Sleeping with the enemy. The Gillette Guard razor

History can teach us many lessons and this applies to shaving as much as anything else. Until the 20th century anyone who could be bothered to shave (many didn’t) used a straight edged cut throat razor, or more normally went to a barber who used one. But then King Camp Gillette achieved one of the greatest marketing coup d’états in history. Towards the end of World War One America decided to join in and sent millions of troops to the European trenches, they were each supplied with a Gillette safety razor (you can still buy these sets on eBay). Once these soldiers got home they didn’t want to know about cut throat razors any more and the word spread. Very quickly indeed the double edged (DE) razor took over. It was a sudden shavepocalypse for the cut throat but these dramatic looking razors still linger on amongst niche hobbyists.

Gillette (now owned by Procter & Gamble) makes its most money from having a monopoly in supplying blades for its patent protected razors. In the 1930s the patents on DE razors and blades ran out, so anyone could make them. Gillette responded by adding patent protected features to their razors, such as aggressiveness adjustability, but still anyone could manufacture the blades to go in them. It was not until 1971 with the two bladed Trac II that Gillette created a new patent protected blade supply monopoly.

Nowadays in the developed world Gillette are by far the dominant supplier of shaving equipment with their Mach3 and Fusion razors, however they have a problem with the developing world, where most of the world’s shavers live. About half the world’s population live on less than a dollar a day so they just don’t have the money to buy blades for Mach3s and Fusions. What they do have money for is DE shaving, which is inexpensive precisely because it is not patent protected. But DE razor blades are a commodity item that anyone can make so there is not much profit there.

Gillette have answered this conundrum with a stroke of sheer genius. They have engineered a patent protected system razor specifically for the developing world. It has just enough features to differentiate itself as a superior product to the DE razors it competes against yet clever design makes it and its blades very low cost to the end user and even lower cost to manufacture. This could very easily be the most significant event in shaving since Jean-Jacques Perret invented the safety razor in 1762. And it is called the Guard.

Gillette have very definitely set themselves up to replace DE shaving here. Here it is in their own words: “Gillette Guard is a breakthrough new shaving system designed to provide a safe, high-quality shave at an affordable price for more than one billion men in emerging markets who today shave with double-edge razors.” This is a huge threat for Western DE shavers, we rely on the huge mass of DE shavers in the developing world to assure our supply of razor blades. If the developing world does as Gillette wants and shifts over to the Guard then it could be shavepocalypse time for us.

Obviously the Gillete Guard merited a closer look so as soon as they (inevitably) came up on eBay I ordered a pack containing four razors, each with a blade and eight additional blades. All of this cost me $6 (£3.72). And now I have had a good chance to play with them. They are masterpieces of engineering design and production. Every fraction of an ounce counts when you are going to make billions of something and when price is one of the main drivers. So the Guard has, according to Gillette, 80% fewer parts than a Western system razor and it is evident that it is constructed just heavily enough for permanent use and not to be a disposable.

The razor itself is just two pieces of plastic (a top and a bottom) glued together, the tuning fork ends splay out to form the hinge and are squeezed to get the cartridge on and off. You couldn’t make it any simpler. The cartridge is just one piece of plastic with 4 little hot weld on it where the tiny sliver of steel that makes up the single blade is located. There is so little steel in this that it wouldn’t surprise me if Gillette can make one of these shave heads for less cost than they can make a DE blade. So just four components are needed to make up the entire shaving system.

Now lets look at the features and benefits that Gillette hope are going to make hundreds of millions of men make the switch over from DE to the Guard. Here they are, once again in Gillette’s own words:

  • Comb Guard: The revolutionary Comb Guard feature, first time ever on a razor, helps to automatically manage skin bulge on the face and serves to flatten the skin for a safe shave while minimizing the risk of nicks and cuts. Comb Guard is designed to reduce cuts and irritation, even when you press the razor while shaving. Whereas a double edge blade might cut, if you press it slightly hard against the skin.
  • No clogging: The blade on Gillette Guard can be rinsed conveniently, enabling cut hair to be easily washed away. Thus, facilitating the consumer to experience a more hygienic shave.
  • Swivel head: Gillette Guard has a flexible, swivel razor head that helps in maneuvering around the curves on the face and neck during a shave.  The swivel head of Gillette Guard enables the consumer to cut hair in the area under the nose – a fairly difficult area for a user of double-edge blade to shave because the ordinary razor does not have a swivel head.
  • Ease of cartridge change: The single squeeze cartridge loading system  of the Gillette Guard, a simple squeeze two-point intuitive docking – is an innovation in design that makes it  much easier to change the blade of a Gillette Guard with less steps compared to fitting a double-edge blade to an ordinary razor.
  • Enhanced glide while shaving: The grooves on the cartridge of Gillette Guard above the blade helps to hold in water during the shave in order to enhance the razor glide. Whereas Double edge razors have no such provision.
  • User-friendly handle design: The Gillette Guard handle has also been designed to meet the needs of the consumer during and after shaving. The ergonomically designed handle enables the user to experience ease of maneuverability during shaving. This ribbed and lightweight handle will help the consumer to have better control while shaving, even when it is wet. The broader and thicker end of the razor handle is the rinse grip feature that enables consumers to hold it vertically while rinsing the razor. There is also a “hang hole” at the end of the razor handle that enables consumers to hang it to dry after shaving.

I have to say that I hope that Gillette haven’t patented the comb guard and the grooves above the blade. In their marketing spiel above they say “first time ever on a razor” and “Double edge razors have no such provision” yet if you look at the pictures of my 70 year old Eclipse Red Ring DE razor you can see what to me look like the same features.

So how does the Guard shave? The first thing you notice is that the handle feels very long, this must have been done deliberately as a differentiator from DE razors. The head swivels nice and freely to adopt the position that Gillette’s boffins want it to. Then it shaves quickly and easily, there is no getting away from the fact that it is ridiculously easy to use compare with a DE razor. But it is not anywhere near as fast as the Hydro system razor I used the other day. But then the shave head doesn’t clog up anything like as easily with the Guard. The first shave gave an OK result so I lathered up for a second pass and got an acceptable shave. Not DE good, just acceptable. It gave me two very, very small weepers in the goatee area but these were really nothing.

Just now an Indian Rupee is 1.4 British pennies, 2.3 American cents and 1.6 Euro cents. The Guard razor with one blade is priced at 19 Rupees with a 15 Rupee trial offer but obviously it will be discounted by traders, the blade cartridges (where Gillette will make their real money) are 7 Rupees with a 5 Rupee trial offer and Gillette are saying that they are good for 7 shaves. So one Rupee or less per shave, which is a lot more expensive than DE razors but a whole continent cheaper than the multibladed system razors that are prevalent in the West.

So will Gillette succeed with the Guard? With such an excellent product and with the normal Gillette marketing steamroller the answer has to be yes. The real question is how far will they succeed. Obviously they will roll this out in the Indian subcontinent, China, Africa, much of Asia and the former Soviet states. There will be pockets where the price is still too high, but generally it will be affordable. The Guard could very quickly and easily become the most used razor on earth, which must be what Gillette are planning. It is just a matter of time scale.

Gillette would be fools not to convert their DE factories over to Guard cartridge production, firstly because there will be far less demand for DE blades and secondly because the Guard cartridges will be a lot more profitable for them. So DE shavers will presumably lose a lot of the best brands of blades. It then remains a question as to whether there will be enough DE blade demand left to keep the other, non Gillette, DE blade factories open. Shavepocalypse beckons for DE shavers, time to build up the stash.

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24 comments ↓

#1 kenstee on 11.11.10 at 5:23 am

It’s funny. There on those on some well known DE sites that really put-down Bruce’s observations. But, anyone with half a brain (which excludes most of the active participants at this “B” site) can see the handwriting on the wall here. DE will evolve to small, higher-priced artisan brands to supply wealthy Westerners with DE blades. Meanwhile, the rest of the world’s ex-DE shavers will laugh at these Westerners who spend a lot of money and time to be cut by these overpriced blades to get a “shaving experience.” That day is coming faster than most people can imagine.

#2 MP on 11.11.10 at 12:46 pm

There was just a thread with a link to this on this on B&B, which apparently got yanked while I was typing a response. What the heck? Why would this be beyond the pale?

#3 Bruce on 11.11.10 at 2:22 pm

@MP
It is a mistake to think that B&B allows free speech about shaving. You are allowed to talk about what they allow you to talk about.
One of the best razors currently made in the world is the iKon, this is exactly what a shaving forum should be discussing. Try it on B&B!!!!

#4 J.M. on 11.11.10 at 5:03 pm

They will win b/c the kids just starting to shave will want to use the product being pitched to them by their favourite cricket players, etc. rather than the type of razors their Dads use. Also, people will figure out how to use jerry-rigged strops to sharpen the Guard and extend its life to say 15 or 20 shaves which eliminates the price advantage of DE razors. I’m about 5 shaves into DE shaving now and I have 3 observations: (1) I have yet to cut myself so perhaps the concerns for my personal safety were overblown; (2) Even though I still don’t really know how to always get the proper angle, the shaves are incredible – I’ve never had such clean shaves – not to mention painless; and (3) It takes me about 10 times longer – 5 mins for DE vs. 30 seconds with a system razor.

#5 J.M. on 11.11.10 at 5:59 pm

I’d like to add a 4th observation: I purchased all of the items from Bruce’s “The low cost, high luxury shave” and if you consider the Lord L6 costs less than a Fusion handle, that the Frank brush can be amortized over decades and that the stick is probably good for 100 shaves or so, on a financial basis, it comes down to 4 Fusion Cartridges for $22 vs 4 supermax blades for $0.20….i.e. the luxury shave was 1/110th the cost (more than that when you factor in the savings on using the stick instead of canned cream) and far superior in every way except time.

#6 CrazyAle on 11.12.10 at 2:39 am

Well I for one do take the Gillette Guard as a serious contender in taking the steam out of DE razors and blades. I hope that it does not catch on but somehow I think the opposite will happen. I think that I am gonna stock up on my GEM SE blades and somemore DE blades before it becomes harder to get them and there cost goes up.

#7 kenstee on 11.12.10 at 6:50 pm

>There was just a thread with a link to this on this on B&B, which apparently got yanked while I was typing a response.

Yep. That was mine. Led to a “Lifetime Ban” as well (sniff, sniff.) Oh well, I will wear it as a “Badger of Honor.” Apparently, the little old biddies who run the place didn’t like any POVs or comments from any free thinking individuals who challenge the status quo – and who might damage the sales of the their “preferred vendors” who they routinely shill for.

#8 Bruce on 11.12.10 at 6:55 pm

@kenstee
You are in some very good company indeed if you have been banned from an ungentlemanly shaving forum.

#9 kenstee on 11.12.10 at 10:14 pm

@Bruce

Thanks alot! I really enjoy the superb content you put up here. Thought provoking, without bias and highly informative. A real breath of fresh air. Keep it up!

#10 Matt on 11.14.10 at 3:56 am

Bottom line is that they are still more expensive than DE shaving. So, even if they are ridiculously easy to use, price differences do matter, especially when you’re marketing to people who are extremely price conscious, as this Guard razor apparently targets. So, my humble prediction, it might take some market share, but there will still be lots of people who don’t want to pay the premium even for the Guard.

#11 kenstee on 11.15.10 at 3:53 am

Some people said that Western companies would never be able to sell laundry detergent and shampoos in these counties. Same logic…more expensive and people were satisfied with what they had. The solution? Affordable single use packets sold at small local stalls. Care to venture a guess of who has the largest market share these days in these categories? Bottom-line..extremely price-conscious people paid the very minimal premium for convenience and “image.” Don’t be so dismissive. Human nature is the same everywhere.

#12 Matt on 11.15.10 at 4:42 pm

I don’t deny that marketing may be able to sway some, but DE shaving has two advantages, it’s cheaper AND better. Plus, it seems that it would be even harder to convince people that the Guard, which looks kinda cheap, is better than a semi-decent DE razor, and pay more for it as well. It just may be that the rest of the world isn’t quite as gullible as the Western world has been when it comes to shaving. They might be less willing to trade in their nice DE razors for more expensive plastic. We shall see.

#13 David on 11.19.10 at 5:28 pm

But the Guard looks as if it is “cheap” enough for the proposed safety advantages. It’ also designed to be beneficial to the style of shavers in India. Many rinse in a glass of water so it can be held vertically upside down easily to shake out, it’s light and grippy so it’s less likely to slip, and it looks to be gentle with lots of safety features so that you don’t hack yourself up. It’s not about being gullible, it’s about differing priorities. If Indians want a safe shave under terrible shaving conditions, this razor looks like that advantage alone might be enough to win them over, slight price premium or not.

#14 Dave on 11.24.10 at 11:56 am

Have any of you been to India or the markets were talking about here? I have, and believe me DE shavers are hardly anywhere to be found. There already using Gillette blue II and Bics from what I can see in the stalls. The DE blades are getting dusty at the back of the stall. DE blades are I am sure already in a small minority. But as were talking about large populations then that small minority is enough to keep several DE blade factories going. Like the rest of the world they are moving forward with innovation and technology and will soon move away from “old fashioned” products. This product is just another “innovation” to keep the brand fresh and the market growing. If all the factories making DE’s closed tomorrow there is probably enough stock to keep a few western obsesionists happy.

#15 VIJAY JAGGA on 12.07.10 at 1:55 pm

Good to read the useful info.

#16 nafasat ali khan on 12.07.10 at 5:59 pm

great product….

#17 Ed on 12.09.10 at 7:33 am

Two words – injector razor

Back to the Guard – is there an affordable disposable razor better than the Guard? (“Affordable” rules out such oddballs as the Mach 3 disposable.)

#18 Bruce on 12.09.10 at 7:56 am

Most DE shavers would say that the Bic is better than the Guard, hence my photographing them together in the article above.
But they are completely different animals, the Guard is very mild with no blade exposure. It requires no technique, is idiot proof but will struggle to give a really close shave.
The Bic has blade exposure, like a DE does, so it can bite. There is a learning curve, especially as the head doesn’t swivel. But once you know how to use it the Bic is better than the Guard and will give a really close shave.

#19 mantic59 on 12.16.10 at 2:34 pm

I got a Guard from Pauldog on SMF recently and tried it this morning (using Cremo Cream brushless shave cream).

I’m impressed; I got a truly excellent shave out of it.

Its very light, but I think any DE shaver will quickly find the right grip and (mild) pressure to make this little guy go. The pivot action is very good and the handle grips well even with its light weight.

If P&G altered the handle slightly for the “western” markets and sold it very cheaply under a non-Gillette name they’d make a mint.

#20 grond on 12.21.10 at 9:51 pm

I was a paid up supporter who got banned from the B&B for making fun of Nazis. Seriously – the reasoning given to me for the ban was that I was making antisemitic remarks.

By making fun of Nazis.

#21 Gibbs on 08.01.11 at 4:18 am

It is now Aug 1, 2011, and I received a carton of 100 Voskhod blades for $14.00 There seems to be an incredible amount of blades being made here and there in the world. Thanks to the internet, the world got very small. I ordered a Wilkinson Sword razor on Amazon.com it was mailed to me from the UK and took 5 days to get to my mail box. Incredible. I have also ordered blades from Sinapore China and had them here in about 1 week with what I would consider minimal shipping costs. Russia, India, Pakistan, Isareli, Egypt, Thailand, Germany, …. they are all making a whole lot of blades. Some of them are so superior to what I had when I started shaving in 1968 that I wondered how we managed as well as we did. Point is, they are improving and making inroads on these DE blades for sharp and smooth seemingly on a continium. I hope the end of DE blades is a long ways away. This P&G marketing trick may backfire and the natives at hand may see it for what it is, a way to “enrich” a dominant player in the shave industry.

BTW, I was banned from Shave Den for criticizing their new forum package. It was slow, Adobe hoggish and when I typed it was like a delay on that end to see the letters show up. Pages did not “Paint” well when you used your mouse “wheel” and was choppy. My thought it was graphical heavy and was bandwidth hog. Oh well,..

Bruce does a great job at giving the shaving info that is need and with much enthusiasm and truth. Kudos!
Vern

#22 Ted on 11.19.11 at 8:23 pm

What made King Gillette’s disposable blade supposedly “old fashion” ?. It was the new Atra and 3-4-5 blade plastic cartridge alternatives. From the movie”The Graduate” plastics were supposed to be the new technology. When environmentalists and greeners finally win out, the epinimous DE stainless-tungsten-iridium-platinum-rust free blade will win out. The third and fourth world nations will then be up to speed with technology and they too can afford what the shaving world now has, many excellent choices. Ted

#23 Randall on 01.04.12 at 9:50 pm

The Guard is a really great razor. Certainly much simpler to use than a DE. It is very mild, but this may not be a drawback to many of its users.

I use it for a travel razor.

#24 Spooky on 04.17.13 at 5:12 am

Nice Article Bruce.

Small correction. the Guard handle is one piece injected molded and the shaving head is 2 plastic pieces riveted. By the way, the BIC Hybrid is similar in scope offer but with 3 blades.

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