Club might be as convenient, but neither boast the design quality or social responsibility angle. And eventually Harry’s may take the brand offline and into barber shops and pharmacies. Katz-Mayfield says.
“We’re not trying to build a website. We’re trying to build a brand that will be distributed in lots of different ways over time.”
COMMENTARY: I like Harry's business model very much because razor blades are replenishable items, and unlike Warby Parker, don't require eye exams and lens prescriptions, and this means a quicker sales cycle and lots of repeat sales. If Netflix can do it with movies-by-mail, RedBox with movie kiosks, and Warby Parker with eyewear, why not Harry's in replacement razor blades. Gillette the global leader in replacement razor blades has a commanding 80% market share, so there is plenty of room for industry disruption, but I think they will need to provide overnight service to keep up with the demand for instant gratification that razor blades command. This is never going to be a volume busines, but their uniqueness and quality German made razor blades provides just enough differentiation that some customers who want high quality at an affordable price are will to part with their money.
Courtesy of an article dated March 20, 2013 appearing in Fast Company Design