Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Razor Thin Profit Margins

Folks, there’s been a lot of heavy stuff on Blog Ipsa Loquitur these last few months. The news is full of federal indictments, surveillance technology companies moonlighting as social media platforms, and a slow motion constitutional crisis that could spark a second civil war. The depths of winter are dark enough without the news.

So here’s a great long read about something that isn’t life or death or impeachment: Vox’s Kaitlyn Tiffany on shaving implements. Gillette used to rule razors — then came Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club.

The entire razor industry is flailing. It’s not just that Gillette is getting a smaller piece of the pie; the pie itself is also getting smaller. That’s partly driven by the fact that the population of the United States is aging: When you get old, you don’t grow as much hair, so you don’t shave as much, and then (unrelated) you die. […]

According to [global market research firm] Mintel, sales of “shaving and hair removal tools” are estimated to see about $3.5 billion in sales in 2018, a decline of nearly 4 percent from the year before. Worse, Mintel’s analysts predict there will be no growth for at least the next five years.

Yet in tandem with the downward spiral of the necessity of shaving tools, we are experiencing the arrival of an extreme number of new shaving tools to buy. At the same time, there’s only so much true innovation possible for an item like a razor, which does one thing and almost always does it well.

It’s a classic example of capitalism working not quite the way that was promised but the way it does when put into practice by humans. We see it time and again — with the hotel industry, with cable TV, now with razors: Shrinking markets are not allowed to simply shrink, but instead inspire aggressive pandering, bizarre advertising, and nichification of products that have no reason to be so differentiated.

This was a fascinating peek into an industry thrown into silliness, and Tiffany is a great storyteller. For my part, I’m one of those double-edge safety razor users mentioned in her article. A few years back, I bought a 1964 Gillette “Fat Boy” Adjustable Safety Razor on eBay. It’s hard to imagine there’s a whole industry dedicated to manufacturing new safety razors when Gillette left all these perfectly good razors lying around fifty years ago.